- This Pokhara-based company is using local materials to produce beautiful handmade bags
Apr 15, 2019-
Around Kathmandu and Pokhara, you can glimpse these bags on the shoulders of women, both local and foreigners. They’re colourful and uniquely patterned, coming in a variety of shapes and sizes—from pouches and totes to larger shopping and travel bags. Produced by the Pokhara-based company Woven, these bags are made by women from rural communities and disadvantaged backgrounds.
In the 2010s, Anup Khadka was working with his mother at the Women’s Skills Development Organisation (WSDO), helping with translations, emails and showing visitors around. He had started at a young age but had formally joined the organisation to expand and develop its reach around the world. Soon, he realised that he wanted to do something similar, yet different.
“Growing up, I would often visit the WSDO centre and marvel at all the various weaving work going on to produce goods that would then be sent around the world,” says Khadka. “Being part of WSDO and seeing my mother’s work up close inspired me to start something on my own.”
In 2016, Khadka found Woven, which shares the same ethos as that of WSDO—to give disadvantaged women access to vocational training and the opportunity to be financially independent in a safe and supportive work environment. Woven focuses on producing and selling a range of products—bags, wallets, kurtas, and pouches—all with a design finesse that is not often seen in Nepal.
Locally sourced, locally made
All of the Woven’s products are handmade in Nepal while the materials are sourced from various places, primarily rural women’s cooperatives in Salija village of Parbat district that collect material produced in households. Natural fabrics like Himalayan Nettle, also known as allo, and hemp are usually favoured since they are environmentally friendly, support the rural community, and impart a distinctly Nepali element that do well in the foreign market. The cotton fabrics used in the products, meanwhile, come from WSDO itself.
Once the materials are sourced, Khadka sits down with his designers and comes up with products that are functional as well as aesthetically sound with a combination of rural materials with urban design. Although the products are handmade, Khadka feels that they’ve been able to adopt new technology and techniques to increase quality, consistency and productivity.
What started with just three staff members has now grown into a team of 35, most of whom are women from disadvantaged backgrounds. The staff is first trained in-house through on-the-job apprenticeships with Woven’s master weavers. For women who have found it challenging to readily find employment in the job market, Woven provides training, space and an outlet to sell their products.
With the increase in conscious consumers both from the country and abroad, Woven has also grown in terms of sales. While they are predominately based in Pokhara, they already have outlets in Kathmandu and have been exporting to Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Germany, and Finland. With this increase in demand, the plan is to expand more, both in the country and to international markets.
“We’re excited about opening our first international outlet in Cambodia this year, which will be followed by a store in Europe. By increasing our reach abroad, we feel that we can empower more women locally which has always been the core of our ethos,” says Khadka.
But that is not the only plan Khadka has for Woven. “Something I’m passionate about is tying up with other Nepali craft brands,” he says. Recent years have seen a significant growth in the Nepali crafts scene, with many brands producing quality items. These brands also share Woven’s values so Khadka is keen to work with them.
“Displaying their items at our retail outlets and vice-versa can lead to more richness in Nepali products,” says Khadka.
Published: 15-04-2019 08:58