Ms. Bhandari, from her early age, was someone who would collect all the food wrappers and even ask her friends to never throw waste recklessly on the road. As the COVID-19 pandemic reached its peak, the growth of surgical masks on the roads deeply affected her. Even with the pressure of intense competition from Chinese and Nepali manufacturers in the mask industry, Ms. Bhandari followed her dream to contribute for the greater good by producing reusable masks.
A couple of weeks back we connected with Ms. Bhandari who answered all of our questions about her entrepreneurial journey and upcoming visions for Kopila.
Read our conversation to find out more about this interesting venture here.
How did this dream to become an entrepreneur start for you?
Despite being a business owner since 2015 for my retail chain Le Fabec, I always wanted to create an impact through my work. I have been an environment lover since an early age. In addition to the pandemic, I knew that the degrading quality of air in Kathmandu will likely lead to higher surgical mask pollution even in the future. So, this idea of making a reusable mask was a way to connect all my aspirations and values together.
Can you tell me more about the idea generation process for Kopila ?
This idea developed entirely during the lockdown. I am completely new to designing and creating products from scratch so it took two months to do research and understand the market. I emphasized mainly to understand the WHO guideline and experimented using the mask in multiple scenarios. Overall, after successfully completing the experiments and consultation with medical experts, I was more confident about my product. Being part of a sustainable business model, I wanted to associate with companies that have high ethical standards towards its workforce. Thus, for manufacturing, I have partnered with a factory for the production process of our reusable masks, which met my ethical standards. Kopila started production from September, 2020.
In terms of materials, everything is sourced within Nepal. Our products are 100% Made in Nepal and use azo free dyes so there are no harmful chemicals used in the dyeing process. Our mask is reusable for 35 washes and we provide all the instruction while selling to keep the quality intact for a longer period. Through my previous knowledge of social media sales and strong word of mouth, Kopila has been doing well so far.
What are the products that you are currently offering?
We currently offer three main products: mask, tote bag and makeup bag. Mask is targeted to all age groups and genders. Mask is also found in two material variants, which are satin silk and cotton. There are varieties in prints and designs in all three products.
Who is your target market?
As I am focusing on environmental impact, I have not envisioned high level profit or large scale expansion as a metric for my enterprise’s success. Thus, I am targeting a niche market in which people are concerned about the environmental pollution and would like to bring a change in their lifestyle.
What were the main challenges in starting this venture especially during a pandemic?
When I started the venture, the pandemic was at its peak and people were highly skeptical of any mask other than surgical masks. It was crucial as well as highly challenging to make people trust the mask and its ability to protect against the virus. People had less knowledge about low material transmission rates for coronavirus. Hence, I provided as much information on how our mask met the WHO requirements and adopted strict no exchange policy on masks. In addition, a mask may seem simple to produce, but the effort on producing a variety of designs was very high. There was a long period of rework and experimentation in the designs so it could be targeted to all age groups.
Where can the customer’s find your products?
What are your future plans for this enterprise?
There are already plans for expanding our product line. Few products that I have been considering are pillow covers, laptop covers, and wallets. Currently, some of them are already in the designing stage.
How has this entrepreneurial journey been so far for you?
Despite having started my other business in 2015, it is only now that I perceive myself as an entrepreneur. Before this initiative, I was merely a business owner. Hence, I feel immense gratitude to create an impact from my work. I believe that I am part of a positive change which has been quintessential in our country.
Is there any additional suggestion you would like to give to other emerging entrepreneurs?
It is a common practice to hear more negative sentiments over positive ones when a person is attempting something new. Despite all the “nos” that you might receive, if you believe in your product and service, you must keep going. Moreover, I have discovered through this journey that chasing after new ideas is not always necessary. There are several existing ideas which need to be reimagined and polished, which can provide an entirely new market opportunity. I would suggest to keep exploring and researching!
Let’s reduce pollution individually by purchasing stylish masks from Kopila here.
UG Bazaar: Kopila
Interviewed and Article by Shreeya Bhattarai