Sukhawati Store, A Social Enterprise that is Changing the way we look at Thrifting!

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“According to the Association of Resale Professionals (NARTS), the resale industry (Thrift Stores) is valued at around $17 billion! (Forbes, 2017) “

Shocking right? 

Thanks to the rising concern for the environment, more and more people are today turning to thrift stores to purchase gently used items and reduce landfill wastes. Yes, Thrifting culture is new in Nepal but changes are certainly taking place. 

One revolutionary social enterprise bringing the change is Sukhawati Store, established in 2017. 

Now after almost 7 years of establishment, Sukhawati has touched a lot of sectors from education to empowerment to awareness. They are no doubt a game changer in the field of thrifting in Nepal that has a long to go. 

Read our conversation with the very passionate Samita Rana Magar, Program Coordinator at Sukhawati Foundation Store to know more about this social enterprise.

How did the concept of Sukhawati came about?

Sukhawati came into being 7 years ago in 2014. It was founded by Chij Man Gurung sir and 8 other housewives. A  lot of things in our houses including clothes go wasted, we don’t use them to their full life value. When we are wasting what we have there is another group of people who cannot afford them. Hence Sukhawati was established, with the motive of making the best utilization of household items and clothes.

The journey of Sukhawati started in a garage of one of the board members where they collected the clothes and other items from the close friends initially. The collected items were cleaned and sorted and were then sold at the buspark street, Basundhara street and also displayed stalls at festivals in Tudikhel, starting from Rs.10. 

We did wanted to give out the clothes and other items for free but we came to the conclusion that when we sell the items at minimal cost possible, the buyers will value them as they have been bought with their hard earned money. Now we have our own store in Samakhusi.

Thrifting and using second hand items still has a negative notion associated with it in Nepal even at present. How were things when you started out back in 2014, when thrift culture was probably not even a thing here in Nepal?

Actually things weren’t as tough as we thought it would be. The main reason for this was because we were targeting the segment of the society who couldn’t afford basic clothing and other basic necessities. So, they used to purchase from us. 

But again like the saying goes, there are two sides of a coin, there were people who were hesitant. So, it wasn’t that tough but it wasn’t also that easy. 

How are things lately?

There has been a huge change and there are a lot of internal and external factors for this. Yes there has been the influence of social media, awareness among people about the negative impacts of fast fashion and so on but along with this the interior of our store also had a huge role to play. 

With modifications in our store, from presentation to lighting to wall colors and items sorting, we can today proudly say that people from all walks of life and all age groups visit us. Also, the people who visit us have told us multiple times that they don’t just visit us because we provide affordable clothes but they visit us because they have become more aware of the benefits of thrifting towards the environment as well as the fact that their purchase contributes to the charities and programs that held on a timely basis. 

So, things are going well as of now. 

What are the social problems Sukhawati store is addressing?

Initially when we started out, we had a very narrow vision, we just wanted to ensure that people could buy and wear clothes at affordable rates and use the funds generated to support the needy through charity works. 

Now after almost 7 years of establishment, there have been additions to the impacts we want to create and our vision. Now along with our 2 old objectives, we are actively working on addressing the issues of fast fashion, using the local resources available with us and being a self-sustaining organization rather than relying on donors. 

Apart from this, we are also actively working on providing employment opportunities and training programs to the marginalized women through the funds generated from the sales. We are also focusing towards the educational sector, we are providing scholarships to the children from the slum areas of Kathmandu. 

Who are your allies in running these programs? 

Rather than staff, we are more volunteer based. When we started out, the board members were looking after everything. But when we legally established ourselves and started our own office back in 2016, we started hiring people. Currently, we have 3 people working with us on a full time basis. 

How did you raise funds to start Sukhawati store?

To be honest, a very small investment was required as there were no admin and ongoing expenses like rent. So, the funds were contributed by the board members themselves. Now, all our expenses are being covered by the funds generated from the sales and we also have donations and grants coming from people.

