Creating Sustainable Furniture Using Bamboo and Beth

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Anshu Pradhan, co-founder of Sister’s Enterprises, and I wanted to speak to each other for the longest time. We met each other at the Social Business Challenge that took place in late August of 2019. We had already exchanged several messages, emails, and phone calls before finally arranging an official interview together. 
Anshu Pradhan recounts an anecdote, that gives me an insight into who she is as a person and how she has grown from a shy girl to a bold entrepreneur. 
She says, “Some years ago I had an interview with someone in a very senior position at CG, I honestly could not utter a word in front of him because I was so nervous! Last month I pitched my business to a large number of audiences at Idea Studio Nepal. And I won.”  
I could tell Anshu was someone who truly believed in herself and was driven by her vision. She was friendly, confident and breezy. To know more about her journey of self-growth that of her start-up, read our conversation below:

1. Why don’t we start by introducing your company?
My sister Prity Pradhan and I started our company- Sister’s Enterprises around Dashain last year. Our company uses Bamboo and Beth (Cane)  to manufacture beautiful handmade furniture. Actually, my father started a company of similar nature about 40 years ago, however, we thought that the company as such lacked innovation. So, considering this we established our own separate enterprise.

2. What are these innovations that your father’s company lacked?
We realized that there was a lack of originality in the market. We would find similar businesses selling similar products. There was no innovation in either the utilization of raw materials or in the simplicity of designs. 
Moreover, I come from a fashion designing background. I realized that nobody was looking at the potential of product diversification from furniture to say the daily use of consumer products. 

3. What is your typical production process? What is your current staff strength?

We have our factory in Kakarvitta and a retail outlet in Kusunti, Lalitpur. We import Beth from India and utilize Nepali bamboos. Due to the lack of finishing of Beth, we hire Indian employees to do so. We hire staff on a flexible basis as per the demand and on average we hire 15 staffs as per order. 

4. What drew your interest in this particular field? How many customers have you served till now?
As I mentioned earlier, my father has been running this business for more than 40 years now, and it is still doing so well. This shows that there is a market for my products. It also has the potential to reach the international market because people have become aware of using sustainable products. Right now we have both domestic and foreign customers, although we are not exporting our products. 
We have served one restaurant, cafes, hotels, houses, and walk-in clients. Moreover, we received the best sales award and best handicraft award at the FWEAN exhibition. Similarly, we have also served many walk-in clients.

5. What was your experience like- to participate in Idea Studio Nepal and to win it? Also, what are you going to do with the prize money?
It was an exceptional experience for me. I was reluctant about participating in the competition primarily. However, when I finally did participate I realized the importance of this platform. During the incubation period, we had an opportunity to refine our ideas, build a business model and improve presentation skills. 
We are going to invest the money in doing research for our business, and in expanding it. 

6. What are the key challenges that you have faced?
The major challenge was in terms of human resources. As mentioned earlier, we hire Indian workers to work on Beth products. However, these workers have a high turnover rate and leave the job if their wages are paid a day late. Consequently, we had to go back to India and try and convince these workers to come back and work with us. Similarly, Nepali laborers lack consistency. They fail to realize the importance of their skills and largely underestimate themselves. 
On the other hand, our domestic customers fail to realize the value of domestic products. They compare our products to international ones and fail to appreciate the environmental and sustainability aspects of our products. 

7. Do you think people are becoming more aware than before?
I would say people are realizing the global environment and health issues. But, we still need customer awareness programs. If customers are aware then innovation will surely follow. 

8. How do you differentiate your products from other products in the market?
We differentiate our products in terms of raw material which are all-natural and environment-friendly. Furthermore, our products are all hand made compared to machine-produced international products.

9. What are the key needs of your start-up?
One of our key needs is to find transportation solutions as we have to transport our final product all the way from Kakarvitta to Kathmandu.  I have to pay almost 40-50k just to transport my final goods, so I am looking for ease in this cost. Additionally, I am looking for the government’s support and collaboration to promote the handicraft market of Nepal. 

10. Are there any future plans that you would like to share?
I am exploring ways to transfer my creativity and fashion designing skills to expand my business. This can be done by utilizing some complementary skills in fabric designing. Similarly, I’m looking forward to designing bamboo accessories. Nevertheless, l have to conduct research and hire staff and technology to execute these future plans.

Interview and article by Shambhavi Singh.