Despite the minimum wage set to NRP. 69 per hour, thousands of people in Nepal still work below par, especially the ones working in the field of labour and craft, be it any gender.
Hence to ensure that the artisans and the makers are paid fair, Anweeta, a fashion designer has started her own venture, Eco Artés. Eco Artés is a startup for a lifestyle brand that gives utmost priority to empower its artisans. Along with this, Anweeta through her venture is also working actively to make people understand the value of Made in Nepal products both in social and monetary terms.
Read on to find out what we mean!
How did the concept of Eco Artés come about?
I always knew I wanted to do something of my own, but I wasn’t really sure which area I would opt for. During my college years when I was studying fashion design, I was somewhat hit by reality. The fashion industry with its facade of glamour, is the second largest pollutant in the world after the petroleum industry.
Then the transition took place where I started becoming more inclined towards handcrafts, natural dyeing and other sustainable options. I did internships in large Indian retail brands which gave me a clarity that high/fast fashion is not for me and running a sustainable business is what I crave for, which led me to start Eco Artés in November 2019.
What exactly is Eco Artés?
Eco Artés is a startup working effortlessly to become a lifestyle brand. To give a brief about what a lifestyle brand is, it is the next step in product marketing by not just selling a physical item but also selling the way of life behind it. It does not feature only one product, instead it includes multiple products ranging from home decor to fashion items. It may even include skincare products depending on the brand. We started with macramé based products so people often mistake us as a macramé based brand.
What made you decide that you wanted to start a lifestyle brand?
It’s just been 4 and a half months since we launched and marketed our products. We started off with macramé products and we’re so overwhelmed by the response from our viewers. But with time I realized that despite the love for macramé made products, people don’t really know the efforts that goes into making them. Along with this, I also realized that it would be tough for me if I am limited only to macramé not just in monetary terms but also when we started training the women we realized that not everyone could do macramé as it requires constant hand movement throughout the day(anyone who does macramé will understand what I’m talking about). So we started providing them training on crochet, embroidery which they picked up really well. This made it very clear for me that manufacturing only macramé based products wouldn’t be sufficient for both the sustainability of my venture and for impacting the lives of the marginalized women. So, I decided that Eco Artés will be a lifestyle brand with multiple products and a story behind each creation.
The name Eco Artés and the logo is quite unique. Is there a meaning behind it?
The word ‘eco’ at Eco Artés refers to sustainable as well as ethical practices and ‘artés’ is a Spanish word for art each of our creation is a form of art. Our logo however, has a significant meaning behind it. The hands and the way the fingers are intertwined represents a promise that we will always work towards uplifting our artisans and makers of our products so that they can live a good life. And the yarn portrays handcrafts. To state it in one line, the logo represents the core foundation of our venture, sustainable handcrafts.
Who are the makers of the products? Where does the production take place?
Initially I made the products myself, then we started training women from the marginalized communities. Now, I am involved in all the other areas of running the venture whereas the women whom I have trained are involved in the production.
Talking about where the products are made, we have a separate workspace in Lazimpat, where the women work throughout the day.
Do you provide training to other interested individuals too?
Till date, we have been able to provide training to only the women. Also we had plans of organizing workshops for other interested individuals but due to the COVID situation it hasn’t been possible.
Where can customers find your products?
Presently, we are online based. Customers can order our products from our Instagram page as well as from OODI.
What is the major challenge running Eco Artes? How are you working on tackling this?
I would say it is making people understand why ethical and sustainable brands are a little higher at prices than in comparison to those that are made through mass production. People love our products, but do hesitate paying for them. We Nepalis’ have a tendency to look for cheaper prices, but then what we don’t realize is that the effort that goes into making products aren’t really minimized; rather, the people who are involved in the production are exploited and are paid very less, an amount that is barely sufficient to maintain even the basic living standards.
To tackle this, we make sure we don’t exploit our artisans in any form. We are also trying to connect people with our products and our makers by maintaining transparency throughout. We are trying to show behind the scenes of making the products so that the customers know what they are paying for. For this we are planning to work on some video clips that we will be sharing on our social media soon.
What are the different products you are planning to include in your lifestyle brand?
We started with macramé products initially, the wall hangers to be specific. Now we have introduced utility products with macramé such as macramé shelves and our gossamer collection in collaboration with tyre treasures. We are also introducing our crochet and ceramic collection. We also have numerous products in line which we are working on effortlessly.
What is your team strength?
Before COVID, we had 10 staff working at Eco Artés, including me, my mother and my sister. Me and my team work on the production, my mother handles the financial aspect and my sister who is also a social worker handles the marketing as well as the social aspect of the brand in her free time.
Who is your major target market?
We started the venture targeting the domestic market, especially the commercial market like restaurants, hotels, cafes and resorts. We actually got our very first order from a hotel, Indsu home at Kupondole. But I honestly think that targeting only the domestic market wouldn’t be sufficient to run the venture. So, we have decided that we will also be exporting some of our products. Hence both the Nepalese and the foreigners are the target market for Eco Artés.
You mentioned that you are a sustainable brand. How have you incorporated sustainability into your venture?
If an organization that does mass production, says it is completely sustainable, I believe is not really possible; be it in terms of social or environmental aspects. Achieving 100% sustainability is not possible, however it is possible to try our very best to minimize the negative impacts from our venture to the environment, the society and the world we live in and that is what we try to do at Eco Artés. We make sure that we purchase only the raw yarns that have not been treated beforehand, we don’t use acid dyes to dye the yarns and minimize the use of plastic as much as possible. We have been experimenting with natural dyes here and there but haven’t been able to jump into it completely, which we hope will in near future. These are the steps we have taken to mitigate the negative impacts on the environment from our side, minimizing the carbon footprint and running a sustainable venture.
What are your thoughts on the future of the hand-craft industry?
I have interned in a fair trade organization that is working in this area in Nepal. What amazed me is that we have first class hand weaving factories that produce quality fabrics. But the sad part is that all of what is manufactured here is exported and the makers, majority of whom are women, are not paid well. All this is due to negligence, we have failed to value the artisans and skills that we have in our country. Also, handcrafts are still considered to be inferior compared to other industries and I don’t understand why, because handcraft is one of those industries that truly represents Nepal and its culture. This industry needs to be protected, we need more youths to enter this field, we need to remove the gender labels attached with different crafts and we also need to include handcrafts in school curriculum. It’s high time we change if we are to protect our hand-craft industry, only then I believe this industry can have a better future.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
I would like to request all the readers to practice sustainable living but with the understanding that 100% sustainability is not possible. Practicing a zero waste lifestyle is not about throwing all the plastic products and replacing them with metal, glass and other substitutes. The plastics you have thrown away are also deteriorating the environment. So don’t replace them rather work on minimizing their usage. Also I cannot stress much on this but please only buy products from the brands that are sustainable, ethical and provide transparency to its customers. Labour exploitation is real and we need to come together to stop this!
Don’t forget to check out the beautiful products from Eco Artés here!! Along with the products we are sure that you’ll fall in love with their Instagram feed too!
Interviewed and Article by Trishna Shakya