The quote “Home is where the heart is” perfectly matches Yasmin, co-founder of Maya Handicrafts Jewelry. She not only found her life partner, Sameer Shakya, also the cofounder of Maya Handicrafts Jewelry, here in Nepal, but also found her passion and love for traditional jewelries which led to the establishment of Maya.
Only after 3 years of operation, Maya Handicrafts Jewelry has been able to create a mark in the silver jewelry business both nationally and internationally. With the perfect blend of Nepal’s traditions and modern touch, every piece from Maya represents the different ethnic groups of Nepal, especially the Newars of Patan. Their unique piece and design of jewelries are super versatile, making them easy to pair with any kind of attire and occasion.
Blincventures.com got in touch with Yasmin Bouwer, a couple of weeks back and here’s how the conversation unfolded. Read till the end to know all there is to know about Maya Handicrafts Jewelry!!
How did the concept of Maya Handicrafts Jewelry come about?
I am originally from the Netherlands and I moved here 4 years back to my husband Sameer. Sameer has a family business of gold stores in Kathmandu. Coming from a completely different culture, all the jewelries, their production process was new to me. I found it really appealing, so I started spending time in the stores for the first two years. During that time, I came across many fascinating facts about the origin, about the significance of the jewelries and the fact that different jewelry designs represented different ethnic groups of Nepal. I never thought that a small piece of jewelry could hold such significance in the lives of people, which is why I decided to use these traditional designs to make pieces that are wearable as well as affordable to the younger generation, the carriers of our rich culture and traditions.
That is how the concept of Maya came about in 2017 and after all the planning and designing we officially launched it in 2018.
What are the different products Maya is offering as of now?
We have a wide range of products. We have simple bracelets, rings, necklaces, chains, pendants, nosepins, anklets and cufflinks made out of silver which are traditional but with a touch of contemporary and modern designing.
Who are the makers of the products?
All our products are made by our kaligars (silversmith). They are freelancers and each kaligar is specialized in making one type of jewelry. For instance, we have a kaligar who works on making only the traditional pieces whereas for jewelries with stone we have a different kaligar.
How do you come up with the designs?
There are three main people involved in the designing process, our kaligars, Sameer and me. Mostly it’s me and Sameer who come up with the designs but our kaligars always have some amazing ideas to make our products more durable and traditionally pleasing. So, we have given them the freedom of designing and modifying the designs whenever they think it is needed.
Is there a meaning behind the name Maya that you have chosen for your venture?
Actually ‘Maya’ was the very first word that I learned here in Nepal. I found it cute and simple. Also, it is a word full of positive emotion, hence we decided to go with this name.
How many of you are currently running Maya handicrafts?
We have two founders, Sameer and me and there is Menuka, she works in our Maya store. So, there are three of us working at Maya Handicraft. But we are also planning to hire a new member into our team who will be looking after all the orders, customer interaction and things like that. We are looking for a manager to join our team.
Where can customers find your products?
Also, recently we have started taking up online orders as well. So, the customers can order our pieces from our Instagram page.
There are different types of silver used to make silver jewelries right? Which type is used at Maya?
Yes, there are different types, mainly three types, the oxidized silver, pure silver and sterling silver. The pure silver and oxidized silver are actually the same. The only difference is that the pure silver is oxidized to give the jewelries an ancient touch.
Similarly talking about pure silver and sterling silver, pure silver is 97-98% silver whereas sterling silver is 92.5% silver. Maya has jewelries made out of both pure silver and sterling silver.
Does Maya Handicrafts Jewelry offer customization facilities too?
No not as of now. We would love to include customized pieces in our collection, but it tends to get difficult for the kaligars. However, in future days we might have customized jewelries as well. I am planning to work on the production process myself so hopefully I will start taking classes from the silversmith soon, once the COVID situation is under control.
What makes Maya handicraft different and unique?
Maya Handicrafts Jewelry is owned by two people coming from two completely different worlds which very well reflects in our pieces, a fusion of two different worlds. Our products are really unique, they have both the traditional essence as well as modern touch to it, which is what makes our collection a perfect choice for both traditional occasions and daily use. This is what I think stand outs the most for Maya and it is also something that makes us different from other similar businesses.
Nepalese prefer gold jewelries to silver. And silver jewelries are somewhat considered to be inferior. What are your thoughts on this?
Well yes, that is true. Sameer’s family business has been running for 40 years now and it clearly shows that gold jewelries are everyone’s first choice.
But honestly speaking, today’s generation is more into silver jewelry. This is because, in comparison to gold, silver jewelries are more affordable and can also easily be paired with different outfits, be it western or traditional. You can wear silver jewelry daily and you can also create a statement look for different occasions. So, things are changing, rather than expensive buy, the younger generation is more into affordability and minimalism making silver jewelries a preferred choice for them.
How have you incorporated the sustainability aspect into your venture?
Sustainability at Maya has to do more with the production and packaging aspect. We make sure that all the raw materials that go into making the pieces are pure. Also, we ditch plastic as much as possible. We have been using Nepali paper boxes that are eco- friendly and biodegradable.
In addition to this, we give utmost importance to the safety and health of our makers (kaligars). There are some chemicals which are used when making these jewelries, so we ensure that the makers are safe. We encourage them to wear gloves and masks when making them.
How has the current COVID-19 situation have affected the operation of Maya Handicrafts Jewelry?
The offline sales have been going down drastically as people are still paranoid to come out and visit the store. But the online sales have gone up which was quite surprising for us. So there is this drastic difference between online and offline sales.
But again, despite the offline stores at minimal use, we are still obliged to pay rent and pay our employees which again is an ethical practice. So, we are often faced with the question of are we able to sustain? And luckily we are till now. It is difficult but I think we can adjust and make things workout.
What were the challenges you faced initially?
When you start out, there is always this need to prove yourself to your customer and the market in terms of your quality and authenticity. So, there was this pressure in the very beginning and it is still there but it was more intense back then, when we were new.
Moreover, in Nepal the way of buying silver jewelry is very different from how we are selling. People very well know the making charge, the weight and the loss. But with us, we price our products based on our designs which makes them a bit expensive then those you find in a local silver jewelry store. So, it was tough making people understand where we were coming from and why our prices are high end. And lastly, language was also a challenge for me which has surely gotten a lot better.
How is it living in a completely different country?
Well, to be honest when I made the decision to come to Nepal I was really excited. There was something that kept attracting me towards Nepal. Also, this is the place where I found the love of my life, my husband. I can feel at home here and I think that is the most important thing. I can be myself, I feel at home and so it is all good.
Make sure to check out their products on the Instagram page: @mayahandicraftsjewelry. You will fall in love with the pieces like we did!!
Interviewed and Article by Trishna Shakya