By Sonya Rehman
Having recently turned a month old, Tinku and Co., a new non-profit start-up from Karachi, Pakistan, makes the loveliest trinkets that are woven around whimsical little characters.
But it is the story behind the origin of the start-up which is perhaps all the more heartwarming and special.
Founded by Maham Zehra in August, this year, Tinku and Co., was born out of the need to help emancipate low-income women artisans whose children were students of Zehra’s father’s school, Ali Model English School, in Awami Colony, Karachi.
Established by Zehra’s father, the late Syed Shabbir Haider, in 2010, the school was constructed for the sole purpose of educating the colony’s children who had no access to a proper education. Having quit her job in 2013 to join the school full-time, Zehra mentions that with the COVID-19 outbreak, the school had to be shut down in March as per government orders.
But in June, during the midst of the pandemic in Pakistan, Zehra worried about her students. Cramped up in their homes, in an area where remote learning was unheard of due to the lack of electricity and zero access to smart phones and computers, she knew something had to be done to not only help her students stay busy, but also, to allow their mothers to become financially self-sufficient.
“Since our school is small, I know my students’ families and found out that they were in financial dire straits,” Zehra says, “Imagine a family of 7-9 people in one room, minus electricity and without the option of going outdoors due to the pandemic.”
Given that a majority of the families in Awami Colony hail from Gilgit-Baltistan (a region in northern Pakistan), many of the women were skilled in needlework and embroidery (due to the crafts being passed down from generation to generation).
“We used to do lot of arts and crafts projects in school and many of the children would learn needlework from their mothers,” Zehra states, mentioning that she began sending the craftswomen reference images through her students during the lockdown. Soon enough, when the prototypes were ready, Zehra began posting photos of the crafts on her personal Facebook page. The feedback from her friends was just the nudge she needed, and on the 9th of August, 2020, Zehra officially launched Tinku and Co., on Instagram.
Named after her beloved cat, Tinku (who was coincidentally born during the lockdown), the products range from small toys (that can be used as bag accessories), necklaces, bookmarks, garden sticks, wall hangings and more, lovingly made out of recycled materials by six women artisans.
“The artisans have been so excited about earning money. One of them made $120 [roughly PKR 20,000] and contributed towards the household income! For them, there’s a ‘me’ in their narrative now, they aren’t dependent on asking for money from the male members of their family. It just makes me so happy that I’m able to do something to help them achieve financial autonomy,” she says, “I want to show their skills to the world through Tinku and Co.”
Revealing that she has been quite taken aback by the response Tinku and Co. has garnered in just a month, Zehra states that she does feel a little pressured by the glowing feedback.
“I don’t believe in following any trends, what we’re making through the non-profit comes from the heart and I want to continue building it organically,” she says, adding that Tinku and Co. was launched solely for its craftswomen, minus any middlemen. And she intends to keep it that way.
“I want my artisans to create things that they enjoy making, they should have a freehand in their creative process.”
While Zehra’s non-profit may only be a few weeks old, she’s currently looking at stocking Tinku and Co. products on international online platforms.
“I need a long-term plan that would help me bring more craftswomen on board, and also, to refine our product line with the right resources and raw materials.”