March 13, 2019


Daniel Hu


Interview the Gram – @tulpalav

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Iqra Ahmad, a 27-year-old fashion entrepreneur from Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, India, is the subject of this week’s Interview the Gram. Her work has a social impact like no one else I’ve interviewed so far: the state of Jammu and Kashmir has a decades long history of conflict, involving three …

new york branding sports graphic design firm

Iqra Ahmad, a 27-year-old fashion entrepreneur from Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, India, is the subject of this week’s Interview the Gram. Her work has a social impact like no one else I’ve interviewed so far: the state of Jammu and Kashmir has a decades long history of conflict, involving three wars between India and Pakistan. In recent times the region has been subject to internet blackouts by the Indian government, seen as extremely undemocratic in the world’s largest democracy. This can be devastating for businesses that rely on the internet, such as Ahmad’s Tulpalav, one of the first online fashion stores in Kashmir. Tulpalav mostly sells traditional Kashmir outfits called pherans with beautiful tilla embroidery. Launched in 2015 when Ahmad was 24, it’s means more than just fashion– it’s about bringing representation to traditional Kashmir culture. I chatted with Ahmad this past week to learn more.

Iqra Ahmad: Hi Dan! 🙂 Tulpalav is an online clothing store basically related to my native place [Jammu and Kashmir]. I am opening a physical store soon in about a month or so.

Alfalfa Studio: Exciting! Why do you feel the need to open up a physical store?

IA: The online store is really good and requires less effort. But a physical store is also just as important to grow! I have to come out of my comfort zone. My plan [with Tulpalav] is to make a the first Kashmiri brand which sells only Kashmir related clothes. It’s been three years in online business, and now it’s time to get a physical store.

AS: So what exactly is your dream? How big do you hope Tulpalav will become?

IA: I have always dreamt of becoming a fashion designer and now my dream is to make Tulpalav big. I’m talking about an outlet in every city!

AS: What does Kashmir mean to you?

IA: Firstly, Kashmir is my homeland but apart from that I am in love with the place because it’s undoubtedly beautiful. Our culture and traditions are so rich and I can’t see them fading, so that’s why I’m working for Kashmir only. You can see in my feed that each and every picture depicts my culture.

AS: Unfortunately there is a lack of representation for Kashmiri culture in most of the world. To be frank, I only really started to become aware of it after learning about you.

IA: I know, it’s really sad, but the people of Kashmir are working on it! And I am one of them!

AS: How do you feel about your work?

IA: Alhamdulillah [Praise be to Allah]! I am very satisfied with my work as it is, but I still need to work harder to reach my goals. I hope to one day reach the point where people of New York will know that Kashmir is a beautiful place with rich culture.

AS: Do you have anything special planned for the website and the physical store?

IA: The physical store is almost done, we’re working on the interiors. And we’re still working on a new website. Right now, Instagram is working fine for business. Here’s what the physical store is looking like:

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AS: So now I’d like to talk a little about your history– why did you choose fashion? I’m sure there are many other aspects of Kashmiri culture that you could also choose to work with. So why does fashion speak to you?

IA: After I completed my 12th [grade], I knew that I was going into fashion design for sure, but at the time we didn’t have any fashion schools or colleges in Kashmir (that’s not the case anymore thankfully). So I studied arts and psychology in college, and then got a Masters in Linguistics. I chose to stay in Kashmir because I wanted to be around my family. But after opening Tulpalav I did do a diploma in Delhi for fashion designing, just to know it more. Interestingly, I studied fashion after coming into the business.

AS: Has that been difficult? And how did you know you wanted to do fashion by 12th grade?

IA: I was never a bright student, I mean I never liked maths or science but I was into sports and creative stuff like painting. And so I always wanted to do something apart from engineering or medicine. My parents are very supportive and understanding. They were and they will always support me in any field I choose. I have never worked anywhere other than Tulpalav. At one point I did an internship for the Indian Red Cross Society for a few months as social work. But after my Masters I started Tulpalav.

AS: What has this experience been like?

IA: I am still experiencing it! I am not from a business background, in fact no one from my family is. My father and brother are lawyers, and I haven’t done an MBA. So I’m still learning and experiencing the business ethics by my own. After three years of hard work, I can finally start a physical store. Inshallah [if Allah wills]!

AS: Were you ever scared, finding your own unconventional way?

IA: Not really! I have been raised to be a strong person. ? Yes, I was scared of choosing a different path as it was not popular in Kashmir, but Alhamdulillah [praise be to Allah] people know me now! And my family has always supported me.

AS: You’ve mentioned how doing business over social media makes it easier. Has there been any challenges?

IA: Yes, being in the conflict area of Kashmir means internet is often banned. And my business is totally dependent on the internet. It’s hard to be active on Instagram 24/7 and reply to each and every customer. I use Instagram, Facebook, and Whatsapp, and customers still complain about slow replies. I can only use Whatsapp from one number, and I’m also the only person that can use Instagram. So I have to reply to hundreds of customers in just a few hours and chat with each one to convince them that our product is good. So it’s tiring.

AS: Most people living here don’t even know about the internet bans happening in India. Can you tell me how you feel about them?

IA: It affects everything: buying materials, designing a product, getting them stitched, photoshoots, uploading and editing, and packing the product. I do it all myself. Kashmir is an area of conflict and we have internet bans and strikes for almost months at a time. But still, the people here are working hard to make it a beautiful place. We have KFC here too! ?But yeah, when the internet is out, I’m unable to contact people or upload my stuff, so obviously it’s really bad.

AS: On the topic of community, how has your community responded to Tulpalav?

IA: See Tulpalav is a Kashmir based brand and totally Kashmiri. So people are obviously supporting me and the name itself is also Kashmiri for “pick clothes”. So the name says it all. I have organic followers on Instagram, and orders depends on how active the page is. In a month I fill around 40 orders, but Inshallah [if Allah wills] I will take more orders after I open my physical store!

AS: What are your favorite details in the work you do?

IA: Usually my silhouette is the same, that is, pheran with tith tilla embroidery. I just like to style it in different ways. Styling is my favorite part! For example, this is the same pheran with two different styles of wearing it:

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AS: Cool! I think that concludes my interview. I appreciate you taking the time to do this– you’re a busy person and working internet isn’t taken for granted. I learned so much!

IA: Thank you so much!

Thank you again Iqra Ahmad for chatting about Tulpalav! Some of what Tulpalav has to offer can be found at KashmirBox. Best of luck on that new physical store, and expanding Tulpalav into a worldwide brand!

For further reading, here’s some recommendations:

All images © Tulpalav @tulpalav via Instagram and Iqra Ahmad.