In the world of fast fashion and day-old trends, sustainability might not be the first choice, but it definitely is the perfect antidote. Following fashion fads is effortless, but conscious shopping might be exhausting. Contemporary is everywhere, but opting for traditional in modern times is audacious. And with this audacity and courage, it was Varun who went on the journey at Building a sustainable brand of self-discovery and an artistic journey, which he feels is an honour to share
Varun Kumar, a social entrepreneur, humanitarian, and a father founded Pashmina.com with a clear mission - to reintroduce the luxury of slow and sustainable fashion & switch to the handmade natural fabric. He wanted to spread awareness of the impact of our choices on the planet and hence invested his time, money, and energy in the revival of this timeless craft called Pashmina, whose processing has zero harm on the environment, and whose renaissance would be an improvement in the livelihood of many. Varun considered celebrating an artisan's efforts quite essential. Catering to the need of improving the future of our planet, which only grows with each passing day, became the vision of Pashmina.com, and since then, this has been the mantra behind every single activity carried out here.
It was at a young age that Varun (the founder of Pashmina.com) got exposure to the world of poultry. His father, a respected figure, founded the Poultry Federation of India as a unanimous voice for the industry. It served as a link to communicate with the government, media, and public. The mission of this body was to preserve, promote, and protect the interests of stakeholders involved in the poultry industry. Varun was witness to this and considered his father as a driving force in his life. He was so taken up by his father’s dedication and passion, and always aimed to follow in his footsteps.
It was all smooth until the summer of 2008. The bird flu pandemic destroyed all that the family had built over the years. The government killed all the livestock, which left the family shattered. It was after all that Varun’s father had given his sweat, blood, and tears to this industry, and a turn of events just wiped off all that in mere 2 years. It was at this point that Varun was preparing to go to London for his master’s at Sheffield Hallam University.
Even though they were reeling under severe financial crisis, the family never came between Varun and his dreams. His father was supportive, to say the least, and backed Varun to pursue his ambitions. His mother too never bailed out during his ups and downs. She stood like a rock, always supporting Varun, pushing him to strive his best without giving up!
After completing his education, Varun worked in London and earned well enough to spend the rest of his life at ease, but there was a void within him. Despite being successful, he was still in search of his true calling. He returned to India, having left his job and citizenship (something that many would cherish). It was love for his own people that triggered him to move back to his home country.
Varun then headed the Marketing Division of an automobile giant for several years. He played a vital role in product acquisition projects, business analysis, and other key areas. The transition from pounds to a few thousand rupees wasn't easy. And even though he had a successful stint this time around as well, there was always a drive within him to do a lot more and more so, for his country.
The turning point came about in his life when he undertook the Amarnath Yatra. The Yatra is a pilgrimage to one of the holiest shrines of the Hindu faith. Call it divine intervention or a stroke of destiny, Varun was deeply moved by the art of Pashmina during these 3 weeks. Pashmina is one of the most exquisite and finest of the world’s veritable works of art. But what Varun’s artistic bent of mind observed in Kashmir, began a new chapter in his life. He now wanted to move mountains and boulders for the suffering artisans and do his bit for the art of Pashmina. And so, his journey began…
THE JOURNEY OF PASHMINA.COM
Pashmina is an oft-heard word that conjures up images of luxury and high fashion. But not many know of its origin. From the 16th to the 19th century, Kashmir valley was the only region where skills existed to exploit the full potential of fine goat-fleece – locally known as pashm. This was to be woven into a patterned textile of superlative softness and delicacy. When pashm made its appearance in the West in the form of the shawl, it came to be known as ‘cashmere’. Properly speaking, Pashmina is the art of handweaving pashm into wearable apparel and wraps and accessories, and pashm is the downy undercoat of the Tibetan goat. Pashm is no doubt among the finest fibres ever woven. Nothing epitomizes the glorious history of Kashmiri craftsmanship as warmly and beautifully as the Pashmina. It was this Pashmina which once spelled both exclusivity and security for Kashmiri women.
For all these reasons, Varun was so taken up with this art, that he spent much of his time researching, interacting with artisans, and delving deep into the nuances of Pashmina. For starters, he decided to make a substantial investment to acquire Pashmina.com. It was under the US Corporation for over two decades. This was an intentional move to build credibility among the international clientele.
