Interview done by Sidra Nazir from Gyawun
Tell us about yourself
My name is Sama Bég. I am from Anantnag, Kashmir. I was raised in the Middle East and then moved to the US on a scholarship for my graduation. I have a Master’s degree in Health Administration from US and previously managed two Assisted Living facilities for seniors with dementia. I am a certified dementia specialist and a geriatric care expert.
In addition to Koshur Wear, I also run a healthcare consultancy – Innovise Healthcare – and write often for The Healthcare Executive magazine.
Although I have lived outside Kashmir for most of my life, I have been very attached to home and always wanted to return to Kashmir to contribute to society here. In 2015, I decided to move home to be with my parents and pursue my desire of contributing in some way here.
Tell us about Koshur Wear
Koshur Wear is a brand that enables Kashmiris to show off their Koshur pride. We offer contemporary clothing & accessories with a Kashmiri twist in 3 categories:
Tratth – For those with a typically Koshur sense of humor
Tengul – For the patriots among us
Tsratth – For the ones hungry for change
Our mission is to enable Kashmiris to express themselves, while promoting graphic design and supporting social causes.
What’s the inspiration behind Koshur Wear?
During the summer of 2012, I was driving along K.P. Road in Anantnag when a young Kashmiri boy’s T-shirt caught my eye. “I love NY,” shouted his shirt. This bothered me. Having lived in US, I had never once seen someone show off a T-shirt saying “I love Kashmir”. Being a proud Kashmiri, I wondered why no products exist that promotes Kashmir & Kashmiri culture. I decided to change this and that was when the idea behind Koshur Wear was born.
An important part of our mission is to promote art & graphic design. One of my cousins was a very talented artist in his childhood. Because comic books and board games were difficult to come by in the 1990s in Kashmir, he would make his own at home by recycling cardboard and other items. Every year when we would visit Kashmir, we would long to read one of his comics or play one of the games he had made. But he didn’t receive the support from his family for pursuing art and eventually had to give up on his passion. At Koshur Wear, we invite talented artists and graphic designers from Kashmir to join our team. We hope to provide them a platform to showcase their talent with the world so they don’t have to give up on their passion.
Tell us about the journey of Koshur Wear
Since 2012 – when Koshur Wear was just an abstract concept – the idea has evolved significantly. After I moved home, I finally had the chance to dedicate time to work on KW, hash out the concept and develop the business plan. Along with my best friend and some creative family members, we established the brand’s identity, products and future goals.
Though originally the concept just had patriotic products, we decided to include items on the humorous side keeping in mind Kashmir’s uniquely hilarious phrases. I believe that laughter is the shortest distance between two people and that humor has a therapeutic effect. The response to these products has been great – our customers get quite the laugh and this has helped spread our brand through word of mouth.
After developing the products, we decided to do a soft launch at the 2017 Kashmiri Gathering of North America. We launched with just two products there – our Koshur Heart T-shirt and our signature Kalle Kharab T-shirt. This was a trial and helped us gauge the response and get great feedback from customers. We launched officially in Kashmir on May 19th, 2017 at ThinkPod, in Srinagar. As we feel passionately about promoting art, we invited talented artists from two non-profits – CHINAR Kashmir and the Kashmir Education Initiative to participate in the event and learn about cultural entrepreneurship from a leading artist of Kashmir.
What kind of response did you get from people?
We are a young company that just launched one week ago. The response so far has been wonderful and exceeded our expectations, Alhamdulillah. People have loved our products and have enjoyed a laugh at the products in our Tratth/humorous category. Several people have shared ideas of phrases and other products they would like us to have in the future. The support from the community is invaluable – it inspires us to keep working hard and push the envelope further.
Tell us about your team
KW has a small but passionate team that consists of family & friends. We also consider the people who have motivated us and believed in our work along the way to be a part of our team as KW wouldn’t have been possible without their support.
Tell us about the logo of Koshur Wear
We’ve put a lot of thought into every element of Koshur Wear, with the aim that everything reflects Kashmir in some way. Our logo – the Kashmiri Snow Leopard – is one example of this. The elegant confidence of the Snow Leopard encompasses the philosophy of our brand which hopes to enable Kashmiris to be bold in their identity as a Kashmiri. Similarly, we have chosen a bold yellow for our logo and for our Kalle Kharab t-shirt. This yellow symbolizes the color of the Kashmiri Chinar tree in early autumn.
What are the bottle necks you faced as a Start-up ?
Like any start-up, we faced several issues. Quality is something we didn’t want to compromise on but identifying a vendor who we could trust and could deliver on quality in our time frame was tricky. Since this was our first time working in South Asia, we had to learn how to work in a work culture where transparency and professionalism are not common. This was challenging but something that we were able to overcome with patience and determination. Also, since we are currently only available online, anytime the internet is blocked in Kashmir by the government it hits our business.
On a personal note, being a business woman in a conservative society and launching a brand that has a sense of humor also came with its own challenges. There were individuals who did not think it was a good idea to embark on such a venture as a woman or thought it wouldn’t be a hit. However, through my patience and persistence, they realized I wasn’t going to stop, and they gave up on telling me otherwise!
Where can customers purchase Koshur Wear products?
Koshur Wear products are currently only available through our website www.koshurwear.com. We are also on Facebook as Koshur Wear and on Instagram as @koshurwear.
We currently offer t-shirts and tote bags. Our t-shirt designs include: ‘My Heart Belongs to Kashmir’, ‘Kashmir’, ‘What The Tratth’, and ‘Kalle Kharab’. Our tote bag designs include: ‘I love Kashmir’ and ‘Save The Hangul’. A portion of the purchase of the ‘My Heart Belongs to Kashmir’ goes towards supporting the Skills Enhancement and Entrepreneurship Development program at Child Nurture and Relief (CHINAR) Kashmir, a non-profit organization that works toward rehabilitating orphans. A portion of the purchase of the Save The Hangul tote bags will be donated to organizations that work to save the Kashmiri Hangul.
Customers can place an order directly on our website and choose to use Cash on Delivery or pay using an online payment option. We also offer two products for customers in North America.
You are To-Be inspiration for many who want to work out of the box. Any message for them?
Firstly, I would encourage our youth to take the time to try out different things. You cannot know what it is like to be an entrepreneur or a doctor or a software engineer just sitting in your classroom. Go out into the real world and shadow people who are in that profession – ask them questions, see what they do every day. Spend time reflecting on those experiences. Figure out what you are most passionate about. It could be something that society considers to be “small and inconsequential” – but don’t let that deter you. Allah created each of us to fulfill a certain purpose and you are the only person who can identify your purpose – no parent or teacher or counsellor can do it for you. Once you have identified your passion, dig deep! Research everything about that profession or business idea. Thanks to the internet, you have access to infinite amount of information. Think through and get advice to identify how to turn your passion into a profession/livelihood. And work hard – nothing in life worth pursuing comes easy.
Lastly, but most importantly, I’d like to share a metaphor that I often use. If you have ever flown a kite (patang) you will know that in order for a kite to soar higher, it needs to be held onto firmly from the ground. If the connection with the ground is cut off, the kite flies haphazardly and ends up getting destroyed. Similarly, I believe that in order to reach greater heights in life it is important to remain grounded. No matter what a person accomplishes in life, you should always remember where you came from, the people who helped along the way and be grateful to Allah. And the bigger your paycheck, the bigger your heart should be.