As a child I grew up marvelling the beautiful creations which have long been part of Kashmir’s rich history in arts and crafts. My perception was that it was too good to be true. I also perceived the product to be heavy in weight. But when I first held a papier mache bauble in my hand, I must have been 12 or 13 years old, I immediately felt happy in a strange way. It was such a light-weight thing. My mind related it to a cricket or tennis ball, as I was quite into sports. I absolutely fell in love with the concept. However, like anything in life, as a teenager, you have other priorities and the attraction to papier mache was not the priority anymore and I was to focus on my education.
It was back in 2016 when I visited Kashmir to attend my cousin’s wedding where I was gifted a small bag with some dry fruits and a trinket box made of papier mache. I felt this strange feeling of calmness and it was filled with joy. I immediately remembered my early childhood memories and it brought this nostalgic feeling back.
I went to visit a local artisan store and purchased some papier mâché products along with some handmade designer bags to gift some of my friends and family in UK. I spent a lot of time in 2017 researching more about papier mâché and how it is reflected in Kashmir. I immediately realised that this was a dying art and many artisans were barely making a living out of this beautiful craft. Having lived in UK most of my life, I have worked hard to make a living in UK however at the same time I was rewarded for my hard work. I did not feel the same in Kashmir when I experienced the working conditions of artisans. I felt a sense of obligation to give back.
It was late in 2017, I started thinking about what could be done to help people in Kashmir and make their lives better. At the time, I was invested in technology through work but I knew it had a limited potential due to infrastructure challenges and the unstable political situation in Kashmir. Despite these limitations, I was adamant to invest in Kashmir. I had made some good in-roads to create employment in Kashmir. However due to the unstable political situation and subsequent Indian lockdown and internet shutdowns. It became apparent that it will not be a wise investment of resources to help the people in Kashmir via technology in the immediate future. That was unless the political situation drastically improves.
Back in late 2017, I had begun looking at arts and crafts as an option. It was not until I met someone who completely changed my perspective on life and creative art as a way of life that inspired me to think of the arts as a solution. I remember having the conversation about arts and crafts and how the emotions connect us with people and animals. It was all new to me at the time but very refreshing to hear a view which was similar to mine albeit different in perception. I immediately thought of investing in something I always loved and it felt like a eureka moment. It was a classic case of fate.
I had made some purchases for Christmas which I absolutely love and ironically, it’s my birthday on Christmas day as well. We had some beautiful papier mâché baubles which I would use to decorate our Christmas tree. As I looked at these beautiful products on Christmas (2018), I started to create something very special in Honest Love Our Planet. The idea to start something was purely based on instinct and some great conversation with someone who shared similar beliefs to mine. My association with that person has made me a better person for playing a role in my life. Rumi and Shamas association comes to my mind.
It was at the same time the Indian lockdown started in Kashmir, they took the autonomy of the people away and imposed a lockdown. The internet was shut down and our technology business could not function. All my investments into the venture which I had so dearly worked towards evaporated like a smoke after a wildfire. It was a hard blow and frustrating at the same time. I felt very angry and helpless and was looking at way to see where the light is at the end of tunnel. I knew Honest Love Our Planet was the answer to make a small difference in people lives.
As I started on this journey, I had a sense of calm which felt like I was born to do this work.
Honest Love our planet has a sole mission to doing something that is so pure in its essence. Making lives better, saving the planet and in process creating something that people can feel proud of being associated. These are the KEY to my motivations to making this a success. When I look back at my life as a child living in Kashmir, I always dreamed of one day Kashmir being able to have everything Switzerland has. In my opinion, Kashmir is far more beautiful, however due to political instability, people in Kashmir are unable to exercise their freedoms. Even the international airport is not allowed to function. Which is a shame as it would connect Kashmir to the world and open up flood gates of opportunities. Skiing being one of the incredible sport enjoyed by many in Kashmir.
I am quire resilient as a person and I do not believe in giving up. Honest Love Our Planet was taking shape and I had already connected with some artisans back in Kashmir to buy some products and look at options of producing our own. I decide to take the plunge and invest everything I possibly could to make Honest Love Our Planet a success. I did not want Honest to be like any other business but something that is unique in its offering and provided something to customers which they could hold on to. The quality and integrity of this product was the main appeal and my job was to market the same to the masses. These products are mostly appreciated by high end consumers due to its expensive costly manufacturing processes and number of layers to selling models. We decided to bring the product into mainstream consumer by making it appealing at a cost which would reflect long term approach to our mission. I am 100% certain that once we achieve economies of scale, we will in a far better position to make these incredible products available to all and not few who can afford to pay premium.
Honest Love Our Planet started trading at prices which were affordable, sustainable and ethical. This has resulted in our acquiring a customer base that has been incredibly appreciate of our working ways and it is reflected in our reviews, be it via website or social media channels. We provide power back to the consumer by forming partnerships with ethical business who share our values. These businesses form backbone of how our products are perceived. We are incredibly proud to be associated with Zero Waste Stores, Vegan Brands and other Ethical producers. This was a no brainer for us, and we have made sure our partners are aware of our stance and we at any circumstances do not want our products to be advertises or sold via any mean which do not support ethical ways of working and sustainability.
Like any business the starting point is a major stepping stone. My experience was no different in this instance. I would work long hours to support this business in addition to my day job. I had my garage as a storage unit, and I would physically move the supplies from one place to another in an effort to make sense of incredible variety on display of these beautiful products. I had no doubt in my mind that this was going to be a success. Initially I had to teach myself how to be a seller and a salesman. At the same time, I was looking to invest in someone who would help me with Honest love Our Planet daily operations in 2019.
There is a saying in Urdu which states “ maiñ akelā hī chalā thā jānib-e-manzil magar log saath aate ga.e aur kārvāñ bantā gayā “
Which means, I was walking alone towards my destination, however as I walked alone, some people joined me along the road and together we built a caravan:
I am conscious of the fact that every business at early stages needs the investment it requires to grow. I take that responsibility very seriously by making sure I am in a position to support the business until it is sustainable. We are very lucky to have some incredible people working for Honest Love Our Planet. We have 100% staff in UK who are empowering women looking to make a difference in this world. They are all so invested in Honest Love Our Planet. Their hard work has been rewarded with incredible feedback from all our customers and new business who we have on-boarded. The future looks exciting and I am very honored to share this journey with my team. We are all working collaboratively to achieve the objectives Honest Love Our Planet stands for.
Looking back two years into where we started with Honest Love Our Planet, I couldn't be prouder of the achievements of the team I am working with.
We have made incredible strides in developing the brand as well as the business. I am very well aware of the fact that there is a long way to go before Honest Love Our Planet is perceived as a brand that is known around the world. We are already working towards making sure no stone is left unturned in following the objectives of sustainability, integrity and ethics of fair trade.
Honest love our planet is very close to my heart. My association with this work at this moment is not full time, although I would love to one day be in a position to do so