Support from Family and Friends
Though trust-building and credibility assume high importance, there’s much more it takes to establish a brand. The journey was replete with hurdles. But Varun’s determination, passion, and his family’s support pushed him to face the biggest challenge of his life. In fact, during this stage, his daughter was at the tender age of two. In his heart of hearts, he was aware that there wasn’t any fall back if his plans backfired. But even though he was in this huge dilemma, his family never questioned Varun & reposed all the faith they had in him. All of the family saw the adversities together, never raising a doubt. And, with all the courage, grit, and support he moved forward unabashedly.
Varun’s empathy for Artisans
In the coming years, Varun was involved in all the groundwork. He had renewed vigor and passion within him to do all it takes to achieve his dream. For him, Pashmina.com was not just a means to make money; there resided a larger cause in his heart. He felt strongly for the art of Pashmina and dreamt of taking it to the world. But he was also deeply moved by the condition of the skilled artisans in Kashmir. Through his brand, he wished to empower them and bring them on the world map for their art of craftsmanship.
The biggest challenge was to get the right artisans on board. That is because most of them lived in far-off villages and weren’t even exposed to computers. Besides, they weren’t as educated to handle their inventories. Even if they managed to sell 1-2 Pashminas every month through this platform, their earnings would come in much later. This would pose a hurdle for them to sustain their families.
Call it a stroke of luck or Varun’s destiny, it was at this point that the Crafts Development Institute (CDI) opened its doors. CDI comes under the aegis of the Ministry of Textiles GOI, houses the first-ever Pashmina testing laboratory, which aims at bringing authenticity to the art of Pashmina. This was reassuring, but the journey was tougher than he had imagined. He had to now scout for the choicest artisans to buy from and get each piece certified from the CDI for quality assurance. Besides, it was significant to invest his savings into the right kind of inventory as well.
Varun lays great emphasis on authenticity and quality. That's something that stands out among a ton of other dealers as a distinctive factor. What differentiates Pashmina.com from the rest is their genuine involvement in the art. From buying the wool to using the art, and getting the artisans to access wooden looms to support themselves and their families, they’ve always had their hearts in the right place.
Slow, Sustainable Fashion
Back in the days, luxury had a different meaning altogether. Luxury meant something that was beautiful and rare. When implied to fashion, luxury apparel would be something artistic and detailed. Fine craftsmanship, exquisite designing, flawless quality, ancestral heritage, and timelessness would be the key properties a luxury product would encompass.
With the advent of the Industrial Revolution came the idea of readymade clothing, which slowly poisoned society with fast fashion. Fast fashion-focussed on cheap, disposable trendy pieces that never lasted. Shopping became a hobby, and people could dress up in the latest outfits, only to be disposed off in a month or even worse a week later. This led to a toxic system of overproduction and consumption, in addition to wastage, and made fashion one of the main polluters of the environment. Cheap & child labour would be employed, workers would be forced to work more in an unsafe environment, and supply chains had poor visibility. Shoppers would shop every other day with the apprehension that they might miss on a popular trend. Use of toxic dyes, deforestation to set up industries, killing of animals to meet demands, enormous textile wastage, low wages to workers became everyday practices
Even today, fast fashion has heavily corrupted consumers. It is crystal clear how there is an imbalance on this planet when it comes to fashion. Fast fashion is what has become a rage, thanks to women’s magazines scream weekly wardrobe revisions. What most people do not realize is that this is not just leading to ecological damage, but also taking away from the labor of these artisans. It is these artisans who tirelessly work to create even a single hand-crafted piece.
At Pashmina.com, each piece is designed sustainably using natural Himalayan Cashmere, through which the empowerment of local artisans becomes possible. The concept of sustainable fashion has brought us to a point where we realize that we, as residents of this planet, we have a responsibility to uphold. If nature has bestowed so much upon us, we need to give back to it. For this reason, Varun and his team decided to go for the manufacturing of Pashmina. The idea is to move towards sustainable, eco-friendly, and handcrafted pieces. This is something that both the traditional and modern audiences resonate with. There is no other piece of clothing that feels so authentically luxurious and sublime.
