Have you ever raided your mother’s or grandmother’s pantry? If you have, it’s no secret that it’s a treasure trove of saris that they’ve only worn once or twice. Many of these saris are hoarded in Nepali households.
They don’t want to throw away those saris since they have wonderful memories and emotions associated to them, nor do they want to wear them because they may be out of style. Unfortunately, such saris wind up in landfills, adding to the textile waste.
It has been a problem for decades, whether seen or hidden. However, a group of seven young people and a Swedish couple saw it as an opportunity.
People looking for a way to help women from marginalized groups become socially and economically independent perceived such old, vintage, and underused saris as resources and founded the company ‘HattiHatti’ in 2014, which upcycles such saris into beautiful items by educating and training such women.
Back in 2014
This organization is led by Priya Sigdel, Bhushan Pyakurel, Abita Karki, Sulav Baral, Bijesh Ranjit, Dharma Raj Giri, and Rumi Rajbhandari.
“It all started in 2014,” says Sajna Jirel, executive director of HattiHatti Nepal. There were no plans in place. The crew shared a common aim and an enthusiasm in doing something for women from marginalized communities, but had no idea how to get started.”
While investigating options, they began selling Swedish chocolate balls at a farmers’ market in order to raise funds to support a woman through sustainable sewing skills and non-formal education. However, this was insufficient to meet their demand to assist additional women. As a result, according to Jirel, they began looking in a variety of other directions.
“After that, they started looking for raw materials again and came up with the idea of upcycling old saris. Then they started collecting old saris and upcycling them,” explains Jirel, who joined the HattiHatti team in 2017, when the organization was formalized.
Obstacles on the path
It was difficult, though, to transition from one notion to another. Jirel notes, “First and foremost, gathering old saris from the donation posed a significant hurdle.” There were also only a few local purchasers because many people were hesitant to buy clothing fashioned from used saris. Similarly, we had very little diversity to offer.”
Initially, HattiHatti produced only three items: bow ties, kimonos, and tote bags. However, the organization currently offers a wide range of attractive products, such as pillows, jeans pouches, headbands, scrunchies, scarves, and much more, ranging in price from Rs 75 to Rs 3,000.
Jirel believes that the project has surmounted its hurdles for the time being because many Nepalis have become aware of the need of sustainability. “They know who creates the goods they are purchasing and where the money is going (to a charitable cause).”
According to Jirel, ads in various media have also enabled those who want to contribute saris learn about HattiHatti and its efforts. HattiHatti initially promotes its presence and products through various group markets and social media platforms.
Repurposing old saris
The process of upcycling used saris into trendy clothing and accessories begins at the HattiHatti office. “All of the gathered saris are washed and dried,” Jirel explains. They are then ironed and delivered to the sewing ladies to be redesigned into new products.”
According to Jirel, each HattiHatti product has a label that includes the tailor’s phone number, and the buyer may learn more about the tailor by visiting the website. She also emphasizes that every donated sari gets up-cycled at HattiHatti based on its condition.
To purchase their products, go to their office on Ekantakuna Road in Jawalakhel, or go to stores like Local Project Nepal (Jhamsikhel and LeSherpa) and Timro Concept store (Bakhundole), or go to HattiHatti’s Instagram and Facebook accounts.
“Although we are in a difficult situation right now owing to the pandemic, we intend to reach out to more women and expand this to all seven provinces, as well as encourage and empower women from marginalized groups to launch entrepreneurship in the near future.”
The origins of the name
The name ‘HattiHatti’ translates to the Nepali term for ‘elephant,’ which is generally depicted as a creature with a great heart. Elephants are reported to dwell in herds, always supporting one another. “Here, in HattiHatti, we believe in striving for the same traits of supporting one another in order to grow together,” Jirel explains.
HattiHatti works to empower women via entrepreneurship using monies raised through donations and product sales. “We do it in three stages,” Jirel continues, “first by providing them with non-formal education, then by making them acquire and practice sewing skills, and finally by assisting them to start their own company.”
HattiHatti began with one woman and now has eight beneficiary tailors. According to Jirel, the organization enrolls new women each year and supports other trained women who want to quit HattiHatti and open their own company.
So far, four HattiHatti-trained women have gone out on their own; two of them have launched their own businesses.