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MADE IN NEPAL : THE LOCAL PROJECT

The startup aims to provide a platform to authentic products made in Nepal by Nepali workers and artisans.

Back in 2016, Binam Shakya wanted to do something of his own after returning from Australia. Meanwhile, he caught up with his friend, the founder of Evoke Café who shared the idea of providing a platform for local products. As a close friend, Shakya shared this with Sachin Shrestha who is now a business partner. As soon as Shrestha heard the idea, he agreed and started working on it. Shrestha was a business student who was working in a manufacturing company and wanted to create his own brand. Though they had the vision to do something of their own, they did not have a concrete plan. With extensive research and discussion, Shakya and Shrestha started The Local Project on July 8, 2017. The Local Project is a concept store which aims to promote local products and encourage entrepreneurs to make Nepali products. 

Before their formal launch, they had a soft launch on April 29, 2017. “We were very sceptical in the beginning. We were not sure if we could sell a thing, but surprisingly we got very positive responses from the visitors,” they say. The soft launch also helped them to do a feasibility study and make necessary changes in their store. 

Criteria for Brand Selection 
The products available at The Local Project are all Nepal made. They have wide varieties of products ranging from clothes, bags, jewellery, shoes, to small gift items and home accessories. They say that the product can be anything but it should match the vibe of their store, but on top of that, they say the product should be made in Nepal. Today there are a lot of Nepali brands and selecting the best is a difficult task. However, they say that the products should also be manufactured in Nepal using local manpower. “We really appreciate what other producers and companies are doing, but our main idea is that the products should be made using all local human resources and Nepali artisans,” says Shrestha. 

“We are not like other shops who only sell handicrafts. We are open to any kind of Nepal made products, but it should be a quality product, new in the market, innovative and pleasing to the eye,” they say. However, they do not put on repetitive products. Today they work with brands such as Mheecha, The White Yak, Dochaa, White Tara, Yatri Supply, Simple Beautiful Joy, Purnaa, and many more. 

With experience, they have become skilled in filtering the products and brands. On the process of filtration, they look for how sustainable and environmentally friendly the brand is. To meet these criteria, they visit the company, meet the owners and analyse their workplace as well. Shrestha’s first-hand experience in analysing the quality of the material was put to use during the product selection process. 

Challenges 
Initially, they were unsure regarding the sustainability of the shop. Besides, they had difficulty in finding Nepali brands which produced products that are high quality and exclusive. Unlike products that were already available in the alleys of Thamel, they wanted something unique. Approaching the right vendors was also a challenge for them initially. The project that began with seven brands now has more than 40 brands working with them. Currently, limitation of space has become a challenge to them as several Nepali brands want a space in their store. 

Apart from this, a lot of people, especially the local crowd, did not understand their concept. “We still have this challenge,” they say. “Some don’t understand that every work that a brand puts into comes with a price. The brands that work with us strongly support fair wage. Also because of this, the products are a bit expensive in comparison to other similar products in the market,” Shrestha adds. They say that some people still have difficulty understanding it. Nevertheless, the positive feedback from the customers is encouraging them. 

Like any other startup, they also have financial challenges. They borrowed a certain amount from their family and close friends to start the business. They did not invest a huge amount in the beginning. In the first year, they had invested around Rs 1.5 million. 

Likewise, the lack of a payment channel is a major challenge that they are facing at present. While they are trying to grow and reach international clients as well, this has become an obstacle. They say that when they work with customers abroad they have to look for friends who have a Paypal account. 

Customers 
Currently, The Local Project has its stores in two locations – Le Sherpa, Maharajgunj and Evoke Café, Jhamsikhel. Although they try to balance expensive and affordable products and want all kinds of people to come to their store, they say that the customer demography in these two places is different. Both Nepali, as well as foreigners, come to their store at Jhamsikhel while mostly expats visit the store at Le Sherpa. 

“Some criticise us for being too expensive. On top of that, they don’t let us explain,” Shrestha shares laughingly. “However, most of the customer feedback is encouraging,” he adds. 

Opportunities 
The political stability and fewer power cuts have led to a more encouraging environment for producers. “A few years ago, we had to work at night because of power cuts,” Shrestha recalls. 

