During a time when Nepali women had few economic and educational opportunities 30 years ago, Shyam Badan Shrestha gathered Rs 200, built a small workshop in her house and started making knotted handicrafts along with two friends.
That was the humble beginning of Nepal Knotcraft Centre, the country's first showroom for knotted products and bamboo furniture.
After working as a teacher for 13 years, Shrestha's foray into handicraft making was largely trial and error. "I was interested in macramé from an early age, but I had no formal training," she recalls, "so I read a lot of books and taught myself the art of knotting." She started by making small items and began experimenting with different materials like cotton, hemp and yarn when she gained confidence.
During this time she also discovered indigenous weaving traditions practiced by Nepali women from diverse communities who had the expertise, but lacked technical knowledge and resources to use their skills to earn an income.
Nepal Knotcraft teaches local women's groups to blend their indigenous weaving techniques with contemporary styles. By the end of the training, the women are sent not just with the know-how but a market for their handicrafts. This initiative has not only made them more socially and financially independent, but increased their interest in preserving their art and passing it to the younger generations.
The journey has been challenging. In 2007, the factory was shut down due to labour militancy and although business resumed after two years, Shrestha says starting over was difficult because many skilled artisans from the company migrated abroad for work.
Now, Nepal Knotcraft is struggling to compete with cheap, synthetic Chinese products which have flooded the market. But Shrestha is confident that increasing preference among urban Nepalis for eco-friendly lifestyles will make handicraft goods a household staple in the next 10 years.
Still, Shrestha is content and optimistic. She says, "The future of the industry depends on how well we tap into the country's abundant natural resources. If we can replace imported raw materials with local ones and develop research facilities, the handicrafts sector will take off in a big way."
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