She is the creator, visionary and driving force behind Pashma, the well-known international luxury label out of India, but it is not this which makes her a woman of substance. There is more to Shilu Kumar’s soft-spoken demeanour than a sharp business woman which truly qualifies her, and that is courage. As only a woman can, she metamorphosed seamlessly from being a teacher, home maker and mother to a successful entrepreneur, stepping out of her comfort zone to set up her business that required travelling afar with her young son in tow. In the words of Anais Nin, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage”. I asked her many questions, and she spoke from the heart. Here is an excerpt for The Luxury Chronicle.
Not at all. In fact, I had completed my training for teaching hearing impaired children in Bombay and was a teacher. Even in my dreams I did not imagine pursuing a career in fashion or getting into business. Once the children were born, they were my main focus. I was a homemaker for ten years before I joined my husband’s business. That was my first introduction to business and I have never looked back.
My parents were in Indonesia and I was born in Jakarta. We are four siblings. I was always my mother’s darling child and was very influenced by her sense of style and elegance. My father was a serial entrepreneur having eclectic ventures that ranged from textiles to film production. His fearlessness and sense of adventure was a great influence on me. I however loved children and animals and dreamt of living in a farm. Right from when I was very young, I had wanted a pet elephant. Ten years ago when my husband bought some property in Pataudi, I actually seriously contemplated adopting an elephant. Sadly, the land was converted into a factory.
Quite honestly, I wish I could say that all this was part of an elaborate or visionary plan but it was not. After 15 years of running a thriving fashion business, designing collections for top international brands in Europe and America, we felt the need to create a business with a lasting identity and a greater sense of purpose. It pained me that while India was blessed with this repository of talent, creativity, heritage and craft, yet it did not enjoy the aura of a Made in Italy or Made in France.
We questioned why quality had to have a geographic origin. And why could the world not accept a luxury product with a distinct identity. Did being Indian have to be synonymous with being ethnic? Why was it not possible to create a cultural identity or aspirational lifestyle from India that was cosmopolitan in its appeal? With this track of thought and mental analysis, we set up Pashma.
At that time I saw Pashma as just a diversification of our existing business, rather than this transformed brand it ended up becoming. Although we did have the conviction even then, yet I am pleasantly surprised and elated to see how well the brand has been accepted by consumers worldwide. Guess it was lady luck, along with some good honest hard work.
Being born in Indonesia, I spent a lot of time in Singapore growing up. I have fond memories of spending afternoons at the Raffles in Singapore or strolling down Orchard Road with my sisters.
Singapore also was the first retail store of Pashma that we set up outside India in 2011. Although Pashma was already sold in many stores worldwide, setting up a retail store outside India was a new beginning. It was a highly emotional moment for me when I saw the first Pashma store at the Changi Airport amidst the most prominent global fashion brands. Being the only Indian brand in the airport with a retail presence, I felt that we had achieved a milestone in our journey to create an unabashedly Indian fashion brand that offered the best of India to the world.
I attribute my success to our conviction and determination. We were constantly quizzed by many well-wishers who thought that we were being far too ambitious in setting up a global fashion brand from India.
I also owe my success to many colleagues, and now friends in the international industry who believed in Pashma and encouraged us to take risks.
I owe my success to my family. We have worked together to create what is Pashma today.
For Pashma, we source the wool of the high pedigree Changthama goats, which are reared by the Changpa, a nomadic tribe in the remote region of Ladakh. These goats are relatively small in numbers. This fibre is the finest and rarest Cashmere wool in the world.
Yes we do. Due to the inaccessibility of Ladakh and absence of modern dehairing facilities in India, the Changpa sold their raw fibres to middle-men, who in turn sold it to vendors that lacked the skill and resource to spin this delicate fibre. We stepped in and made sure that they sold their fibres directly to manufacturers, and got a better price for their produce. We purchase the cashmere fibre from them at market price, and encourage these cooperatives to set up their own dehairing systems enabling them to sell their fibres to manufacturers and get a better price for their produce versus selling raw fibers and being dependent on intermediaries.
The most luxurious moment for me was when we decided to fly over the Taj Mahal in a six-seater chartered flight to toast to love. This was in the November of 2004. I love your question as it reminds me of this luxurious moment that is so special, and I love thinking about it.