Today, with the growing trend of buying local products, they believe that they too have greater opportunities. Moreover, they say the handmade skills incorporated in Nepali products are difficult to find in other country’s products. 

“I think,” Shrestha says, “It’s a transition phase in the country. Even though Nepali products have a decades-long reputation, people were making the same products”. As youngsters are widely exposed to the outer world, today they have been able to give a modern touch to the authentic Nepali skills. So due to this transition, young people are also encouraged to enter this field. 

Team Understanding 
Shrestha says that they have different personalities. However, they have a very good understanding. “We are like the North Pole and the South Pole, but as it is said that opposites attract, we understand each other very well,” Shrestha says, adding, “Being friends and business partners has become favourable to us. It has also made it easier to clear misunderstandings”. They say that this bond has made it easier to run their business. 

Future Plan 
In the coming years, they want to be in as many different locations as possible. Besides expanding their outlets, they also want to focus on their social media. “We haven’t given much attention to this, so now we want to focus on e-commerce as well,” they say. Five years down the line, they aspire to become the ‘Amazon’ of Nepal in the area of local products. 

Suggestions for Entrepreneurs 
“Getting into entrepreneurship is difficult unlike engaging in a 10 to 5 job. It depends on one’s decision whether the business will grow or vanish,” says Shrestha. He gives high importance to analyse things while making any decision. Similarly, working very hard is his mantra for success. “Along with hard work, the motivation factor is equally important. There are times when even one’s passion turns into frustration and at such times, self-motivation is necessary,” Shrestha concludes. 

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THE LOCAL PROJECT NEPAL: BUY LOCAL LIVE LOCAL

Inside TLP Nepal is an assortment of Nepali made products from various producers and local entrepreneurs. Their offerings range from clothing lines, bags, and jewelry to stationery, graphic comic novels, and board games.

An amalgamation of some of the best products and brands that Nepal has to offer, the Local Project Nepal is a new establishment started by Binam Shakya and Sachin Shrestha. We caught up with the duo to learn more about TLP Nepal.

 

TNM: WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE PRIMARY NOTION BEHIND THE LOCAL PROJECT NEPAL?
TLP: Encouraging local entrepreneurship and production. We feel very strongly about this and its importance to the Nepalese industry. The majority of the people don’t even know about half of the amazing brands. Nepal has far more to offer than the mediocre tourist attractions that litter Thamel and Basantapur; there are genuine producers that bring out innovative and exceptionally good quality products. Those are the ones we want to promote.
We’re not undermining the existing producers of garments and handicraft items that have their markets in Thamel, but we think there is tremendous potential in the local artisans that we have here at The Local Project Nepal.
Also, we want to provide a space for vendors to showcase their producers without having to worry about the sales. This will leave them with more time to focus on manufacturing and quality control which is more important.

TNM: WHAT ARE THE CRITERIA THAT NEED TO BE FULFILLED TO BE PART OF THE LOCAL PROJECT NEPAL?
TLP: We look for products that are 100% made in Nepal. A focus on ethical and social wellbeing in some way or the other is also very much appreciated. For instance, White Yak is a wool and leather goods company that combines textiles with modern designs. Their commitment is to empower the people of the Himalayas, and it has always been our aim to support the native communities.
Weaving for Empowerment works along a similar vein; a project started by a charity organization called “The Small World” that supports single and vulnerable women, it involves the traditional weaving style of dhaka fabric shawls and bags.
These are just some examples. Each brand has a unique flair that appeals to different folks.

 

NEPAL HAS FAR MORE TO OFFER THAN THE MEDIOCRE TOURIST ATTRACTIONS THAT LITTER THAMEL AND BASANTAPUR; THERE ARE GENUINE PRODUCERS THAT BRING OUT INNOVATIVE AND EXCEPTIONALLY GOOD QUALITY PRODUCTS. THOSE ARE THE ONES WE WANT TO PROMOTE.

 

TNM: TELL US ABOUT THE OBSTACLES YOU’VE HAD TO FACE IN ESTABLISHING THE LOCAL PROJECT NEPAL.
TLP: Getting word around was difficult at first. We had to do a lot of running to find and approach the right vendors for our shop. Both of us were not willing to compromise on what we put on display, so getting the right products took some effort.
We’ve been extremely lucky to find some tremendous brands and products, most of which were not prevalent in the mainstream market. Each product reflects what The Local Project Nepal stands for, authentic Nepali made offerings that don’t hesitate to step out of the norm.

