Nepali families have been using things like mustard seed pillows, clothes made out of Dhaka, and kokro (a cot – typically made from bamboo – used to carry babies) for centuries for maternity and childcare purposes. Most of these pregnancy and childcare traditions have various scientific reasons behind them. It’s usually for the benefit of the newborn and the mother as well.
But very few people know about this now and usually discard these age-old concepts as being silly and groundless. Instead, people opt to follow western maternity and childcare methods as these seem to be more convenient and the market is saturated with different products to boot.
This is why one of the core motives behind the launch of Kokroma, a sustainable and social enterprise that manufactures and sells products required during pregnancy and postnatal care, is to spread awareness about our traditional maternity and childcare methods among Nepalis.
Kokroma unveiled their products early this year – during February 2019 – but Rewati Gurung, founder of the company, mentions that she had been preparing for the launch of Kokroma for almost a year and half prior to that.
Gurung learned about the Finnish Baby Box, a maternity package the government of Finland distributes for free to pregnant women containing over 50 items needed during pregnancy and postnatal phase, while completing a course on Gender, Culture and Politics at the University of Helsinki in Finland in 2015. She was touched after learning how much this small act contributed to ease the lives of Finnish mothers and children and claims that the concept inspiration behind Kokroma is the Finnish Baby Box.
But it wasn’t until late 2017 when Gurung finally decided to launch a brand of her own that exclusively made products for pregnant women and infants. Back then she was filming a documentary on female entrepreneurs of Nepal. After hearing about all the success the women had had in running their own businesses, Gurung too thought of starting her own enterprise. The filming for the documentary finished in late 2017, and Gurung immediately started researching for the launch of Kokroma.
The reason why the preparation and research for Kokroma took a long time was because Gurung only wanted to use raw materials available in Nepal to make the products. She states that while she was working as a professional cinematographer, she had shot campaigns for a lot of good quality lifestyle products made in Nepal – which would all be imported to American and European countries – so, she knew making quality products was possible in Nepal. She tracked down stores that sold raw materials – including little things like threads – made in Nepal, hired a few workers, and manufactured the few first copies of the products. These products were then tested and the items that passed their testing phase were released for sales.
Because the initial inspiration for Kokroma was the Finnish Baby Box, Gurung tried to produce products similar to the ones included in that to incorporate in her own package. But as she started researching Nepal made products, she realized that a lot of authentic Nepali items used during pregnancy and for infants were actually better for both the baby and the mother.
She realized that a lot of thought had actually gone on behind these age-old methods and items. For instance, the strings used in bhotos and dauras to tie the clothing are better than buttoned onesies as with that there is no danger of the babies biting and choking on the buttons. Similarly, using mustard seed pillow helps the child’s head take the correct shape, and that only cotton should be used to make children’s clothes as it doesn’t irritate their skin as almost every other fabric does.
Currently, Kokroma has a variety of products including kokro (bamboo crib), mattress and cover, bed sheets, blankets and cover, khasto (blanket wrap made from triple layered cotton muslin), mustard seeds pillow and case, mosquito nets, bhoto sets, patuka, diapers, mittens and socks, caps, bibs, sleeping bags, toiletries fit for babies, and breast pads among other things.
Their customizable Kokro Set (that is modeled after the Finnish Baby Boxes) incorporates a lot of these products and are popular among their local as well as foreign customers. Although Kokroma doesn’t have an outlet of its own yet, the products are available at Craftmandu in Jhamsikhel, Kathmandu Haat in Bhanimandal, Koru in Boudha, Nepal Medi City Hospital in Bhaisepati, and Ananda Tree House Café in Boudha.
“From the very beginning, I wanted my company to be a social enterprise more than a business,” says Gurung adding that supporting and helping Nepali individuals and local businesses is very important to the company. As an ethical business, Gurung has also made sure that the employees of Kokroma get a decent salary. The company is also associated with an NGO and four of their full time workers donate their entire salary to child homes and orphanages in Kathmandu every month.
Gurung also reveals that she does her best to make the working environment and conditions as comfortable as possible for her workers as she believes people work most efficiently when they are at ease. She has set up a kitchen at Kokoroma’s studio in Jorpati that’s stocked with tons of food so that the workers can cook anything they wish to snack on when they get hungry while working. The working hours are also flexible. And she has also trained her staff to value their craft and she claims that buyers can actually feel that their products are made with utmost care and love.
The most challenging aspect of launching Kokroma, according to Gurung, was gaining the trust and support of her family. She explains that shifting from cinematography to running her own business was a big change for her. And because she quit her job and didn’t work for more than a year (during the research and preparation phase of Kokroma), her family didn’t believe that she could run a new business on her own. But after seeing the unexpectedly high sales of Kokroma products, Gurung has regained full trust and support of her family.
The technicalities of launching and running a business was other aspect Gurung initially had difficulties dealing with. She states that since this is her first business venture, she found the technical aspects to be a bit mundane and tiring. “I’m actually a little glad that I knew nothing about the technical aspects of business operations because had I known all of that going in, I would have probably backed out of launching Kokroma in the first place,” says Gurung.
In the future, Gurung hopes of turning Kokroma into an internationally renowned baby and maternity care brand. She is also hoping to work with the Nepal government to distribute baby boxes to pregnant women all over the country. She states that a lot of the products in the current baby package (called Nyano Jhola) that the government is handing out at maternity hospitals are imported. “But if we can collaborate with the government on that project, then we will be supporting the local economy significantly as all our products utilize raw materials that are found and made in Nepal,” concludes Gurung.