13-19 March 2015 #749

A shop with a story

A handicraft store where creators are directly involved in retail
Someplace Else by Sahina Shrestha

At the newly opened ‘A Shop with a Story’ store in Baber Mahal Revisited, a group of women have gathered for their monthly meeting. They share a lively banter as they sit down to discuss the month’s progress and plans for an upcoming Easter event.

There are small tables around them displaying locally produced artifacts- candles, soap nut jewelleries, naturally dyed shawls, wooden handicrafts and felt accessories.

Each table represents a social enterprise, part of a collective of entrepreneurs formed by Change Fusion Nepal who helped set up the shop.

The first thing that greets you as you enter the store above Chez Caroline is the colourful and scented candles made by members of the Candlestick women, a company started by Sita Tamang. Tamang came to Kathmandu from her village in Rolpa seeking better opportunities. Once in the capital, she learnt to make different handicraft products and later opened Candlestick women with two other friends.

Other eye-catching products are the eco-friendly handmade jewelleries of soap nut, silver, turquoise and recycled rubber, created by the women of the Kevin Rohan Memorial Eco-Foundation.

Kakani Himalayan Natural Dyes’ pashmina shawls are beautiful and a must-have for the winter.

Rita Shrestha of Newa Decor tries to promote the Newari tradition through her table, which has conventional Newari arts and crafts along with husk dolls. She hopes people will start leaning away from lower quality Chinese goods to these local products.

In the next table, Friend Handicraft has accessories and gift items made of felt. Two college friends Nirjala Shrestha and Shanti Shrestha started this with an initial investment of Rs 6000. Today they employ over a hundred women from low income families.

A newly added table in the middle of the room is an eclectic mix of handmade incense, pencils made from recycled paper, sukul (hay mattresses) and alpine coffee from different ventures.

What sets this shop apart from other handicraft stores is that the creators are directly involved in retail. There is no middleman involved, which cuts cost and the entrepreneurs themselves are in charge.

“Earlier when we sold our products to other stores, they would rebrand and re-price them but at ‘Shop with a Story’ these products stay authentic,” says Tamang. Prices range from Rs 15 to Rs 5000.

“We want the social ventures to expand from being small scale to being fully self-sustainable,” says Luna Shrestha of ChangeFusion Nepal. The hope is that the ventures will be able to open their own shops in the next few years, freeing space for newer ventures in need of help.

The response from the customers and the revenue from the sales seem to have given these social entrepreneurs a sense of confidence.

“Now I believe I can venture out on my own and establish a showroom,” says Shanti Dolma Shakya, Founder of Kakani Himalayan Natural Dyes.