At the young age of 23, a fearless girl started a very rare business in Kashmir and created an example for others to start their own businesses. Despite belonging to one of the most strife torn regions in the country, Samar Shawl persevered to become a successful entrepreneur.
Born to a businessman father, Iftikhar Ahmad Shawl, Samar started a business of home delivery of gift hampers in 2018 when she was in the 3rd semester of her Masters in Business Administration (MBA).
Since childhood, she was very good at packing gifts with decorative articles. There had been many challenges which she faced to introduce a new business idea in the markets of Kashmir and earn from it. Her journey has been full of surprises and hurdles. While she was a student of commerce in Delhi Public School, Srinagar, she first started exploring the idea of starting her own business. With the aim of honing her business skills, in August 2013, Samar decided to pursue a Bachelors in Business Administration (BBA) and enrolled herself at the Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST) at Awantipora, in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district. Looking at the economic situation of Jammu and Kashmir, Samar was looking for such an idea which could survive in Kashmir.
“I always wanted to work independently and for the people. I wanted to do something where I could talk to my customers directly,” she said.
Stressing on the same thought, after finishing her BBA, Samar took her studies ahead and joined an MBA program at IUST in 2016. “To run a business, we must go for the academics before going into the field and earn as much knowledge as someone can to make their business idea more strong and successful,” she added.
When asked how she ventured into the innovative idea of gift hampering, Samar shares a very interesting story, which can inspire anyone to follow their ideas with passion and help them to achieve their goals.
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Samar recalls an incident when she realised that she is good at decorating gifts. In 2009, Samar was at one of her cousin’s marriage and was helping her relatives in the ceremonies.
As per Kashmiri culture, the family of the bridegroom would take the Mehndi (used to decorate hands) to the bride. This Mehndi is placed in decorated wooden baskets and copper trays. One of her cousins asked Samar to decorate the Mehndi basket. She was immediately excited as this was something she was good at. “I gave it a different design, I used artificial roses, attractive packing sheeting and colourful ribbons which caught everyone’s attention,” she recalls.
A Gift Decorated By Samar Shawl. (Image Courstey: Samar Shawl)
Everyone praised her work, but until then she didn’t realise she could master the art of packing and turn it into a business. In 2015, Samar attended the wedding of another cousin where she saw the same basket which she had decorated seven years before. All her relatives recalled how passionately she had decorated the basket. “I asked them how did they manage to save the basket for so long,” said says. She was taken by surprise when her relatives replied it was the decoration which made them want to save the basket. “All of them really loved it,” Samar said with a smile on her face. So, she added the idea in her list.
Finally, in March 2018 she discussed her idea with one of her best friends Iqra Wani, who suggested she start the business. Finally, she brainstormed the idea with her family and they too agreed with her.
Before starting the business, she tried to analyse the market. Earlier she had never visited the market alone. So, it was a challenge for her. Her friend Iqra Wani helped her to learn the route of the main markets of Srinagar, such as Goni Khan, Lal Chowk and Hari Singh Street. She also helped her to locate the shops from where she can get the best gifts at a reasonable price. “I examined the whole market and had a word with many gift sellers. I did the groundwork to meet every challenge,” Samar says.
In April 2018, Samar started her venture under the name Ribbons. Without a shop, she created a Facebook and Instagram page, where people started placing their orders.
“I ask my clients about their budget range and what exactly they want to gift. I go to the market and buy the required stuff and wrap it, and send it to the asked address,” she explains.
With the passage of time, Samar earned a name in society and more and more orders started coming to her. She recalls another interesting incident. In January 2019, she was at a cousin’s marriage in Jammu. People were busy with different work, however, her eyes were on the people who were decorating the stage for the couple.
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“I went to the stage and started decorating it. I kept decorating the stage and didn’t realise that I had completely changed the design. But the couple and other relatives liked it the most,” she says. With that she also added stage decoration into her business.
People around Samar, including shopkeepers where she buys the materials, people who buy hampers from her, neighbours, relatives and friends have always been encouraging her work. She says, “Society has been very supportive of my initiative. It is because of this support that my business is prospering.”