February 1, 2019 07:56 AM NPT
By: URZA ACHARYA
Shyam Badan Shrestha worked as a teacher for 13 years, teaching Science and occasionally Nepali too. During those days, whenever she was done with work she would start knitting or weaving. That was how she would unwind after a long day at work. In 1984, she took her hobby a bit further and started Nepal Knotcraft Centre, initially operating from a small room at home.
According to Shrestha, when she started out there weren’t many women who were involved in the business sector in Nepal. She recalls two years into her startup exhibiting her products that ranged from furniture to ethnic dolls at Hotel Shankar in Kathmandu at a program organized by the UN Women and American Women. “There were only two women exhibiting their products at the exhibition. The rest were men,” she says.
However, it was there that she received a lot of positive feedback as well as several orders for her products. Following the success of the exhibition, Shrestha opened a showroom at Hotel Himalaya in Kupondole. Lalitpur. That was in the year 1989 and the showroom is still in operation till date. During the daytime, she taught fellow women who were interested to learn this craft and at night, she read books about the several forms of macramé.
Once her business was properly set up and stable, Shrestha employed more and more women to help run the company. She made sure she employed stay-at-home moms who were financially dependent on other members of the family. These women could stay at home and weave and knot furniture and other souvenirs and submit them within a given date. “I had been knitting and weaving since I was a child, and that’s how I paid for my education. If I could make something out of it myself, I felt like all the women who stay at home could do something too,” she explains.
The first major hurdle in Shrestha’s business came with the blockade imposed by India in 1990. “A lot of businesses had to be closed down and we were on the verge of being shut down, mainly because all our raw materials came from India,” she reveals adding that that’s when she felt her business was not as sustainable as she hoped it would be. To find a solution to this, she went all over Nepal in search of a new material for her goods. As there were around 50 women, both directly and indirectly, working under the company, Shrestha says there was an enormous pressure to revive her business as quickly as possible.
Along with finding raw materials to make her products like corn husk, recycled wood, bamboo etc., she also learned about weaving patterns and techniques belonging to different communities and regions that helped her bring diversity in her products. “However, I still haven’t found the quality and quantity of raw material that can bring out the best in Knotcraft,” reveals Shrestha. Among the many products that the Nepal Knotcraft Centre currently makes the ethnic dolls inspired from the Tamang, Gurung, and Newar communities are the ones favored by locals and foreigners alike. However, Shrestha claims that Nepal has a long way to go when it comes to yarn making.
Due to the Maoist insurgency, the company had trouble running from 2008 and had to be completely shut down in early 2010 and so around 84 women working there were left without jobs. This came as a blow to Shrestha for this was the second time her company had had to face such a grave situation. “But I gathered all my courage and tired to be hopeful and I started the company yet again after the insurgency ended,” she says. As of now, her company makes furniture, carpets, vases etc. using ‘green’ raw materials. She claims her products aren’t just aesthetically pleasing they are sustainable as well.
The main purpose of her company is clear from their motto “weaving nature into women’s livelihood”. Shrestha says that she wants to produce goods that promote Nepal’s culture and tradition, is eco-friendly and will give employment to rural women who have unlimited possibilities but are confined inside the four walls of their homes. “Women in our country need to become financially independent. That’s how they can take care and provide for themselves as well as their children,” she reveals.
Shrestha says that she is glad that her products are well received in the market and that her line of work is well respected in Nepal as well as the rest of the world. She further hopes that with the help of her company she can employ women all over Nepal, bring forth the wonderful cultures and traditions of Nepal and inspire other women to start their own businesses, no matter how big or small. Shrestha wants women, especially the ones who feel like they have no escape from all the prejudices of our society and feel helpless, to know that they are capable of making something of themselves and being financially independent. “All they have to do is learn a skill or two and believe that they have value in the market,” she concludes.