Many people living with Leprosy are unable to work due to disability caused by the disease and the stigma they face.The continued stigma also prevents them from seeking help when first symptoms appear, causing delay in diagnosis and development of disabilities. Girls and women, in addition face the added issue of gender and social discrimination, causing them to suffer more, both physically and mentally.
Working on this misconception, is Erica Sithling, founder of Behind That Veil and an employee at Nepal Leprosy Fellowship. Behind That Veil though small, is working with a great cause employing leprosy affected girls and commercializing their skills!
Read on to know more about this venture working with a great cause.
How did the concept of Behind That Veil ideated?
I have always been interested in handmade stuff and the NGO that I am working in has a handicraft section, where the leprosy affected individuals and their family members are provided training. But I felt that all these training were not providing value to those individuals, one because after the training they had very little ways to commercialize their learnings and two, the handmade stuff, especially the accessories like earrings and bracelets do not have a market here in Terai.
So, to ensure that the training isn’t wasted and they are able to generate some income, I decided to start a small venture,Behind That Veil that sells the products made by leprosy affected individuals across the country.
What are the different products Behind That Veil offers?
We have been offering three different products-earrings, bracelets and bookmarkers. The bracelet and the book markers have a small market. So, as of now we are more focused on the production and sales of earrings.
Where do you get the raw materials for your products?
The crystals that are used are easily available in the market here in the Eastern side, but the materials like stone, glass beads, wire are not available here, so we source it from Kathmandu.
Where are the products made?
Since we are still very small, we produce our stocks of products once every four to five months. The producers come and stay at our convenient centers (Itahari/Dharan) from three different districts – Sunsari, Morang and Jhapa where they produce the jewellery.
Where can customers find your products?
Currently we are online based. So, the customers can order our products from our Instagram and Facebook page. They can also find our products in Kundal Shop, Dharan and Ganeshan Nepalcrafts, Itahari. For customers outside Dharan and Itahari, we have courier service and we get their products delivered within 3 days.
What are the price ranges for your products?
The prices depend on the material used and the design. Initially we launched products with a price range of Rs.150 with simple designs. Now we have started experimenting, we also launched our pearl collection recently. So for now our price ranges from Rs.200 to Rs.800.
The earrings from Behind That Veil are quite unique. Who is involved in the designing process?
I myself design the products. I take inspiration from several jewelry pages and Pinterest has also made the designing process hassle free. After going through a few designs, I work on creating my own designs by modification. I try to add some unique touch to every product that Behind That Veil offers.
Who are your allies in running this venture?
Behind That Veil is my self-invested venture. For the production I have 3 producers. In total we have had 5 batches of production, 2 of the makers helped me in the first 3 batches but they had to leave due to some personal reason and health issues. So, at present I have 1 producer from Sunsari. She alone takes care of the production as of now.
Do you have any plans for expansion?
This is our 2nd year of operation and I was thinking of making the products available offline too. But I have not been able to actually work on it due to the present COVID-19 situation. So, maybe Behind That Veil will operate as an online store for a few more years.
Behind That Veil is a really unique name. Why did you choose this name for your venture? Is there a story behind it?
I come from Christian family and I believe that in the past the priest was the medium to connect to God, so there was this veil between God and people. But when Jesus came and died on the cross, that veil was torn down which led to the direct connection between God and people. I have tried to connect this story with my venture where my venture works on connecting the leprosy affected people to the society acting as a veil. Also, there is another dimension too.
Generally, the products and markets are centralized only in city areas which has led to variance in development. And with this venture I wanted to address this issue too, I want to create a market for products made in the Eastern side to gain market across Nepal, presenting a behind the scene picture.
These two aspects are core to my venture and Behind That Veil perfectly represented that hence I chose this name.
What are the challenges in running Behind That Veil?
Every business has its own challenge; it is an area full of uncertainty. You never know what will happen tomorrow or even the very next moment. I come from the Eastern part of Nepal and like I said the handmade products don’t have a market here. So, creating that market and reaching out to people I would say was the very first challenge I faced.
Also I have had situations where I had to lay off the producers because of the health reasons. One of the producers had recurrent wounds on her foot that hindered travelling. So after working with us for 2 batches, unfortunately, she had to stop working and take rest to care for her health. Situations like these are very tough. Also the current situation we are in has onboarded new challenges. After lots of hard work and commitment we were finally getting orders and were planning to do a lot of things. But the current situation has led to uncertainty of the business production.
What do you think is the unique selling point of Behind That Veil?
Talking about what makes us different, we are working and supporting a cause and I feel that it is something that has made it easier for people to support us. Apart from this, our designs are different from those that are available in the market. So, these are our USP.
How do you maintain a balance between your role as an employee in a NGO and as a founder of Behind That Veil?
I have a 9 to 5 job in the NGO and during that time period I am fully devoted to my work. During the production period, I teach the makers the designing and manufacturing process then they themselves work on it. I text and deal with customers during my breaks. I do the packaging of orders during night time and deliver them during my break time. That is how I have been handling both these jobs.
What changes have you seen in yourself in the past 2 years?
Behind That Veil has taught me what true patience is. I have to handle different types of customers from different walks of life and with time I have learned to analyze each customer’s needs better. Also as a founder of Behind That Veil I have to talk to a lot of people across Nepal, which has enhanced my communication roles and that is a change that is quite evident in me. Also my connections and networking have grown in general. I have got an opportunity to know and get in touch with other people who are involved in art and craft. Without Behind that Veil I am sure that wouldn’t have been possible.
Is there anything else that you’d like to share?
I would like to talk a bit about leprosy. There is this misconception surrounding leprosy that leprosy affected people have deformities on their body parts, not curable and the disease itself as a curse. This however is not true at all. Leprosy affected people can be cured if they have an early diagnosis. But the problem which still remains is the misconception about the disease. The way the leprosy affected people are treated by the family and society holds them back, they hide their problem in an early stage because of the fear of discrimination and hatred. As a result, things get worse for them in the long run both physically and mentally.
Together, we can put a stop to discrimination and stigma against people with leprosy. So, I’d like to request everyone to bust the myths and learn the facts about leprosy!!
Don’t forget to check out their social media pages for more products and give them a follow to stay updated on all their new launches!!
Interviewed and Article by Trishna Shakya