A connoisseur of art and craft and promoter of women empowerment, Niti Joshi pursues consistency and effort as factors that lead to success. After having extensive knowledge about the international trade market through her frequent travels to trade exhibitions, Niti started a venture in the form of a concept store that is exclusive to women entrepreneurs.
To know about her motivation and story of starting Dhuku:, check out this interview we had with Niti Joshi.
1. Can you introduce yourself and your company to us? How did the journey start?
Coming from artistic family background, there’s nothing I enjoy more than fine art. Although I’m not into creating them myself, I have been supporting this sector since 1999. I also have a lot of experience in the art and craft sector as I travel a lot and get ideas from international markets. One thing I noticed abroad was concept stores that I saw missing in Kathmandu. These concept stores had products from various artists showcased in one place. I realized that I could open such a store here and display artistic products made by women entrepreneurs. This went with my goal of promoting art and empowering women by supporting their work. The products could be anything from skincare to bags to accessories to anything possible.
That’s how I came up with Dhuku: which is situated inside Sierra Restaurant premises, Uttardhoka, Lazimpat. I also have my own art and exclusive framing shop there while sharing space with a beauty parlor and a boutique. So, it’s really vibrant there.
Dhuku: was started around August 2019 but the official opening was on March 7, 2020. I had planned to gather all the women entrepreneurs whose products are displayed in my store but because of COVID19 situation, there was only a small turnout. Regardless, I was able to get the Ambassador of the European Union to Nepal, Veronica Cody to inaugurate the store.
2. What do you think is its market potential?
It’s really huge. If not in the Nepali market, the international market loves Nepali products because of how it is made and the value it holds. It is equally high in terms of quality too so if we’re able to export them in quantities demanded then there’s a huge potential for Nepali products to make profits. I know this because I have been to a lot of international trade fairs.
3. You mentioned that your store is exclusive to women entrepreneurs. How do you connect with them or find out about these products?
Besides running my businesses, I am also involved in different women associations and SAARC Trade. Through their network and the networks I have made as a women entrepreneur, I have been able to connect with many women entrepreneurs so finding their products isn’t that hard for me. Apart from products from women entrepreneurs, I also showcase products made by crisis survivors such as burn victims. Since, Dhuku:’s mission is to empower and support women in their endeavors, I keep a lookout on these things.
However, I make sure that I provide my platform to those in need. These are entrepreneurs who are starting small, have great products and do not have an outlet of their own. Those who already have a showroom do not need my help so I don’t reach out to them. Also, after noticing my store, some entrepreneurs have connected with me on their own so that’s how I have been able to get different brands in Dhuku:
4. How many brands do you showcase at your store?
I have brands plus supporting brands. Right now, there are 10 brands and 5 supporting brands. By supporting brands, I mean those that haven’t started out as companies yet and are made by crisis survivors with help from organizations that are working to empower them. Likewise, I don’t charge rent fees to the supporting brands in order to contribute to their efforts and to uplift them.
5. Why the name Dhuku:?
I have been brought up in Newari culture and I feel like we should be preserving it but the newer generations are slowly drifting to western culture. So, keeping this in mind, I wanted to showcase art and culture and through a concept store. I chose the Newari word “Dhuku:” because it translates to “storage” in Nepali and my concept is that Dhuku:, as a store, conserves art and culture.
6. Do you also produce products yourself?
I haven’t showcased my products at Dhuku: but since I am an art enthusiast myself, I have designed some bags and accessories which will be launched after the lockdown. These products project some sort of art in them and I have also gotten good reviews from those I had gifted the samples to, mostly from the expats.
7. Who are your target customers?
The products that are showcased in Dhuku: are targeted towards the niche market because of their quality, pricing and non-monetary values. Only those that understand this are willing to purchase the products so I wouldn’t limit the target market to foreigners or expats but to those who understand it. I’ve been going to a lot of international trade fairs so I’m planning to export these products in foreign markets too. Maybe the international audience can also be considered as my target market.
8. There is a notion that Nepali products are very expensive. What are your takes on this?
This is actually a misconception. As mentioned earlier, I have been to a lot of countries and witnessed the trade fairs there. Looking at the products there, I can confidently say that Nepali products hold great value as they are hand-made and of good quality with that price. Plus, most of them are also environmentally sustainable and made to empower those at the bottom of the pyramid. People buy different brands without thinking about how it is made or how it affects the person that makes it. I understand people’s notion that Nepali products are expensive but given the value they hold and quality they have come up with even with low resources, I would say they’re very much worth it. Additionally, there’s always economies of scale which are hard to achieve with hand made so in order to preserve this rarity, we must promote Nepali products.
9. How do you price the products? What is your business model like?
The prices are already fixed by the brands. However, I charge a small fee to them in order to pay for the administrative costs. Since this is a not-for-profit business, I keep the costs as low as possible in order to just meet the admin costs. My only goal is to promote the products and I do not plan to make profits out of it.
10. What are your plans for the near future?
I’m looking up a space to open another concept store around Lalitpur. Besides that, I’m also planning to expand the categories of products showcased at the store. That way people get a lot of varieties at one place along with different brands to choose from.
11. How have you been utilizing your time during the COVID19 lockdown?
I’m mostly attending webinars organized in our Women Entrepreneurs group where we discuss how we can cope up with this situation, support each other and build for better. Besides that, I’m also helping in collecting funds and providing food and necessities to needy ones with my fellow Zonta group members.
12. Is there any message you’d like to share with women entrepreneurs and aspiring ones?
“When women support each other incredible things happen”. I think this is true in all aspects so please support one another. There’s also another general message I’d like to give everyone that nobody should stay idle but be involved in one thing or the other. Be creative, create something, regardless of its uniqueness. But, don’t stay idle. There are so many ideas/opportunities floating around so be alert and catch them. Lastly, this is a high time to support local brands as they have a question of survival after the COVID19 crisis. So shop wisely and shop sustainably.
Interviewed and article by Yangzum Lama.