Making A Name for Themselves

  • Irfan Mehraj
  • Publish Date: Apr 1 2016 2:43PM
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  • Updated Date: Apr 5 2016 2:21PM
Making A Name for Themselves

Against all odds Shafiya and her sisters established their own cosmetics shop, supporting themselves and their family


In the busy marketplace of Ompora Budgam, about nine kilometers away from Srinagar, Shafiya Ali, 26, along with her five sisters, runs a lone cosmetics shop which has a peculiar name inscribed in capital letters on the hoarding—“NO NAME”.

Inside the shop, Shafiya is busy dealing with customers, mostly women, who frequent the shop almost on a regular basis to buy cosmetic items, perfumes of varied brands, and readymade garments.

Shafiya wanted to start her own business after she and her five sisters struggled to get a decent education given the weak financial position of their family.

“Father had no money to support our education. We realized and took it upon ourselves to support ourselves and our education. And then we opened this shop,” says Shafiya who along with her sisters runs and manages this shop in a market where all other shops are owned and run by men.

The cosmetics shop attracts women customers from the vicinity. Sitting behind the counter, Shafiya says that almost 50 local customers, mostly women, visit the shop daily to buy items like creams, shampoos, perfumes, and readymade clothes.

“Thankfully, the business is running well and so far we have been able to earn good money; enough to sustain us and make a living,” says Shafiya, the eldest among five sisters, who is also a post-graduate student in Physical Education from Rajiv Gandhi College, Bhopal.

Shafiya says during her student days she realized that if she has to continue her studies, she must herself start earning.  “Our father was an auto driver and had no money to afford our education,” she says.

In 2011 she joined Woodland House School in Shivpora, a posh locality in Srinagar, as a part time physical cum sports teacher. She had to strike a difficult balance between her working hours and her studies. With perseverance, she managed both.

“During this time I worked hard,” she says. “I taught at this school so that I could afford my education.”

A year later, in 2012, their father’s income dwindled substantially. Her family was on the verge of starvation. Undeterred, Shafiya took it upon herself to ease the financial crisis at home. “Everything was at stake – my education, my sister’s education. I knew I had to do something to save my family. Without any brother, I became the brother of my sisters and son to my father,” she says with pride.

In the summer of 2012 Shafiya, along with her two younger sisters, Hadia and Nadia, began planning to set up their own business. The idea was difficult to execute since they had little money to start a business venture. But they had something to work with – a family shop which was in a rundown condition. 

After discussing various business ideas, they finally decided to set up a cosmetics shop catering to women. “All we had was a shop in a totally dilapidated condition. We thought that we could make this shop functional and make something out of it,” recalls Nadia Ali, Shafiya’s younger sister.  “After much brainstorming, we decided to open up a cosmetics shop as there was none in the vicinity.”

Finally, in early 2015, the sisters managed to repair and refurbish the shop from the money that Shafiya had saved from her previous job at the school. But this money still wasn’t enough. Later that year, with no other means to raise money, Shafiya was compelled to sell her mother’s jewelry to generate money for her venture. They were able to raise the required two lakh rupees to start their own business.

Initial days were difficult. The business wasn’t picking up as per their expectations. And then there were the usual taunts of relatives and neighbors who saw it unbecoming for girls to run a business on their own, with no male supervision.  “People would come and tease us that we can’t run the shop. They would say that only a man can run a shop, that it isn’t our cup of tea,” says Shafiya. “I was challenging these people by silently doing my work.”

The sisters were determined and they had their father’s support. He never discouraged them from running the shop. “Often our relatives would tell my father that it is a disgrace to allow your girls to run the shop,” says Shafiya. “I remember that my father used to fight with them and he always supported us.”

While dealing with relatives and neighbors became easier with the support of their father, at the shop it was a daily hassle to deal with neighborhood boys who would hang around the shop and pass sexist remarks. The boys even used to bully them.

“My sister always kept a bamboo stick nearby to chase out the boys and then they never dared to bother again,” says Nadia, adding that dealing with them was emotionally difficult. “But we didn’t lose hope.”

The sisters cheerfully recall the occasion of Eid in September 2015 when their sales started to pick up. The people of the locality, mostly women, came in large numbers to buy the cosmetic items and other stuff from their shop. The women didn’t need to venture out to Budgam town or even Srinagar to buy cosmetics.

Since the younger sisters are still students, they manage the shop by taking shifts. Hadia is in 12th standard and Nadia studies in 10th standard.  On an average day, the sisters make a profit of about Rs. 400 from sales at the shop which they say is sufficient for them at present.

Whatever small success they have achieved so far, the sisters credit their father for all his support.  “He always stood by our side, supported us and motivated us when we needed it,” the sisters say in unison.

Their father, Ali Mohammad, is proud of his brave and enterprising daughters.  “I have never regretted that I only have daughters. They are more worthy than sons,” he says. “They have made always made me proud and I consider myself lucky to be blessed with such daughters.”

He believes that girls are capable of achieving anything.  “My daughters have proved it and they fought every obstacle and rescued the family from possible starvation,” he says proudly.

According to the sisters, their success has encouraged many educated boys and girls from Ompora locality to start their own independent ventures in the area.  Shafiya says that many girls from the neighborhood area come up to seek their advice on how to go about setting up an independent business unit.

“Young people, especially girls, find it encouraging seeing us running our own business,” says Shafiya. “I advise them and try to motivate them that they too can start their own ventures.”

Their encouragement is starting to bear fruits. Inspired by the sisters, Shafiya says two more girls in the locality are all set to open up their business ventures – a boutique and a ready-made garments shop.

Shafiya says they’re now planning to expand their business. In a society where unemployment mars the livelihood of educated and uneducated youth, Shafiya’s final words give hope, her hard won success proving that an independent livelihood can be attained. 

“If there is will, a pebble can be made into a diamond.”