Our products are handmade in high quality and timeless design and are manufactured in an environmentally friendly manner. These luxury pieces are ethically designed keeping in view the working conditions and fair wages of local artisans. Our team continuously works to improve every stage of the product life cycle considering both environmental and socio-economic factors. Efficient use of natural resources, zero animal cruelty, ethical business relationships with our stakeholders (artisans, employees, and customers) are overall attitudes to how we work and continue working.
We as a team have planned to explore the world through the lens of handmade. We are a witness to the commitment of our artisans. We are a testimony of their artistry. We believe that we exist to showcase their magic to the world. We present to you "The best of the Finest" - Pashmina
We empower artisans to make these products and sell them to us directly. This makes them owners of their business. Each piece is then tested by the CDI before it is sold to the public. Every time a product is sold, 5% of the proceeds are additionally reinvested in uplifting the family of artisans, toward the educational needs of their children or investment needs of Handloom itself. Today, Pashmina.com is involved with more than 100 artisan families and has helped them to stabilize their lives.
One for Everyone
There’s also been a stereotypical image in mind when people think of Pashmina. Most believe that it caters much more to a certain age-group, primarily the older generation. Besides being favored as an heirloom, Pashmina shawls and stoles are much coveted among the younger lot as well. It is an epitome of high luxury and often adorned by the fashionistas of the world.
Varun also believes in striking a balance and catering to the needs of all its customers. Their line of luxury lends the art of craftsmanship to each product. There are some who go for the traditional ones. For their artful taste of accessorizing, an opulent assortment of hand-embroidered and Kashmiri Kani shawls are exquisitely handcrafted in heavenly colors of the world.
Wraps are hand embroidered in the shimmers of Kashmiri Tilla Dozi, Kashmiri Paper Mache, and Sozni Kari. The embroideries are so intricate and classic that one might never get tired of watching the detailing and use of threads in such meticulous and impeccable fashion. These are the traditional pieces that the royals once owned.
Young women usually prefer modish patterns in Pashmina. These include Ombres, Swarovski-embellished wraps, prints, and patterns.
Available in a variety of styles, each & every piece is certified by the Ministry of Textiles, authenticating its quality in terms of purity & technique.
Besides, the portfolio includes hand-crafted scarves, stoles, hijabs, headscarves for a perfect winter experience. The collection also extends to throws and blankets that are luxurious in feel and are available in neutral tones. These products serve as the perfect gifts for all occasions, be it weddings, birthdays, or anniversaries. Pashminas are even customizable and serve as lovely presents for loved ones.
Pashm by Pashmina.com
In early 2020, Pashm was introduced by Pashmina.com as a representation of who we are as a brand. In January 2020, we thought about a way to express ourselves in a fresh way. So we took the first step by rolling out our new visual identity on the website, i.e, Pashm
Pashm is a luxury brand committed to preserving the traditional artisanal craft of Pashmina. Our endeavor is to facilitate the production of authentic handcrafted Pashmina to ensure its sustainable growth.
At Pashm, we aspire to design and develop beautifully handmade, timeless pieces from the finest Cashmere yarns through sensitively understanding the craft and blending its traditional essence with contemporary patterns. With a passion to work in an ethically responsible environment, Pashm strives to conserve the age-old practices of handcrafting pure Cashmere by nurturing present-day relevance in the very heart of this heritage craft.
Varun has always been sensitive towards challenges that affect the environment unfavorably. Pollution, global warming, animal cruelty, and similar issues have always been of great concern for this young man of 35. For this reason, he was enchanted by the art of Pashmina and the fact that it does not conjure up pollution.
“Heritage and quality are appealing. Dwindling natural resources, creating an imbalance on the planet, exploitation of labour, animal cruelty is ugly”, he says. Varun wants shoppers to be smart and well informed and opt for the brands which are committed to protect and give back to the environment. He wishes that customers fall in love with heritage and culture as he did.
“Brands should tell stories, products should be passed to generations. Luxury should become a memory. Buy less, choose well, and invest in something that is timeless”, he says
Apart from being the founder and CEO at Pashmina.com, Varun is currently the president of the Rotary Club Millennium Gurgaon. He also heads waterrecycling.com which educates the audience about water conservation, water recycling, and facts about water pollution and scarcity. In the future, Varun plans to take up more projects which are either awareness or a solution to a global issue.