Originally from Germany, Kathrin has travelled around the world and worked in different parts of Europe. Her interest in inter-cultural behaviour brought her to Nepal. Even though she came to Nepal for a research purpose, she was left amused by the amazing traditional skills that women possess here, which drove her to establish Battiayo.
Battiayo was started as a means to economically support the women who had top notch skills and talents and immense ability to use those talents and skills to become financially independent. At present Battiayo not only supports them but also has created a market for their products in the internationally..
Read our conversation with Kathrin Junken, the dynamic founder of Battiayo to know about her entrepreneurial journey so far!
How did the concept of Battiayo come about?
I come from an entrepreneurial family background and have had several business experiences mainly in Europe. During my business travels, I realised that I really loved the inter-cultural aspect of businesses and was really amused by how global companies tackle the inter-cultural difference. So, I started studying psychology to get a deeper understanding of change management and inter-cultural behavior. For my Master’s thesis on Economic Women Empowerment I visited Myanmar and several organizations there. Then I came to Nepal in 2015 and did the same.
Nepal was the perfect playground for my thesis as there has been so much work around the area of women empowerment here. I focused on both small programs as well as bigger donor-powered programs. During my time here, sadly the massive earthquake hit Nepal delaying everything. Regardless, before the unfortunate event, I had made new friends in the empowerment program who reached out to me and asked if I could help them with providing work opportunities to women who had lost their only source of income. I never planned to start a business in Nepal but I had developed a close relationship with the women, so I wanted to support them from the bottom of my heart.
That is when the concept of Battiayo came about, an idea to utilize the mindblowing top notch traditional skills that women here have, to produce export quality products.
Wow that is such an amazing as well as interesting story. How is Battiayo operating at present?
We are currently focused on working with as many women makers as possible, as I realized that an empowerment program whether big or small is not sufficient to build economic and financial independence. So, you will find that our venture is female – dominated. We have all kinds of women makers working with us from full- time to freelancers.
In addition to this we also help other women groups to access the international market. If you check our website, you will see multiple products from other women groups. At Battiayo we strongly believe that collaboration comes first. Also in the near future we are planning to provide storage space to other social enterprises. And this is basically how Battiayo is operating as of now.
Are you the only founder or do you also have a partner you work with?
Yes, I am the only founder but I do have a partner working with me, Eta Shrestha. I met her back in 2015 at one of the markets where she was selling leather bags. The quality of her products were really good and I was really impressed to find such high quality products locally made. My curious self took me to her office three weeks later. We then became friends and started helping each other out, she looks after the domestic market whereas I look after the international networking.
What about other staff and employees who look after the day to day management of Battiayo?
Actually it is just me and Eta. We handle all the administrative and management work. I look after our website, content, designing and branding.
Do you have a community of women that you work with independently who are not a part of the empowerment program?
Yes we do. Working with a network is important to us. It was never about creating another program. It was always about connecting the dots and working as a community with people and programs to up scale and make products internationally available. Battiayo itself has always been independent from donations while taking a step out of an often seen donation circle.
How do you ensure the quality and consistency of your handmade products?
No matter how long you work on the same team and the same products, it is normal for the quality to go up and down at times. So, what I believe is quality control starts from the manufacturing phase itself. Training the makers well makes them aware of the quality and where things might go wrong. Also, it is really important to communicate the difference between high-quality and low-quality products among the makers because they are the ones making them.
Initially I used to struggle with the sizes of the bags and the makers would simply respond saying that it was just a bag. But now after communicating the importance of quality and the impacts of low quality products on our venture openly with them, the women makers themselves take charge of the quality process. Sometimes we also need to consider the quality mistakes they make because if I don’t buy their pieces what will they earn but I make sure that it’s their last time making the mistake.
Communicating the expectations and standard with the makers have helped me ensure the quality and consistency of our handmade products till date.
How do you account for the waste of poor quality products?
I do not consider them as waste because we reuse them in our other products. Also, we sell them for discounted prices in factory sales. We are trying to make it as sustainable as possible both economically and environmentally. We cut the fabrics too in a way we have minimum waste. It is definitely more time-consuming but worth it. Also, the leftover fabrics are used to make keychains. So, nothing is considered waste here.
How do you identify your product base?
There are two things for this. One is how it develops based on the skills of the women who reached out to me. Nowadays we are trying to combine their skills and manufacture products targeting the international markets. Another one is financial sustainability.
Initially how did you manage to finance the business and how are you sustaining currently?
Battiayo is a self-invested venture, I took my own money out and invested it. Since then we have been self – sufficient, the proceeds from our sales of our products are being used for the day to day operation, growth and development of Battiayo.
How do you manage the administration costs like shipping costs for other businesses that you are promoting?
The administration cost isn’t that high. We do the marketing for free through our platform and the businesses showcased in our platform themselves bear the courier charges. In case we have bulk deliveries we divide the shipping cost making it affordable.
Would you be looking to onboarding more women groups and organizations on your platform?
Yes we will be doing that but not immediately, maybe within two years time frame as per our planning. They will need to fulfill the criteria of export quality so that we can sell them abroad. Also, it is not 100% guaranteed that they will succeed once they collaborate with us but I can assure that our platform is affordable.
Where and how are you selling in Nepal and in Europe?
Since the Covid crisis, the sales have been hampered a lot. We actually had two outlets in Nepal but we had to close them because of the pandemic. At the moment we are only at Timro Concept Store. In Europe, our sales were through the market like Christmas market, Autumn market, Spring market. We sell them all over Germany and Austria. We also sell through websites and social media platforms. We are also in touch with some stores in Germany who would like to showcase our products there.
What’s that one message that you would like to give to other entrepreneurs based on your entrepreneurial journey so far?
Keep on trying is what I’d like to say. If one way doesn’t work try another, just make sure you don’t give up.Also, don’t expect success in the first phase, redefine your business model and work every way out possible. I personally don’t consider failures as the end, in fact they are the experiences that you collect so you know what works and what doesn’t.
Check out the beautiful products from Battiayo, you may want to add some of them to your collections, they are that aesthetic! And, make sure to subscribe to their newsletter to stay updated on their new launches!