Two sisters, a few years back, started the journey of Ekadesma Nepal, unaware of the term social entrepreneur. Now after almost 10 years into operation, Anuza Rajbhandari Shrestha and Alpaja Rajbhandari Joshi stand tall as the proud founders of Ekadesma Nepal, which depicts the story of Nepalese culture and tradition all across the globe through its apparels and accessories, while making a significant impact on the lives of other women.
Blincventures.com had a candid interview with Anuza Rajbhandari Shrestha at her beautiful store located at the tourist hub, Thamel. Read on to find out what we talked about.
1. How was Ekadesma Nepal ideated?
Rather than working for someone else, I and Alpaja were pretty sure that we would be working on something of our own. This entrepreneurial mindset was instilled in us because that is what we had seen throughout our childhood, our father’s business. So, after graduation, Alpaja worked for some textile industries and gain some insights. I too started working in my husband’s jewelry shop located here in Thamel itself. While working there, I met people from different walks of life and from different countries. So, Alpaja and I together decided to combine our individual knowledge and experiences and this led to the establishment of Ekadesma Nepal where we first started with t-shirts hand-sketched by Alpaja.
2. Is there a story behind your venture’s unique name?
Nepal is so rich in culture. Every community has a different culture that is diverse in itself. This venture works as a storyteller that showcases our unique tradition and culture to the rest of the world. We all are well aware that every story starts with “Once upon a time” hence we decided the name Ekadesma Nepal.
3. What are the different products Ekadesma Nepal offers?
When we first started in 2011, we just started with 100 pieces of t-shirts where the patterns were hand-sketched by my sister Alpaja. Then after 2 to 3 years of operation we started offering different designs. Our clients also started demanding more, so we launched our own accessories line like bags, mobile cases, pouches and so on. We completely use Nepali fabrics for all our products. We also have men’s shirts, women dress, pants, jackets and other apparel. As of now we have more than 100 designs, for both male & female. And from June 2019 we also started kids wear collection, all hand printed and made from organic cotton.
4. How do you support women empowerment?
When we started researching before launching the venture, we found that the majority of ventures had women working in the backend but people in the forefront, like those signing contracts and meeting dealers, were men. This always bothered us because we grew up in an environment where men and women were treated equally. So, we were sure that we’d be providing opportunities to women no matter what we did. Also, more than empowerment it’s about opportunities because women themselves are empowered but sadly they just lack opportunities.
We then started providing free training to the women in making paper bags, cloth bags, candles, stitching, and the like. Recently we have also started giving training on Dhaka weaving. The women who completed the training have either become part of our team or have started their own business. So, this way we have taken a step to provide women more opportunities.
5. Where does this training take place?
Initially we had budget constraints, so we used our own space for around 10 women. But there were around 20 to 25 women in the 2nd batch who wanted to be a part of our training program, so we rented out our neighbors’ spaces. Now we have our own workshop. We use our factory’s space located in Nakhipot.
6. Who are your major target customers?
We have targeted foreigners. 80% to 90% of our customers are foreigners and our location may also be a huge contributing factor for this because all of us are well aware that Thamel is a tourist hub. But the good news is that, in the past few years we have seen major increases in Nepali customers too.
7. What were the major challenges you faced in establishing Ekadesma Nepal as a brand?
When we started we were really well received, so we were very much excited with what we were doing. But after working for a few months, the problems associated with being an entrepreneur started hitting us. There were financial challenges and scaling up was definitely not easy. Likewise, marketing and establishing ourselves as a brand that offers quality products was tough for us. Talking about the present context, having skilled manpower is a challenge.
8. What type of manpower are you looking for?
Till now we haven’t officially gone global, we have 2 stores here at Thamel but we have been getting a lot of queries regarding this, so catering to the global market is what we are considering as of now. We are looking for female tailors and although we have used our network to find them, women take the training with the mindset of opening up a small tailoring service of their own. They don’t dream big. As a result, the training is not as effective as it should be.
Moreover, when we are asked who are the makers of our products, many people doubt the capacity of our women makers without even trying our products and more importantly, the women themselves doubt their ability and hesitate joining our team. So, in this sense we have difficulty finding the skilled women tailors.
9. Are there challenges as a women entrepreneur?
From a business perspective, there aren’t any specific challenges but as a woman we have diverse role to play as a mother, as a wife, as a daughter-in-law, so maintaining a fine line between work and personal life gets overwhelming at times. Also, we often talk about things getting difficult for us as a working woman but we don’t talk about it being difficult for the family too. I personally think that it was difficult for my in-laws to accept that fact I was a working woman now but with time they become more supportive and I also have proven myself.
10. You talked about price-quality maintenance being difficult. How did you tackle it?
We gave consistent quality to our customers. We have certain procedures in place for this. All our pieces are measured in inches; likewise, we self-check the finishing of the output, if we find a thread hanging, then that particular piece again goes through altering. So, we give high priority to the quality of our products because it is what defines Ekadesma Nepal as a brand. And talking about price, the customers after a few uses start frequently purchasing from us.
So, rather than having a tradeoff between price and quality, things settled for itself with time. Also, work of mouth chain was created both among the domestic and foreign customers, so the price never became an issue.
11. Final product can be of good quality only if the raw materials used are of high-quality which in your case is textile. How do you ensure their quality?
Very true. What we do is once produced, we use the products ourselves before launching them in the market. This way we have first-hand checking of the product for durability, comfort, color fading, machine washing and so on. We mainly do this for freshly launched new product lines. Likewise, when buying textiles too we are very picky, we have limited suppliers who have been with us for a long time who are very well aware of our requirements. Also the fabrics aren’t directly delivered to our factory, it first comes to the store, I or Alpaja check it then only after our approval it is sent to the factory.
12. There are a lot of Made in Nepal brands emerging which means increased competition for you. How are you taking this?
Actually, I am very much happy. When there are few 1 to 2 Nepali brands, the general public is not aware of their presence in the market but once the numbers start rising, say 20+, people start knowing you, so rather than the negatives, the increased competition actually benefits oneself. Also you get a room to focus on quality and to explore ideas, strategies and stay ahead and well updated to the current market trends. So, I think increased competition is very necessary for your own growth.
13. What are your future plans?
There is a lot of demand from the international market, so we are planning on going online. Likewise, even in Kathmandu itself, it is difficult for domestic customers to visit us due to lack of parking spots, so a lot of them have asked us to deliver the products. Hence we are considering having the delivery services. Moreover, we are also planning to work on waste management issues and be aware of the locals. We are also planning on going plastic-free both in our stores and factory.
Similarly, in the long run once we have achieved the necessary growth, we will be moving to Terai too.
14. How has your journey as a social entrepreneur been so far?
This journey has been full of learnings, I personally feel I have become a lot more confident and decisive. It has completely changed me as a person for good, before Ekadesma Nepal, I was a very shy and introverted person but now I feel empowered and I am able to make my voice heard. So, it has been a journey that no matter what I will always chose to travel. Also, the fact that Alpaja and me, as the founders have not only established a brand but have been able to make a significant impact on society. So, yes it has been a really fulfilling journey.