Not for His Mouth
September 11, 2019
From the pages of Issue 4: Plans Change
How one Nepali man is following in his mother’s footsteps to change the lives of local women.
We stumbled upon Woven in Pokhara, noticing its modern storefront and on-trend accessories lining the shelves inside. We wanted to find out who was behind this business that stood out from the rest of the curio stands hawking fake yak blankets and cashmere scarves. It surprised us to find out it was Anup Khadka, who grew up watching his mother, Ramkali Khadka, the founder of the Women’s Skills Development Organization of Nepal, execute an extraordinary vision to transform the lives of Nepali women and their communities.
TELL US ABOUT WOVEN.
Woven sells handmade bags, purses, and accessories that are sourced and assembled by the Women’s Skills Development Organization of Nepal (WSDO), a non-profit, fair trade organization that provides employment to over 600 women. We opened our first store in 2012 and now we have seven retail stores in Nepal and this year we opened a store in Cambodia. Our objective is to empower women and to help create a market for locally sourced products that are created by women’s cooperatives in Nepal.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START WOVEN?
My mother worked for the government of Nepal in women’s development and at that time, being a woman in that position was a very big thing. She had the skills to train women and so she started WSDO to help create jobs for women. She never thought that it would be this big. She just wanted to help the neediest women. She started with four people and 10,000 Nepal rupees nearly 40 years ago.
I grew up in the same building as the WSDO— our house was attached to it. I grew up with it and enjoyed it. When I was a boy I would look through the gate at my house and see women coming to visit my mother who wanted to work. They wanted jobs, and they used to cry because they didn’t have opportunities. It was really bad in their villages. The ladies wouldn’t work. It’s not like how it is today. At that time, everyone thought the ladies should be at home doing the housework.
When I was older, I worked as a volunteer in WSDO for seven or eight years, and after that, I thought of establishing a business that would help the women. This is my first business, but so far it is going OK.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES YOU’VE FACED STARTING THIS BUSINESS?
The offseason is hard, and tourism is not as good as before. We do not have Chinese tourists like before—they used to be one of the best consumers of our products. Since the earthquake, the highways have been closed. Tourists are more interested in our products than the locals. We would be happier if that was different. We don’t do much marketing, to be honest; people don’t know much about it. We don’t want to be too commercial. The commercialism will overpower our values.
WHAT’S DIFFERENT IN NEPAL SINCE YOUR MOTHER STARTED WSDO MOR THAN 40 YEARS AGO?
Men used to not value women. The new generation is completely different because of education and the internet. How the internet has gone through Nepal has changed a lot. They can see what is going on in America. They can get the information right now. Before it was impossible and you had to wait for television to get the news. Technology is imparting a new set of values on a newer generation. every year it’s changing and newer generations are trying to educate their mothers and fathers. There’s not a lot of tension. We see more girls are working, and more boys are educated.
HOW HAS WOVEN IMPACTED THE LIVES OF WOMEN?
You cannot even imagine that they do not even have 10 rupees in their pocket. They don’t even have bus fare. That’s why we go to them. Their lives have changed a lot. There are so many stories. This gives them confidence and independence. But it’s not appropriate for my mouth to describe how their life has changed.
HOW CAN PEOPLE SUPPORT WOVEN?
Visit our shops in Pokhara and Kathmandu and support the ladies. We have 1,500 women in the pipeline who want to work so we need to make more goods.