Female home bakers in Kashmir are revolutionizing the bakery industry in the valley. Ordering a custom-made cake from a home baker online has become a trend for every celebration, and abandoning the traditional bakery shops, people are now opting for the services of these talented home bakers. With countless such bakery ventures to choose from, it’s no wonder that people in Kashmir are increasingly turning to them for their bakery needs.

Only a search away on Instagram, these young entrepreneurs bake delicacies in the comfort of their homes and earn a livelihood through their skills and passion. Over the past few years, Kashmir has witnessed the growth of these young bakers who are turning their hard-earned culinary prowess into successful business ventures.

Bazilla Malik, a 23-year-old entrepreneur from the HMT area of Srinagar, runs one such successful enterprise, called Sugar n Smiles by Bazilla. She believes the success of many home bakers, including herself, is due to their uncompromising approach to hygiene and the quality of ingredients. “People don’t want to compromise on their health. Since we don’t make products in bulk, we provide freshly baked and packed items with no preservatives,” she explains.

Bazilla also believes that the world of customization is where home bakers are taking the lead. “We bake and design for our customers exactly what they want, according to the theme and type of occasion. Creating a ‘just for you’ connection through that personalization adds an extra touch of joy and warmth,” she says.

Alongside her bakery business, Bazilla is pursuing master’s degree in sociology. She says her mother has been the greatest support throughout her journey. “From being the first one to taste the delicacies the first time I baked in 2015, to now helping finish all my orders on time, I credit my mother’s support and hard work for the success of my business.”

It was during the pandemic that Bazilla delved into the world of baking through YouTube videos and experimenting with various recipes. What started out as a hobby quickly transformed into a full-fledged profession. “The pandemic turned out to be a blessing in disguise for me,” she shares. Encouraged by the praise from friends and relatives during her pandemic baking, Bazilla made a bold decision. “I created an Instagram page and soon started taking orders. Little did I know that this leap of faith would lead to remarkable success for me.” Today she bakes and sells all kinds of cakes, cupcakes, chocolates, donuts and more.

The covid pandemic was a push not only for Bazilla but many young women who made use of their time in lockdown to uncover and refine their hidden skills. Iqra Imtiyaz’s Sweet Sensations by Iqra is a shining example of one such pandemic blessing.

25 years old, Iqra who lives in the Hawal area of Srinagar, started her business in 2021. “Back in February (2020) I was in Chandigarh where I took a baking course for 20 days. But it was immediately halted by the lockdown,” she recalls. Determined to pursue her passion, she returned to Kashmir and used the available resources to continue her learning journey. Online resources and trial-and-error methods helped Iqra develop her art. She says around 70% of her baking knowledge has been acquired through her own efforts.

Her perseverance has paid back. Today, Iqra runs her enterprise single-handed and bakes a variety of treats. With over 4K followers on Instagram, she receives huge appreciation and encouragement from her fans online. “My favorite part of being an entrepreneur is that I am the boss of my own. I have the freedom to make all the decisions related to my business,” she says proudly.

Asked to comment on her fellow homebakers, she says that it’s good to see how young girls are challenging the social stereotype that only males can handle a business well. “It is great that Kashmiri women are stepping up and taking charge of their careers. It not only provides us with financial independence but also contributes to the local economy,” she says, adding that lately such steps have brought hope and opportunities for many women in Kashmir.

The pluses of being your own boss are similarly endorsed by many such entrepreneurs. 26-year-old Nowsheen Zahoor from Srinagar’s Nowshera area says that being the founder and sole manager of an enterprise gives one the opportunity to make decisions about product offerings, business strategies and customer interactions that may not have been possible otherwise. She thinks this autonomy helps entrepreneurs become more creative and experiment according to their own will. “While it comes with responsibilities, being the boss personally grants me the freedom to innovate and foster a business that reflects my passion for baking. This way I ensure everything is aligned with my vision and personal values,” says Nowsheen.

Her online business is called Sugar Cravings by Nowsheen Zahoor. Having initiated the venture in May 2020, today she crafts a diverse range of confectionery including custom baked cakes, cookies, chocolates, pastries, and other goodies. She runs her enterprise from a designated space inside her house where all the products are crafted. Nowsheen has employed a few delivery agents as well who ensure the products reach their customers promptly.

She says that her master's degree in food science and technology has been instrumental in helping her run a successful business. “The knowledge gained about quality assurance, food quality majors, and understanding licence requirements has enabled me to maintain high standards in my baking enterprise,” says Nowsheen.

She recently expanded her reach by supplying products to exclusive restaurants and hotels. Asked about her future plans, she says that in the coming years she wants to expand her startup into a physical storefront. And “as a food technologist, I want to incorporate health-conscious options such as sugar-free and gluten-free products.”

A year ago, the unemployment rate in JK was 21.8%, the highest in states and UTs across India, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy. By March 2023, unemployment rose above 23%. Later, in the July-September quarter, the Periodic Labour Force Survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Office found that unemployment stood at 29.8% in the 15-29 age group in the urban areas of Jammu Kashmir. Notably, females in the region bear a more significant burden of unemployment, with an unemployment rate of 51.8% as opposed to 19.8% among males.

Rounak Qayoom Khajwal, 21 years old from the Hawal area of Srinagar, says unemployment is the biggest reason for the upcoming of such endeavours. She started her online business, Cakecraft by Rounak, in 2023. According to her, while passion and interest do have a role to play when you start a business, in Kashmir it is more like a necessity. She says that looking at the increasing unemployment rate amongst women across Kashmir, it is evident that jobs are nowhere to be found, even for those holding multiple academic degrees. “Hence, youth has taken matters into their own hands, and as a result, we see growing startups including bakery startups across the Kashmir valley,” says Rounak.

While she prepares the products entirely by herself in the kitchen of her house, she has opted for local delivery services for the rest of the job. Primarily a self-taught baker, to enhance her skills she took baking classes and attended a workshop at a local coaching institute.

While individual talent and unique business strategies have earned each baker a special spot, these young women do share a common secret to their success. It is in the ways in which they harness the power of social media and digital tools to reach a wider audience and boost their business ventures.

According to Iqra Imtiyaz, social media has deeply influenced the way her business operates. “I actively use social media to showcase my new creations, share updates about new offers, and connect with customers directly. It has helped me build a loyal following, and ultimately boosted my business,” she explains.

Similarly, Rounak Khajwal credits her business growth to the interesting ways in which she follows every Instagram trend related to baking and cooking. “Creating visually appealing short videos to highlight my work and use of the right hashtags are two ways I try to engage more audiences,” she says.

According to Bazilla Malik, the biggest benefit of social media has been the ease with which it cost-effectively helps businesses do their marketing. She feels the digital space has been a game-changer in every home baker’s journey to increase their brand visibility. “Our cost of advertising is saved with our online presence. Platforms such as Instagram and Facebook are both idea-generation and self-promotion tools,” she says.

Indeed the use of social media in the journey of these homebakers has been incredibly beneficial. These platforms help them receive orders and get instant feedback and suggestions from the customers precious to them. Through their passion and their commitment toward financial independence, these young women have not only built thriving businesses for themselves but are inspiring many to likewise turn their creativity into enterprises.