Kashmir in Africa: ‘Let’s Talk’ with Bushera Bashir

Kashmir in Africa: ‘Let’s Talk’ with Bushera Bashir

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Bushera Bashir

Promoting Kashmere in Africa

With an aim to promote Kashmiri weavers and artisans and provide 100 percent pure cashmere scarves to ethically conscious customers, Trebene invests back 20 percent of its profits for the education of the children of the weaving community of Kashmir to make them sustainable.

Bushera Bashir, Kashmir-born founder of Trebene (three sisters) – a luxury fashion label of cashmere (Pashmina) scarves – from South African capital city of Cape Town in an interview with Chicamod, an African fashion magazine, talks about her socially conscious endeavour. With an aim to promote Kashmiri weavers and artisans and provide 100 percent pure cashmere scarves to ethically conscious customers, Trebene invests back 20 percent of its profits for the education of the children of the weaving community of Kashmir to make them sustainable.

How did Trebene come about?

I was born and raised in Kashmir. I spent the first 15 years of my life immersed in Kashmir’s rich culture, which celebrates the art and alchemy of hand crafted products, such as the beautiful carpets, papier mache, hand carved furniture and of course the gorgeous cashmere shawls. Having spent 15 years living outside Kashmir, I have often encountered situations when ordinary fabric is being passed off as cashmere.This disconnect is the source of frustration and passion that drove me to want to provide ethically sourced authentic cashmere from Kashmir. And so Trebene was born – an ethical luxury label of cashmere scarves from Kashmir, which invests a portion of its revenue into the weaving community.

Can you describe your brand in a nut shell?

An ethical luxury fashion label of cashmere scarves. We blend the magic of ancient cashmere hand-weaving with contemporary designs to bring out a limited-edition scarf collection. We invest a portion of our revenue into the education of weavers’ children.

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How have you found the journey so far?

The journey has been filled with tremendous growth – a lot of unlearning to learn and relearn. I believe the fact that Trebene is about my passion for Kashmir and cashmere, that’s what makes it a deeply personal, meaningful, humbling and challenging experience – all at the same time.

Your products are all of the highest quality – can you tell us a little bit about how you source your materials?

Cashmere is our main fabric – we work with 100% cashmere, as well as cashmere and silk or wool blends.Our cashmere fibers are sourced from Kashmir, which contributes only 0.1% of the global cashmere production, making each one of our scarves highly exclusive. The Changthangi goat is only found in the Kashmir region and Tibet, which is the main source of cashmere fibres in the region.

Not a lot of people know this, but Kashmir is the birthplace of the fabric. In fact, Cashmere is the old spelling of Kashmir. And, the ancient art of hand-weaving cashmere was passed on to the region from Central Asia and Persia via the old Silk Route trade. Kashmir is probably the only place in the world that still holds this precious ancient art intact in its hands.

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Walk us through your design process?

Each collection almost demands its own process, but the key ingredient is storytelling, which sits not only at the heart of each collection but also each scarf. Let me give you examples of our two collections to illustrate this.

The launch collection, Wanderlust, was inspired by my travel memoirs over the last decade. It was a relatively simple process; I had snapped photos around the world and selected some key photos, each of which represented a specific travel story or emotion or experience. I worked with a graphic designer (over Skype for months!) to translate each photograph into a simple design.For example, Crimson Skies,which is essentially a polka dotted design,was inspired by my memory of waking up at 3am in the morning in Cappadocia (Turkey) to go for a hot air balloon ride. When I arrived at the takeoff site, I was mesmerised to see the crimson coloured sky studded with hundreds of hot air balloons. What’s amazing is that our clients connect to the stories and the travel memoirs, making the scarf a special item in their wardrobe.

On the other hand, our soon-to-be launched collection called Creative Collisions demanded a different design process. Our South African designer (Thubz) and I collected inspiration over months and over many creative brainstorming sessions we simply shared our respective life stories and inspirations, supported by images. We quickly realised that our conversations almost became a dance between two differently trained creative minds and two continents [Thubz is a trained designer whereas I’m an economist by training. She grew up in Africa whereas I am heavily influenced by Asia] Hence, our creative process in itself became the collection. Each stage is represented by at least one scarf design.

As you can see, storytelling is a very important aspect of each design. We are deliberate about creating designs with meaning.

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I believe giving back is very important to you – can you tell us a bit about the women you work with?

Kashmir is not only the birthplace of the fabric, cashmere, but it has perfected the ancient art of hand-weaving cashmere over generations. But over the last few decades, due to various reasons such as the insurgency, rise of middle-men and general increase in fast fashion, hand-weaving of cashmere has seen a sharp decline. Like many ancient crafts, this industry is on the verge of extinction. Hence our aim is to revive the industry by investing into the weaving communities in order to make them sustainable.

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It must be very interesting, working between Africa and Asia, what is the biggest advantage of this?

We are blessed to experience the richness of cultures, stories, people which almost always culminates in our scarf designs in one way or the other.

And the biggest disadvantage?

Things can be time-consuming because of the distance between the two continents.

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Where do you see your brand heading in the next few years?

We aim to gain a strong foothold in three markets in the next five years.

Advice for entrepreneurs who are just starting out?

Make sure you don’t forget to take care of yourself while running the business.

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