Conceptualized with the intention and motivation to conserve the art and culture of Nepal, Dochaa has been preserving the dying art of Nepal through its culture-significant shoe designs. Each shoe has a story of its own and we’ll discover here the full story behind this creative enterprise.
In conversation with the cofounders of the company- Dikesh Prajapati, Watsal Rajbhandari and Amuda Mishra.
1. How did the journey of Dochaa start? What is the legal status of your company?
Right after the devastating earthquake hit Nepal in 2015 was when Dochaa got ideated. Although we knew each other, we only became close friends after engaging in relief work together. One evening while discussing the dying art of Nepal, we came up with the idea of making shoes that would have cultural art embedded into them.
Then, we conducted a lot of research on the shoe industry and even visited India to get ideas from shoemakers and shoemaking factories there. I’d actually like to share a story about our visit to India. The day we landed in Delhi, it was declared a red zone for terrorist attacks. Then while traveling to Agra, we got into a bus accident but survived and walked out of there in full consciousness. Then we questioned ourselves if we should cancel all our meetings there and head back home safely or continue with the work trip. However, we decided to carry on with the meetings and after that is when we actually got really serious about Dochaa. We had almost died for this project so we might as well make something out of it, we thought to ourselves.
Accordingly, we were registered in July 2017 as a manufacturing company of shoes and other accessories.
2. What social impact are you trying to make with Dochaa?
Since a lot of people migrate abroad for job opportunities, our motive is to retain people here in Nepal by providing them with better-paying jobs.
Furthermore, we share factory asset mostly human resource-wise. The factory is situated in Maharajgunj that manufactures different products but we have a dedicated team who work particularly on Dochaa Shoes. We pay these workers an amount higher than the market price and also give the factory a certain fee for utilizing their assets.
3. How many people do you employ?
There are 6 of us who do all the office related work. Then, we have 9 total workers who do all the technical work to make shoes. We have 4-5 women who help in the cutting of fabric and sewing of Dochaa shoes. We also have a group of women in Thimi who work on a contractual basis with us who now have institutionalized and formed their own setup.
4. What stage is Dochaa in at the moment?
We would say we are in the growth stage as we have already passed the revenue stage. We have been bootstrapping from the early days and are looking for growth via seed funds, investment and other options.
5. How much have you invested in Dochaa?
The initial capital investment was of Rs. 9 Lakhs that all three of us invested. At the closing of this year, it’s 15 Lakhs in total investment. All the expenses after that have been covered by our revenue so we’re pretty self- sustained as of now. Currently, we have the right amount of cash flow for an even bigger inventory. As active partners, we’re working on stipend too but we loan out our salary to the company so that there’s enough liquidity.
6. Who are your target customers?
Everyone is our customer because we want to be the go-to brand for shoes in Nepal. But, if we’re talking specifics then, our niche target are people who want high-quality Nepali products. These mostly include expats, Nepali people living abroad and tourists who want to take products made in Nepal as souvenirs. We also take special orders to deliver outside Nepal as well and till now we have delivered our shoes in Australia, the UK, and the USA through distributors.
7. What are the challenges you faced?
We faced major challenges in terms of finance, legal, communication, human resource, and target market psychology. Financial institutions play a huge role in a company’s growth but we were reluctant to seek help from them because of their hectic documentation and processes to get the kind of loan we needed. As for government policies, there aren’t many that help startups. We feel that policies such as Startup India and Made in India needs to be introduced in Nepal in order to motivate more people to initiate their own startup.
We also didn’t have much information about the startup ecosystem and the kinds of resources that were available to us. So, I guess we had challenges in this aspect too.
Lastly, although we had a set target as our market, we had difficulty changing the mindset of people regarding Nepal made products. People assume that everything made in Nepal is of low quality and cheap, which is not true. As such, we’ve had incidences where people have told us that our Nepal shoes are overpriced. But, that’s not the case as we deliver the same level of quality. We want to change the mindset of the Nepali people and make them realize that just because a product is made in Nepal it doesn’t mean that they are of a lower standard.
8. Do you consider yourselves as social entrepreneurs?
We’ve always believed in creating a win-win situation for people involved in and with our company. We make sure that our customers get a high-quality product that they’ve paid equally for and our employees have a suitable work environment with great pay. There are other factories who employ tons of people but with very low pay. We are more into ethical manufacturing and creating a social impact has always been in our priority. We want to basically bridge the gap between modern youth and the lost culture of our Country. So, I guess we would like to consider ourselves as social entrepreneurs.
9. What are the future plans?
We’re planning to diversify our brand horizontally with footwear accessories and cooler designs and vertically with products like ties and bags following the same ethos as Dochaa. So, we need a bigger team for that. We’re also planning to conduct training sessions for the independent women group in Thimi to make ties and other products for Dochaa.
We also want to collaborate with Nepali artists to promote and conserve the Nepali art with our products. Furthermore, we’re trying to structure our operations and company as a whole for international shipment. Every day is going to be better and bigger.
10. Have you measured the social impact made by Dochaa?
We haven’t looked at social impact as a whole but we know the number of people who have been employed from us and are our direct beneficiaries. We have sold nearly 2000 pairs of shoes in the past 20 months. Furthermore, the factory that we procure our materials directly from adds to the number of indirect beneficiaries. Thus, I guess we’ve been doing our part in both art preservation and job creation.
Interviewed and article by Priyadarshani Shrestha.