From cement to handicrafts – following a dream to create jobs in Nepal
A story by Krishna Awal, proprietor of VIMCO Handicrafts, Nepal.
After being involved in a cement carving family business for around 22 years, I slowly started realizing that there were not many prospects in this sector. As I was coming to that realization, the home loan crisis was peaking and many real estate companies were leaving the business. So I was left in a dilemma about what to do next.
The start of our own business
As my wife has a strong passion and interest in handicrafts, she suggested we should think about starting our own small handicraft workshop. I was immediately convinced and decided to open a workshop. However, not being sure which product category I should focus on, I started exploring the handicraft market on my own. During my investigation, I realized there are many knitting, ceramic, wooden and garment-based manufacturers in Bhaktapur but I could not find a single felt-based manufacturer. So, we decided to open a small felt-based manufacturing workshop in Bhaktapur in 2010.
We invested NPR 200,000 (US $2500) at the initial stage for raw materials, felting tables and basic overhead expenses. The major challenge in the beginning was recruiting quality artisans, as most Bhaktapur- based artisans were not familiar with felting technique. So we invested a lot of our time and effort in training. To date, we have trained more than 80 female artisans. However, only 15 artisans regularly work in the workshop at the moment due to a lack of orders.
The top export items are felt shoes, felt hats and felt purses. We uses Swiss dying technology for the dying of all our products, which are azo-free certified. Recently, the company has started using merino wool as well. The high-quality wool is used for producing felt scarves and mufflers.
Currently, providing regular work to artisans is the biggest challenge to our business. During peak season there is high pressure to fulfill orders on time, so a large number of artisans can be trained and recruited. However, during off season, it’s very challenging to retain the artisans and create a positive outcome. Whenever there are fewer orders, the company produces the most popular items at its own discretion, with the hope of selling them in bulk later.
To remain viable in the competitive market, we are opening an outlet in prime location of Kathmandu. We are also working to adopt various marketing strategies to cultivate more export clients. With the support and guidance of the Hinrich Foundation, our company has been able to improve its professionalism. The company has received many referrals for information from potential buyers and has been able to maintain regular communication with quality clients. We are hopeful it will get many more high-quality orders soon.
About VIMCO Handicrafts
VIMCO Handicrafts was founded in 2009 in Bhaktapur and has made empowering the people in its local community its mission.
We strive to empower jobless and uneducated women in our local community of Bhaktapur by providing skills and employment. Bhaktapur is a rich, cultural city in Nepal. Most residents are farmers and many women don’t earn a livable wage. Felt Handicrafts employs these women, training them for over a month and helping them improve their living standards. During the training we also provided them a stipend to ensure a smooth transition into their new work. There are many other handicrafts in Bhaktapur, but we are the only felt handicrafts factory in the city.