Nasana Bajracharya

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Published On: December 14, 2017 08:46 AM NPT By: Nasana Bajracharya

Spreading smiles, promoting independence

Spreading smiles, promoting independence

KATHMANDU, Dec 14: When something is handmade, it adds more value to the object. Even a simple ‘Happy Birthday’ written in a paper will mean so much more than any other expensive cards at the store as it contains love, care and time that one invests while making it. 

Muskan-bringing back smiles, Nepal is one such organization that creates handmade products like accessories including earrings, mobile chains, key-rings, bags and clothes, among others. Many nowadays come searching for Muskan to get their signature pieces like tassel and pompom earrings as well as necklaces.

With around 21 women, most of whom are homemakers, Muskan works on around 30 designs using materials like threads, wool and cotton. The designs have a specific style of stitching with white/colorful threads made by the women that work here. Apart from the famous designs, few people also visit Muskan with requests to customize their existing handbag design and adapt it to laptop cases.

Before Muskan was officially registered in March 2015, the idea started as a college project. A group of students including Muskan co-founders Anisha Shakya and Sneha Shrestha thought of reusing discarded tarpaulins and tents used by the earthquake victims to make sack bags. 

The idea eventually received an overwhelming response and not too long after they graduated from Kathmandu University (in Development Studies), the duo invested in Muskan. With the help of another co-founder Upendra Singh and his wife Sureewan Phattharathaweephon, they started working with local women to spread smiles across the faces of earthquake victims who were still seeking refuge in the time of crisis. The couple had the experience of working on similar business abroad and is helping in Muskan’s operations and designs.

The shift in their decision to work with women only came after they met with women in Mayur Barna Misaa Pucha of Patan. They saw that women there had the skills but did not know how to make an income out of their skills. They had received training, but were passing their time basking in the sun and chatting. Muskan selected some of these women who were willing to work and gave them training to polish their skills and taught them to make the products that Muskan proudly sells. This not only gave the women jobs and made them independent, but gained them the respect that they lacked before in eyes of their family members.

“Women rarely have a role in decision making at their houses, from small matters regarding what to buy to big decision that affects family. One of the women who work with us shared how she had to think twice even while thinking about choosing a sari for herself. Recently, she came to me and proudly showed me the lehenga she had bought for her daughter with her own money,” Anisha shared.

“There are new examples being set. Husbands of these women help them in household chores and in their work in order to ease their workload. So the whole family is benefitting from the work that one woman is doing,” Anisha added.

More often, women take the backseat because they get entangled in household chores. But Muskan has given women a chance to work from their home in their free time; after finishing their chores. They are also free to come at Muskan’s office and work. The working women are proficient in certain areas of handwork, like stitching and cutting. 

Coincidently, all three of the stores are run by foreign nationals and appeal to international customers. “Nepali people are more inclined towards branded products whereas those in the foreign lands take handmade products as the highest level of craft and appreciate it. They realize they are paying for the hard work rather than for the products,” Anisha shared.

Muskan works with a belief that for a business, the idea or passion is not just enough. “The women need to learn how to turn their ideas into a business, and be able to work on profit and purpose simultaneously. It is important that businesses make profit in order to sustain,” said Anisha.

So far, they have been delivering without much delay and are making revenue that is increasing by the day. People are reaching out to them through social media pages and giving out orders. Muskan has also received much recognition, including Best Entrepreneur in Federation of Woman Entrepreneurs Association of Nepal (FWEAN) and was named one of the top three start-ups Slush 2017. 

“The journey has just begun and there is so much we still need to do. We still need to reach those women who are in dire need of work and money,” said Anisha, further sharing her plans to expand Muskan beyond the Kathmandu Valley. 

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