Print Edition - 2019-05-13 | escalate
Call of the wild
- With backpacks, tote packs and camera straps, Yatri Supply sells quality products that embody a love of nature and the outdoors
May 13, 2019-
In late 2016, Ujjwal Gurung was trekking to Mardi Himal when a sudden downpour left him scrambling to save his camera gear. His backpack wasn’t waterproof, and Gurung ended up wrapping his camera and lenses in plastic bags. While most of us would promise ourselves a waterproof backpack the next time around, Gurung, an avid traveller, began to wonder if he could craft a waterproof backpack himself, one that travellers like him could trust to do its job in the wilderness. This experience set the foundation for Yatri Supply, a company that Gurung would go on to co-found--one geared towards travellers.Back from the trek, in Kathmandu, Gurung, along with his friend Nigel Shrestha, started Yatri Supply in December 2016. The duo didn’t have any manufacturing or product design experience, but what they did have was unshakeable determination and stubbornness to see through what they wanted to achieve, says Gurung.
Gurung and Shrestha started small, making camera straps instead of bags. “We decided to take it slow and started by making camera straps, which were not only easier but also less resource extensive,” says Shrestha.
After several design sketches and hours of rumination over which materials to use, the duo began consulting those in manufacturing about on where to buy raw materials. But the answers they got were very vague. “Nobody was willing to give us the exact addresses of shops,” says Shrestha.
They ended up walking for hours, scouring the narrow alleys of Chhetrapati and Thamel, visiting dozens of shops and finalising materials. “Until or unless you are buying raw materials in large quantities, many of the vendors hesitate, or even refuse, to sell,” says Gurung. “Everything was new to us and everyday, we learned something new about the dynamics of the market that we had thrust ourselves into.”
After several camera strap prototypes and product tests, Yatri Supply produced a first-run of 15 camera straps, which were either sold or distributed for free among their friends and families. “Most of the feedback we got was really positive, but some shared that the price tag of Rs 2,000 for a camera strap was too expensive,” says Gurung.
For the second batch, the duo came up with three different straps, priced at Rs 1,500, Rs 2,000 and Rs 2,500. Some of the feedback they received had nothing to do with product quality but was more about how they planned to sustain a business simply selling camera straps.
Two and half years later, Yatri Supply’s product line today includes tote packs, backpacks, travel pouches, two different types of notebooks and candles, and four different types of camera straps. Except for the notebooks, the rest of its products are manufactured in small quantities.
“We are still a small company so it makes sense for us to make products in small batches. First, we don’t have the money to buy raw materials in bulk, and second, by making products in small batches, we can actually listen to feedback from our customers and make necessary changes,” says Gurung. “That’s how we operated from the very beginning, and it has always worked for us. We haven’t had to discontinue a single product we have launched so far.”
But this operating model is not without its own sets of challenges. Purchasing raw materials in small quantities not only amplifies the risk of raw materials being potentially unavailable, but also having to deal with price fluctuations. “On numerous occasions, vendors have told us that the materials we had previously bought from them were no longer in stock, or the prices have gone up. These are challenges we, as a small company, have to deal with and have learned to work around,” says Shrestha.
But regardless of what comes their way, the duo says that one thing they never compromise on is quality. “From designs and material selection to production, we ensure that every aspect gets equal attention to detail. For example, our tailors spend twice the amount of time making one Yatri Supply bag than they would on any other normal bag. That’s the level of workmanship and detail that goes into our work,” says Shrestha.
All their effort and obsession over every aspect of their work is beginning to pay off, says the duo. “We get a lot of feedback and reviews from our customers, and most of them have been very positive, which serves as great motivation to further improve what we do,” says Gurung. “We have also been approached by a few international stores. Our products might soon be displayed in their outlets as well.”
When Yatri Supply first started, the market itself was undergoing rapid changes. There were already a few niche Nepali brands in the market that manufactured apparel, shoes, and stationery. “People were no longer fixated on buying just international brands. There was a growing number of discerning buyers who didn’t shy away from buying Nepal-made products,” says Gurung. “In fact, people have become very supportive of homegrown brands, and wearing local brands has now become a style statement in itself.”
The increasing number of local brands, according to Shrestha, doesn’t necessarily have to be viewed through the lens of competition. “There are very few local brands in a sizeable market. My experience so far tells me that as long as your brand offers quality well-designed products and maintains a strong brand presence, it will remain relevant,” says Shrestha.
The duo puts a lot of emphasis on setting and maintaining strong branding, and spends considerable time and resources ensuring Yatri Supply’s image is in line with its ethos. “The company was born out of our love for travel and the outdoors, and we make sure that the brand’s messaging reflects it,” says Gurung. “We have several brand ambassadors who are known for their love for travel and have also tied up with several travel vloggers.”
The brand’s social media pages are filled with photos of their products against snow-draped mountains and misty hills in the background. There are also several very well-made videos of idyllic landscapes.
Since Yatri Supply was conceived in the woods enroute to Mardi, a love of travel and exploring the wilderness is in the DNA of the company. “So it is only natural for us to make products that speak to those who share the same love,” he says.
But the duo doesn’t want to stop at just making travel accessories. “We want to become a company that’s environmentally responsible, and we want our products to leave as small of a carbon footprint as possible. We know this won’t be easy to achieve, but we are taking baby steps,” says Shrestha.
One of the steps they’ve already taken, says the duo, is by not using paraffin wax, which releases toxic benzene and toluene when burned, in their candles. “We are exploring the idea of using recycled fabrics for our products,” says Gurung. “I think it’s only natural for us to think along this line, because without nature, Yatri Supply wouldn’t even be possible.”
Published: 13-05-2019 10:01