This Startup is Preserving the Rich Traditions and Skills of Nepal

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You need to protect what’s yours!! But we somehow have failed to do that. Our ancestors’ skills and traditions have been left behind with time. The modern machineries have replaced the traditional equipment like handlooms and wooden looms. 

Born and brought up in the City of Culture and Living Heritage, Bhaktapur, Nistha Kayastha has taken an initiative to preserve these rich cultures and skills that have been passed down from generation to generation. Her venture Didi- Bahini Creations not only ensures the preservation of the skills and traditions but is also actively working on commercializing the skills of the local and providing them a source to become financially independent.

Read on to know more about this venture!

How did the concept of Didi- Bahini Creations come about?

Back then I used to work in a textile industry which got me really intrigued by the techniques of handloom. Handloom was something new to me, a traditional machinery that sadly is almost in the verse of extinction. Born and brought up in Bhaktapur, I see a lot of people, mainly the older generation, still engage in traditional fabric making and the skills they possess are beyond description. But, most of them are illiterate and are homemakers which has somehow put a limit on the exposure and reach of their skills to the market. 

Hence, with the motive to provide the exposure and value to the makers and skills while preserving our culture, I decided to start Didi- Bahini Creations almost a year back in November 2019.

What are the different products Didi- Bahini Creations is offering?

All our products are either handmade and handcrafted. We have tote bags, scrunchies, cushion, laptop sleeves, headbands, table cloth and mats. We have also started making custom dresses. Likewise, we are also experimenting with Bateko Dhup which is really popular among the Newars here.

Where does the production take place? Do you have a factory?

We are mainly home based. We don’t have a factory, instead we have a small room. The activities like knitting, weaving takes place in the houses of the makers who are mainly based in Bhaktapur. 

How did you approach the makers? What were their reactions like?

The markers were mostly farmers, single mothers making these beautiful products. It was mainly part time work for them. So, when I proposed the idea of providing the market for their products, they took it really positively. Before this, they used to make these products for their family members and even if they sold them they got minimum monetary values. So, they were really happy being associated with Didi- Bahini Creations.

Where do you get all the raw materials from?

Normal threads are available here in Bhaktapur but if we need the treads in large quantities and are urgent, then we get it from Chetrapati. In addition to this, we are also trying our hands on producing organic cotton ourselves. 

 

Where can customers find your products?

We are currently online based. So, customers can order our products from our Facebook and Instagram page. However, we have made products like bateko dhup, scrunchies, headbands available in the local market here in Bhaktapur. 

What about your team?

We have a small team. We have 3 weavers, 2 tailors, 2 knitters and 1 administrative assistant. So, including me we have a team of 9 people working at Didi- Bahini Creations.

Also along with this, my family is an important part of the team.  Doing a business is full of uncertainties and coming from a middle class family, the reasons why not to do a business are often outcasts the reasons to do a business. But my family was super supportive, especially my mom. When I told her that I wanted to start Didi-Bahini Creations, she was the one who  helped me. She still designs the majority of products for the venture. So along with my working team, I consider my family my team too for all the moral support and strength they give me. 

How has the current COVID-19 crisis affected your venture?

It has affected the production and execution part of our business. We had planned to produce Organic Cotton fabric but that has not been possible due to the lockdown. Similarly, we were planning a photoshoot for our products before launching them in our social media handles but that has been halted. Also, due to the current situation, despite the orders we have not been able to deliver them. 

What were the challenges you faced when you initially started out Didi- Bahini Creations?

We import a lot of products from our neighboring countries and due to the mass production, their prices are extremely low. And the same product when produced in Nepal tends to be expensive because we don’t produce in large quantities and most of our productions are still labor intensive(handmade). But the people here don’t understand this. They have this thinking that if the products are manufactured in Nepal they need to be cheap. They don’t understand the hard work that goes into making the products. In addition, they don’t even bother to think about the pay the weavers and maker of a particular product receive. And what’s heartbreaking is that foreigners really value and support the products but the support we should be getting from the Nepalese is lacking. This lack of understanding the importance of handmade products and the hard work involved, I would say was and still is the major challenge to some extent.

Who was your target market when you started off? Have there been any changes?

I started Didi- Bahini Creations targeting both the domestic and international market. Products made from allo, banana fibre are quite expensive, so we have those products made with international customers in mind. Whereas products that are comparatively cheaper like tote bags, normal scarves are made for the Nepali market. Also, I was very clear from the very beginning that my venture will not depend on only one market segment.

What makes Didi- Bahini Creations different?

First and foremost, we are not only limited to manufacturing but we give equal importance to recycling and reusing. We make sure nothing goes wasted, even a small piece of fabric. So, we try to make keyrings and other stuff from the leftover fabrics. This is one thing that is unique. 

Secondly, we offer flexibility to our makers. It is not necessary that everyone can work a 9 to 5 job. So, we have made sure that the makers can work on the products during their free time whenever feasible. 

Third and the most important is that Didi- Bahini Creations is not just any organization. Our core foundation and objective of establishing this venture is to work with home based makers and to uplift their indigenous skills, to preserve the skills and knowledge that our ancestors have left behind.  

What are your future plans for Didi- Bahini Creations?

Weaving is an ancient skill passed down from we don’t know how many generations. But today, especially our generation has become so occupied with all the new and modern things and the way of life that these skills are in the verse of extinction. All the makers at Didi- Bahini Creations are 50+ years, so I get worried at times that these skills will be obsolete. Hence, I am planning to provide training on using wooden looms to interested youths in near future.

Similarly, as of now Didi- Bahini Creations is limited to Suryabinayak and Bhaktapur Municipality. So, I am planning to reach other places of  Bhaktapur like Thimi and other districts like Kathmandu and Lalitpur.   

Also along with running this venture, I am also a student which is why I haven’t been able to emphasize the legal aspects. So soon, mostly probably after the COVID situation,I will be registering the company. I am also planning to launch a website and make the products available in the concept stores.

What do you think is the Nepalese market welcoming towards Made in Nepal products?

Yes, it’s true that it is easier to sell made in Nepal products to foreigners. But it’s almost been a year since I am working in this field and the future is really optimistic. A lot of Nepalese are willing to buy Made in Nepal products, just that it is slightly difficult to make them  understand why the products are expensive. But I am sure that change is taking place.

Check out the amazing products from this amazing venture here:

Facebook: @Didi-Bahini Creations

Instagram: @didibahini_creations