Designer shows where art and craft can converge to make high-quality Nepali products
French architect Marina Shrestha first came to Nepal in 1981 and was immediately drawn by the exquisite designs of Nepal’s art and handicraft. She never left.
After working on a few buildings as a consultant, it was by chance that Marina, now 60, got into designing paper products. She made a few lokta items, and just kept getting more and more orders. She also designed jewelry, but it was paper that fascinated her more. She opened her store at Baber Mahal Revisited in 1998, and started selling to local hotels, got some export orders, and has never looked back.
Recently, she decided to go upscale and established the Marina Vaptzarova brand after her maiden name that has now become synonymous with her uniquely designed notebooks made of hemp, nettles, allo and lokta, all sourced from the mountains of Nepal.
Her latest material is ‘vegetal leather’ which looks and feels like soft wrinkled leather but is made from lokta, a bark of the Himalayan daphne bush that grows wild and can be harvested sustainably without killing the plant. Marina moulds the material into journal covers, cushions and window blinds.
Other items include artist journals, travel diaries, lampshades, photo frames, guest books and wishing cards.
Even after working with handmade paper designs for more than two decades and establishing a sought-after international brand, Marina says she still likes to challenge herself with every new piece. “I don’t see competition in what I do, but I compete with myself,” she says, showing us around her store which is teeming with elegant, delicate paper products. In a paperless digital age, Marina Vaptzarova deliberately makes us slow down as we run our fingers through the textured pages and covers, we are forced back to a time when there was paper and one wrote on them with fountain pens at the speed of our thought process.
“Writing on paper is linked with the emotional development of a person, we get more insight when we write, it is tangible and it solidifies messages. Paper journals will never lose their value,” says Marina. Her studio and workshop employ 15 people and she ensures that all her raw materials are produced in an ecologically sustainable way.
Marketing Nepali handicraft products abroad is challenging because of the notion that items produced in South Asia are cheap, says Marina, who is trying to make Marina Vaptzarova a luxury brand available in fine stores in USA, Australia, France and other European countries. The products come with two trademarks: Himalaya for middle range products, and Marina Vaptzarova for the high-end items.
Marina's dream project is to set up a ‘concept museum’ in one of Patan’s historic bahals where she will team up with other designers to showcase and sell high quality handicraft products – and one of the star attractions no doubt will be Marina Vaptzarova.
Nepali Kagaj, Naresh Newar
Carving out a niche, Sonia Awale
Getting the paperwok done, Aarti Basnyat