For four years, Poonam Rai produced and designed clothing lines for major French high street chains like La Redoute, Quelle, and Blanc Port. The clothes were manufactured in Nepal and then shipped off to France under Rai\'s supervision.
But the conflict and an uncertain political situation caused delays in shipments, and that hit orders. After four years in the export business, Poonam suddenly lost all her clients, and worse, her workers found themselves without a job.
Poonam acted swiftly. She took in 24 workers, mostly Dalits, and with this team opened a small boutique, SemReMe, in Maharajganj. Today, her clients range from locals who want custom-made jeans to expats and tourists who want wedding gowns shipped to America.
Poonam is doing well for herself, but she's concerned about the Nepali handloom industry. "Many of our hemp and organic cotton, natural fibre, and woven textiles are not part of fair trade and because of this, the people who work the hardest gets the least share of the profits. It's just not right."
She is also disturbed by Nepali designers not being all that bothered "Sadly, I\'ve only met foreigners who think it\'s important," says Poonam. While lobbying for the fair trade, she makes sure her clients pay 5 to 10 percent of thier sales back to the people who have manufactured the products. She hopes this amount will be used to strengthen worker\'s skill and production infrastructure
Back in her workshop, her staff- tailors, weavers and dyers- listen intently as Poonam points out a mising button on a white organic cotton shirt. they know they cannot afford to mess up this order. The client, Leila hafzi, is a well known Scandinavian designer. A good word from her in the international scene would mean more businness for the company and more money for them.
Poonam and her staff are looking ahead to better times. "Two years ago, we lost a bid to supply cushion covers to Harrords. But with our increasing professionalism, thats unlikely to happen again," Poonam says with a confident smile.