Along with this we also mobilize youths in fund raising activities like keeping stalls during special occasions, once such a recent event was organized at Hankook Sarang Korean Restaurant, Naxal named “Thrift Sale by Swastima.”

What were and are the challenges running Sukhawati Store?

Initially the challenge was to bring change in the people’s mindset about thrifting and second hand clothing. So we had a very small customer base when we started out. 

Similar is the case in donors part too. When we started out it was very difficult to make them understand our business model. They were a bit hesitant as we were getting clothes and other items free of cost from them and then selling those even though at minimal price possible. Also, the clothes that we used to receive used to be in terrible conditions not at all wearable. It has decreased to a great extent but I wouldn’t say completely. Out 100%, 30% clothes that we receive are not wearable. 

Similarly, there are also legal challenges. The concept of social enterprise and social businesses is still new in Nepal and even more is the concept of thrift stores. There are no proper rules, regulations and law for this sector so we often find ourselves confused, to be specific we often find ourselves in the grey area. Because of this, we had to register ourselves both as a foundation and a company. 

Also, with increase in manpower and reach, we have been finding it difficult to fully sustain and cover all our expenses. 

What are the different items available at Sukhawati?

Apart from clothes, we have almost all other household items available with us, mainly the kitchen items. We also do have books and we have also recently started selling plants. Along with this we also have small and medium sized furniture. 

What are the future plans for Sukhawati?

The very first plan of ours is to more extensively work on providing employability skills and training to the women housemakers. Along with women empowerment we are also planning to impart these income generation skills to differently abled individuals too. 

Similarly, we will also start working on promoting Made in Nepal products by showcasing them in our store. Actually we have already started this, we are selling the Lapsi Candy (Tirauras), lemon grass tea bags made by the women from Dakshinkali.

We are also going to officially start conducting awareness campaigns in fast fashion. Our volunteers will be helping us execute this.  

Moreover, we have our donation boxes in 5 different places within Kathmandu as of now and we are planning on increasing this. 

Can you please tell us about the donation boxes? 

We partnered with AIESEC in Kathmandu for a sustainable Dashain program under which they donated us 1500 pieces of items and the proceeds generated was used to get these donation boxes. Now we are seeking sponsorship from companies to buy more of these donation boxes and we are also taking to cafes and restaurants to allow us to keep these boxes in their spaces. 

How has your journey been so far as one of the crucial members of Sukhawati?

When I joined back in 2016, thrifting was also a new concept for me. I still remember when I came to know about Sukhawati and the work it was doing I was really amused as well as skeptical as I was also not very open to using second hand items myself.  

But with time, I started seeing the bigger picture of Sukhawati and where it was headed. There was definitely a change in my perception regarding thrifting and second hand items. Working here also taught me to value the things we have be it clothes, household items or furniture. I came to realize that we don’t utilize these resources to the fullest. 

Also, during my initial days at Sukhawati I worked with a lot of children from slum areas, teaching and guiding them. And this experience is really close to my heart, I got an opportunity to see a true picture of what kids from slum areas have to go through to get even the basic education which is ofcourse saddening. But this has allowed me to practically utilize my learnings from my bachelor days to create an impact, even though it is a small one. 

So, I am really thankful to Sukhawati for helping me grow and follow my dreams. 

There is still a notion that used clothes/ second hand items are not worth investing in. What are your thoughts on this?

I would say change is taking place with time. We recently organized an event in collaboration with Swastima Khadka and we received a really positive response. This somewhat provided us the validation that thrifting is definitely the new normal, people are starting to change their thinking and becoming more conscious of the environment. Also, I strongly believe that the media, the celebrities and the influencers have a huge role to play too. If people are made aware about the benefits of thrifting then no doubt this notion of used clothes and second hand items not being with investment is bound to change. 

Interviewed and Article by Trishna Shakya