Nestled behind the Sub rooms is a treasure trove of Kashmiri delights – scarves, bags and ornaments, felt and chainstitch rugs as well as antique hand-knotted rugs from around the world. I wanted to find out more about this family business so I talked to Andrea and Shakeel Wangnoo about what brought them to Stroud.
“Stroud is the place where it feels right for us. The locals are lovely and everybody is wonderful when they come in” says Andrea. “It’s important to feel a connection to where you are. Family and community are so important. And that’s how it is in Kashmir, where communities are close and it’s normal for people to help raise each other’s children. There are no factories and rugs are made within homes or in small workshops.
“It’s a family affair. The embroidery is mainly done by men whereas women do more of the weaving and processing. In Kashmir, the women tend to be at home during the day because running a home is a full-time occupation over there. Weaving is something they can fit into their day to earn some money, working on it periodically between other jobs.”
The business has strong links with Kashmir, where Shakeel is from. They deal direct with the families who make their rugs, some of whom are family members themselves. They go direct to the houses where the rugs are made so they can be sure that conditions are decent and the producers are paid fairly.
Shakeel has been selling handmade Kashmiri items from a young age. Conflict in Kashmir has been very bad for industry, tourism and employment in the region, with many people struggling to make a living. So Shakeel and his cousin left Kashmir for Delhi as teenagers to find income to send home to their families. They worked hard and built up a small business selling rugs and scarves, moving on from premises to premises, from Delhi to Goa and Jaipur.
By the time Shakeel met Andrea he had been based in Jaipur for fifteen years, running the business with his cousin and brothers from their well-established shop in a hotel arcade. With almost no notice, the hotel had decided to shut the arcade. Andrea found herself helping pack up the shop’s stock while the building was dismantled around them.
They decided to start trading in the UK and so in 2002 Andrea set up Kashmir Dreams. They split their time between England and India, spending as much time together as they could and bringing stock back to sell at markets, country shows and pop-ups around the Cotswolds. It was an exhausting routine of travel and planning. With the arrival of two children they needed a permanent base. After a spell running a shop in Cirencester and becoming regulars at Stroud Farmer’s Market, they decided to move the business to its current home in Kendrick Street, Stroud.
“When your business is based in a shop you can build a relationship with people. Customer service is a really important part of the business and, like all shops, we value our regulars.” says Shakeel.
The unit had been empty for ages and was flooded but Andrea and Shakeel felt drawn to it. It took a lot of work to get the shop in good condition. Andrea says the sign is slightly wonky but it makes her smile because she thinks of it as a connection with the past. She explains that she was recently shown a photo of the building as it was in the 1920’s, when it was originally built as a fashionable clothing shop. On close inspection she noticed some of the lettering on the sign ‘Sanderson’s’ was crooked!
Next time you’re passing, don’t just admire the quirky sign. Pop in and browse the colourful Kashmiri crafts and enjoy Stroud’s link with the communities of Kashmir.