“What I believe is that if we restrict ourselves to one task, we limit our capabilities”, says Rewati Gurung, founder of Kokroma Nepal.
Rewati, a filmmaker and now a social entrepreneur, has taken the initiative of not only supporting women but also prisoners by getting fabrics from them for her sustainable baby clothing venture.
Read our conversation with her to know more about her and her venture. We guarantee you will find her really inspiring like we did!!
1. How did the concept of Kokroma Nepal start?
I am a filmmaker and I have always been inclined towards making films that showcased the stories of women and those that captured aspects which encourage social change. Following my passion, I started making films of women entrepreneurs and during that period I traveled from the East to the West of Nepal documenting the craftsmanship and skills of women like Mithila Arts, weaving and so on. I vividly saw the entrepreneurial skill sets in them but only a few of them had been able to attain success. Also, despite huge effort and hardwork, even the ones that were considered successful were not as financially empowered as they should have been. I wanted to help them rightly commercialize their skills and craftsmanship but I realized that the documentaries were not sufficient. So, I started researching and brainstorming looking for ways to directly help them become financially independent while utilizing the local resources available.
Likewise, I was also a part of a university summer school in Finland, a country where the government distributes maternity packages to pregnant women. I wanted to see something like that in Nepal too and found that the government of Nepal was running the Nyano Jhola campaign but found it to be insufficient, and the majority of products were imported from China.
So my willingness to support women entrepreneurs and the desire to provide Nepal-made maternity packages sort of merged together and that is how Kokroma Nepal came into existence a year and a half ago.
2. Where do you get the fabrics for your products and how does the production take place?
When researching fabrics and their availability, I discovered that, for the longest possible time, prisoners had been involved in making quality fabrics. Sadly, people hesitated to buy them once they came to know who made them. But, I decided to approach the prison service. I first spoke to the head of the prison and fortunately he was really positive, as were the prisoners. Hence we started working together. They are engaged in dyeing and weaving the fabrics for our products. So we get our fabrics from the prisoners. Then the tasks thereafter like processing, and making clothes takes place at Kokroma by women.
3. Are there other specific reasons for working with the prisoners and women in the production of baby clothes?
When women go to prison most of their spouses divorce them but things are completely different for men. If a man is sent to prison, his wife usually waits for him to come back and the wife and their children are the ones who suffer the most, emotionally, socially and financially. So this is one of the main reasons I wanted to work with prisoners. Even if the husband is in prison he can at least send some money back home from weaving, to support his children’s education or keep the household running even in his absence.
Similarly, before COVID-19, most people, especially men, left their families behind to work in the gulf nations to support them and the women left their villages to come to Kathmandu to provide better education facilities for their children. By providing employment for migrant women close to where they live gives them an opportunity to be financially independent and builds their self esteem.
Adding on, as a mother we always want the best for our children. For the infants, we Nepalese use these three layered Dhaka fabric clothes but I found that in recent years the quality has degraded and majority of the fabrics were also imported from China and India. I am not against importing, but this has impacted the job opportunities available in our country. So, I targeted this segment. Also, we Nepalese may want to wear imported fashionable clothing but for our newborns we still opt for the traditional Bhoto set.
4. So, all the fabrics that go into making the clothes for babies are made in Nepal?
All of our main clothing fabrics used to make the clothes for the babies are made here in Nepal by the inmates. However, one of the fabrics named mulmul is imported from India as Nepal does not currently manufacture it.
5. Kokroma is a unique name. Is there a significance or meaning behind it?
In Finland and Ireland, the government gives out maternity packages in a cardboard box and the same box is used as a crib for the baby. I found that quite fascinating and wanted to replicate that but at first I wasn’t able to find the cardboard boxes locally. And I also realized that using a cardboard box for maternity packages did not work in Nepal, because the floors in Nepalese houses are not properly insulated. So, I dropped the idea and started looking for alternatives that are actually applicable for Nepal. That is when I came across the Kokro (handcrafted Bamboo bed) which was affordable, sustainable, portable and can be made locally. I decided this was the one I was looking for and we started selling the maternity packages in the Kokro, which led to the name Kokroma.
6. What are different products Kokroma Nepal offers?
We have the Kokro basket, 100% raw cotton handmade Mattress, mattress cover, bed sheet, blanket, blanket cover, Khasto baby wrap, mustard seed pillow and case, Bhoto set for babies aged 1 to 2 years, baby belts, mittens and socks, traditional cloth diapers, bibs and burp cloths and cocoon bag to name just some of our product range.
We also offer maternity packages for domestic and international markets as well as for baby showers. We have also partnered with charitable organisations like Fondation Audrey Jacobs in Switzerland which export our products to raise funds for schools in Nepal. During lockdown this charity has provided free face masks made by Kokroma and full maternity packages to more than 50 young expectant mothers in several slum areas of Kathmandu. We have also provided 185 mother-in-need relief packages in partnership with Timro Concept Store and Rachna Foundation in the Netherlands. Apart from this we have recently made adult and child customized masks responding to the market demand.
7. Where can people get your products? What are your future plans for Kokroma Nepal?
People can find our products at Timro Concept Store, Nepal Mediciti Hospital, Craftmandu, Koru and Ananda Tree House. Our products are also available in Pokhara from WoVen. For online purchase, you can get the products from our website or you can direct message us on our instagram.
8. What were the major challenges you faced when you started out?
There were many challenges, primarily a lack of information, funding and family support. Many new entrepreneurs like me come with no family business background or experience. We often start from zero and with a passion for what we are doing. It’s a kind of blind faith and a belief in the changes we want to see in the community.
Also I came from a completely different background. I am a filmmaker, researcher and development consultant. All of these helped to motivate me to start a venture to help solve some social problems but things were really challenging when I formally started out.
Also, staying positive and not letting things get to your heart and mind was another challenge. As is tradition in Nepal, my relatives and family members were less interested in my business and more concerned about how I would handle my household responsibilities. With respect for my culture I had to push forward with my idea on the one hand, at the same time as fulfilling the family and social commitments expected of a mother and housewife. After a year and a half of building Kokroma, I have the complete support of my family which is great.
9. How has your journey been so far?
It has been amazing, yes there have been challenges but all those have made me much stronger and Kokroma is growing. I started with 2 staff members; we are now more than 10. The whole value chain of Kokroma is based on ethical practices including a sensitivity to our environment, our employees, our third party providers through to our customers. Every aspect of our production is taken into consideration to give the best possible experience to everyone involved with Kokroma. The journey so far has been deeply rewarding.
10. How do you balance your multiple roles as a researcher, mother, founder and a filmmaker?
Each of these fields bring their own values to the table. You have to work in a smart way as well as be determined and tough. Developing a diverse set of skills and knowing when and where to apply them is key. Also these different roles complement each other. As a researcher, it gives me insights and helps me brainstorm a number of alternatives for doing the same task differently. Similarly, as a filmmaker, I get to travel and meet new people from different walks of life and hear their stories. And, as a mother, I have been able to understand what another mother wants for her child which has ultimately led me to found this maternity and infant clothing brand – Kokroma.
For more information about this company, please check out their website- Kokroma Nepal and give them a follow in their social media pages!!
Interviewed and article by Trishna Shakya