 

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TNM: WHAT DO YOU HAVE PLANNED NEXT FOR THE LOCAL PROJECT NEPAL?
TLP: To be honest, we’re just getting started. However, we have several things in our pipeline. We will be expanding very soon, and we are also working towards establishing our own brand.

 

TNM: LOOKS LIKE MOST OF THE CUSTOMERS ARE FOREIGNERS.
TLP: Yes, but we have a good share of Nepalese customers as well. Buying local products is a growing trend and it is very uplifting to see this amongst the Nepalese buyers. The general notion with Nepal made products is that they are mostly for tourists looking for cultural aesthetics and tradition alone; but there is more to it than that. Many are surprised to see the quality and creativity of the products at our shop along with actual utility.
The new age of Nepal made goods has elevated to a whole new level, and it’s time more people knew about it.

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The globalizing Local Project

As anyone who has lived here for more than a few years knows, it gets harder and harder to take home gifts for friends and family. You’ve already taken carpets, Thangkas, and enough pashmina to start a shop! You name it, expats have taken it home. And for Nepalis visiting family overseas, aside from granny’s pickles, what can be taken from Nepal that will be appreciated by young people growing up in the US, Australia or Europe?

 

Somewhere around mid-2017, I was facing this problem yet again. Then I came across a wonderful concept shop selling uniquely different, and, moreover, good quality locally made products. Opened in spring of 2017, officially in July of the same year, The Local Project Nepal was among the first three concept shops to open up in Kathmandu. But what exactly is a concept store? ‘Bringing different brands and designers together to combine new ideas that promote, suggest or support a certain theme or lifestyle’ is a standard definition. Certainly The Local Project Nepal brings together designers and manufacturers of different brands that appeal to a certain type of customer. The locations of their shops and the products inside, as well as the modern décor, signal quality and a certain price tag. 

 

I talked with Sachin Shrestha, co-owner, about The Local Project’s beginnings. “My partner, Binam Shakya was a friend of the owner of Evoke who was in the process of building a community of creativity around his restaurant. This is how it began,” explains Shrestha. With Shrestha already working in the manufacturing industry and having contacts with young and new manufacturers/entrepreneurs it seemed a logical step for Shakya and Shrestha to come together. So successful was the store in Evoke’s compound in Jhamsikhel, that in December 2018 The Local Project Nepal opened its second outlet in Le Sherpa in Pani Pokhari. 

 

What exactly is on sale? Aside from the beanies, notebooks and jewellery I have bought for gifts they also sell amazing copper ware, bags inspired by Mustang cloth, casual shoes, sportswear, paper goods, games, candles, natural beauty goods such as shampoo bars and Himalayan pink salt body scrub…. Around 40 different brands in total. 

 

“Our original aim was to promote local producers while at the same time benefiting indigenous workers and resources,” states Shrestha. “But actually now we find we are working with brands that focus on different approaches. For example, some work with underprivileged groups, some aim to achieve fair wages for all, some concentrate on the design aspect. The majority of the manufacturers are small. Sometimes the owner is both the designer and craftsman.”

 

The most popular brands or products? “Most of the customers buy for gifts so jewellery and travel items are popular. I don’t really want to highlight just one of our great brands, but the bags and backpacks created by Mhecha are bestsellers. Not a single day goes by without us selling at least one Mhecha bag,” comments Shrestha. I want to know why they are so popular— with prices ranging from Rs 1,350 to Rs 4,750 these are not inexpensive items.  I’m told that they have become a status symbol for the Nepali youth studying overseas. “We often get calls saying someone is going to study abroad the very next day, and do we have a certain bag in stock,” explains Shrestha.   I take another look at the backpacks and bags.

 

Meantime I wonder what the future holds for The Local Project Nepal. I’m told that first of all they need to bring their website up to date. Particularly as they are looking to develop online ordering and overseas shipping—no small challenge. Second, an idea is running round Shrestha’s head to collaborate with concept stores overseas. Personally, I look forward to being able to send stunning Nepali made products home through an online shopping portal!

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