A Legacy of Women's Empowerment

Text by Elena Moody / Photo: Woven

Woven opened its first outlet in Pokhara in 2016, quickly expanding to six stores located in the tourist hubs of Lakeside, Pokhara, and Thamel, Kathmandu. In all of their stores you will find a wide range of stylish bags, colorful purses, soft scarves, beautiful toys, and more. With their distinctive style and exceptional quality, this socially responsible Pokhara-based company has quickly become a well-recognized and well-respected local brand. Woven's products are becoming popular worldwide, and they now export to Japan, Cambodia, South Korea, Taiwan, Germany, Finland, and the United States.
All of Woven's products are diligently handmade, and all materials are hand-woven with a preference for locally sourced materials. Woven's founder Anup Khadka says, “We strive to support small rural women's cooperatives,” such as those in Salija village in Parbat district. They source natural fabrics like hemp and Himalayan nettle, also known as allo, “because it is very important to support local communities, as well as to use environmentally friendly practices.” Ensuring admirable quality and creating tasteful yet durable items is noticeably a strong focus among the Woven team, and to ensure this high standard they will provide training to the rural cooperatives they collaborate with wherever necessary. They are conscious of minimizing their impact on the environment, and carefully consider production processes, namely prioritizing local and raw materials and eco-friendly dyes.

A Mother's Influence
If you have ever walked down the main strip in Lakeside, you will likely recognize that many of the cotton fabrics used to create Woven's products have been sourced from the well-known Women's Skills Development Organization (WSDO). WSDO stores stand out from the rest with the opportunity to watch in-store how the fabrics are made using back-strap looms common in the Gurung culture, and one of the oldest weaving techniques in the world. WSDO is a non-profit Fair Trade organization that was established in 1975 with the specific aim to empower socially and economically marginalized women of rural Nepal. From very humble beginnings, with just four brave and inspiring women, today they employ over 800 women, giving them the opportunity to learn and develop skills to become financially independent, and have transformed not only their lives, but the lives of their children and their entire communities.
Ramkali Khadka, Executive Director, WSDO, has been with the organization since 1977. Her sons grew up witnessing firsthand their mother's great contribution and impact on the lives of so many women in need. Anup, her middle son, says that he and his brothers, Sagar and Alok, were inspired by their mother's work from a very young age. He shares that he volunteered at the WSDO and later formally joined the team. He gained invaluable experience working with the organization, which has been exporting overseas for over 20 years. He was fortunate to travel far and wide and learn from the many countries he visited. What stuck with him most was the fine quality and durability of the goods that he found overseas, and he appreciated that quality was crucial to compete in the international market.
Continuing the Legacy
Anup and Woven's designer, Sagar Bhusal, endeavor to incorporate traditional materials with a modern twist and have beautifully created a successful fusion with leather. Anup has an inspiring vision for the future and has developed a creative way to support his mother's organization, with the desire to offer many more women access to vocational training and the opportunity to be financially independent and work in safe and supportive environments. “We have a very similar ethos to WSDO,” he explains. He has seen many times how this support strengthens entire communities, and he continues to strive to collaborate with more local producers. He is exploring the incorporation of bamboo fabrics, and considering how best to better support those with a disability to find good employment opportunities. He is motivated to find ways of sourcing more materials from far west Nepal, which is rich in raw materials, and hopes to encourage more local employment opportunities that keep families together. Woven considers the individual needs of their employees, and also provides educational scholarships for the daughters of those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
Woven partners with other small local businesses whose values align with their own vision and mission, and showcase their products in-store. Currently, you will find beautiful cushion covers and bedsheets from the Women's Skills Cooperative in Sanepa, and at times, more independent brands, such as the stunning and unique jewelry line AAMO. The company has a commendable outlook on the benefits of supporting one another in business and working towards ethical collaboration for all involved. All Woven's in-store staff offer excellent customer service, and with set prices clearly labeled on items, it is a deliberately hassle-free retail experience.
A Unique Opportunity at WSDO
After countless requests from customers, sewing workshops have been set up by the Women's Skills Development Organization, and you now have the opportunity to learn to make your own laptop sleeve, phone case, travel pack, or traditional thailly (money pouch). Enquire in-store or online at wsdonepal.com.