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A 74-year-old woman runs a 38-year-old business in Nepal, setting an example of indigenous entrepreneurship

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Shyam Badan Shrestha and her mother used to get up at 2 a.m. every day to knit caps under the light of a kerosene lamp when she was a teenager. Shrestha had no idea that she was not only knitting caps, but also weaving her own road to success.

“My father died before my birth, when my mother was still pregnant, and as a single woman in a profoundly patriarchal society, my mother raised me by weaving,” Shrestha says.

After losing her teaching in the early 980s, Shrestha turned to handicrafts to earn and support her mother and children. She still runs a that has set an example of indigenous, locally resourced enterprise in Nepal at the age of 74, further capitalizing on her childhood abilities.

The quest for self-identity

Shrestha, then in her late thirties, started Nepal Knotcraft Centre (NKC) in one room of the house she was born in with Rs 200, two workers, and some yarn in 1983, when she was in her late thirties.

“Books taught me about macrame (knotted handicraft).” As a result, I began making knotted handicrafts.”

Nepal Knotcraft Centre’s hammock. Picture courtesy of the Nepal Knotcraft Centre’s Facebook page.

There’s also another story of how this business came to be, one that’s linked to her quest for identity in the face of a harsh reality in Nepali society. “After losing my job, I realized that no matter how hard and well I work, my efforts would be ignored because Nepal lacks a proper evaluation system. Then I made the decision to work for myself and started this business.”

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Shrestha believes that her thrived until 1990, when no one in Nepal had attempted knitting and weaving as a business. She used to import raw materials from India, such as cotton threads. However, after a 13-month blockade in Nepal in 1989, its imports were halted.

“At the time, Nepal Knotcraft Centre already had about 10 employees and over 30 women working from home for us,” she recalls. “The blockade made times tough for the company, and as a result, everyone who worked for it was financially impacted.”

Changing obstacles into opportunities

Despite the fact that the blockade seemed to be a big impediment to her work at the time, Nepal Knotcraft saw it as a golden opportunity to break free from India’s raw material import monopoly.

“At that point, I thought this company was not sustainable,” Shrestha recalls. As a result, I wanted to make it happen and started looking for locally available alternative raw materials.” She then experimented with a variety of plant fibers, discovering that maize husk be used as a raw material for a variety of items.

Nepal Knotcraft Centre produces ethnic dolls out of maize husk. Picture courtesy of the Nepal Knotcraft Centre’s Facebook page.

The Nepal Knotcraft Centre then began making dolls out of maize husk that represented the characteristics of Nepal’s various ethnic groups. “I came across many ethnic groups and found that these communities are a mine of many handicraft skills,” Shrestha says of his study.

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Nepal Knotcraft Centre gradually broadened its product range to include indigenous skills and handicrafts such as bamboo products, sukuls (rice straw mats), and Tharu basketry. She did, of course, make improvements to meet new standards.

The struggle goes on

However, as Shrestha points out, this organization had to overcome a number of difficulties and obstacles in order to achieve this stage.

“I went through a lot of hurdles at first, whether it was finding raw materials, skill growth, marketing, or anything,” she says. “I believe a lot of entrepreneurs in Nepal have to go through all of these hurdles.”

She claims she had no idea what kind of goods would sell, what raw materials could be used, or where they could be found because her company was brand new at the time. “During the early years, we spent more than half of our time on experiments.”

Shrestha used her friends to promote her goods. She had built up a considerable amount of credibility through her involvement in different fields of social work, which she claims helped her promote the demand for her goods.

Shrestha, on the other hand, was able to overcome all of these obstacles with her intensive study, commitment, and time. Shrestha, who is a founding member of WEAN (Women’s Entrepreneurs Association of Nepal) and the founder of Nepal Knotcraft Centre, has been teaching women from various districts in handicrafts and entrepreneurship skills in order to empower them.

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In Kapilvastu, Shrestha is teaching women. Nepal Knotcraft Centre (photo)

“Now, over 200 women from 16 districts work with me,” Shrestha says. I help them develop their skills, design marketable goods, and transform them into entrepreneurs.”

In the Patan industrial estate, her company has a showroom. “We sell a wide range of interior design items made from agricultural by-products, such as knotted pot hangers, belts, purses, ethnic dolls, sukul, placemats, baskets, and more. Our goods are aimed primarily at the hospitality and tourism industries.”

The company not only sells its handicrafts in Nepal, but also exports them to the United States, Denmark, and Japan. The goods range in price from Rs 500 to Rs 100,000. Shrestha reports that the company made nearly Rs 10 million in revenue last fiscal year.

Shrestha, on the other hand, is committed to growing the company’s revenues in the future while also maintaining intergenerational skills, contributing to indigenous skills, ensuring environmental protection, and empowering women.

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