This entrepreneur has come a long way following her dedication and passion for the arts.
--BY MANISHA BALAMI
“Creativity is all about innovativeness to actually bring something to fulfill the demand according to the time,” says Binita Basnet who has been in the creative field for around 30 years. Proprietor of Clay Craft and More, she thinks that though the present situation is depressing, entrepreneurs should always be optimistic and do something that is more in-line with the current demands of the market.
Born in Kathmandu she completed her schooling from St Mary’s High School in 1982. Then she went to Jaipur, India, to pursue her Pre-university Course (PUC). Subsequently, she completed her undergraduate degree in Fine Arts from Banasthali Vidyapith, Jaipur, the world’s second largest university for women. After that, Binita finished her Commercial Arts programme from the International Polytechnic Institute in Delhi.
After returning to Nepal, she worked with the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) as a Publication Specialist for a year. After getting married in 1991, she was chosen for the Clay Workshop by the well-known art curator Sangita Thapa who runs the Siddhartha Art Gallery. She says that artists need a medium such as paper, canvas, cloth etc to exhibit their art. As soon as the training was finished, she chose clay as her medium to showcase her art. She then started her designer claystudio ‘Clay Craft and More’. She opened her first outlet in Kupondole as ‘Clay and Craft’. With this, her journey with clay art started which established her as a woman entrepreneur.
Although clay products were easily available everywhere, it was Binita who started making designer clay products used for decorative as well as utility purposes for the first time in Nepal. “Although the local potters were skilled in clay craft, the sense of quality and design wasn’t up to the international standard,” she says, adding, “The potters did not know about finishing, firing and the temperature, and had less idea on designing. So, the quality of products was not as expected.” This was where Binita used her expertise and taught some potters during the initial stages to make the designs.
Her designer products were used in high-end restaurants, resorts, private homes along with big programmes and exhibitions for decorative purposes. In 1996, she received an honour from former Queen Aishwarya for the Best Indigenous Product during a floriculture exhibition. She states how the late queen was surprised to see that the items were made in Nepal and asked her multiple times where the products were made. In the same year, she also held a solo exhibition of hand painted silk and clay products at the Siddhartha Art Gallery. At that time, people didn’t know much about hand painted silk and clay products presented in artistic ways. She recalls how they were amazed and how happy they were to see such a thing made in the country.
Customer response towards Basnet’s work has been overwhelming and she says she has received enormous support from many well-wishers. She remembers a customer who saved up her salary for 5 to 6 months to buy a pot from Basnet’s collection. “I was so touched by the customer and realised how even a small thing can bring happiness in a person’s life,” she expresses.
During the height of the Maoist insurgency in the early and mid-2000s, every business was affected and the hospitality sector businesses such as restaurants and hotels were on the verge of collapse. So, her business, whose main customers were hotels, restaurants and resorts, also struggled survive. To cope up with the situation, she slowed down her clay work and focused more into silk painting. She then started to make designer hand-painted silk saris that were also relatively new products in the Nepali market. Prior to this, people had to order such silk saris from India as there was no production in Nepal. She claims to be the first person to have started producing hand painted silk saris in the country. Moreover, she has been making single-piece-design saris which further makes the apparels special.
She felt that the silk wall art that she had made was somehow confined in somebody’s home, restaurants and hotels. So, her new concept was to bring art in a wearable form where people can actually wear art and flaunt them outside their houses.
“I also wanted to let people know that products with quality on-par with India can be produced even in Nepal if we put our hearts into the production, and that maintaining quality is more important than going into quantity,” she adds.
It was the support of customers that kept Binita going during the tough times, for which she considers herself lucky. “There are loyal customers who treasure our collections as very special items. When people say that they have only my collection of saris in their wardrobe, I feel very proud and their appreciation motivates me to work harder,” she states. As the materials for her products are expensive, she says that her final products are also costly. So, her customers are basically from the upper-middle and higher classes.
Binita has also been producing hand-painted wearable silk art under the brand BB Collection, a sister company of Clay Craft and More. At present, she has store in Bishalnagar, Kathmandu and have around 14 employees working in her company.
A spiritual individual by nature, Binita has strong interests in Vedic Astrology as well. Along with art and business, she also provides spiritual counseling to people. “I consider art as a form of medication that helps to heal almost everything. Before being a businesswoman, I am an artist and I feel that as artists we are usually very emotional and spiritual because it is our emotion and mental state that works and manifest in creating that kind of art,” she says.
Binita has been a long-time member of the Federation of Women Entrepreneurs Association of Nepal (FWEAN). She feels that the organisation offers an excellent ground for women entrepreneurs to get the exposure they need. “FWEAN is all by women, with the women and for the women. Here, I have learned the mantra of ‘United We Stand, Divided We Fall,” she says. Alongside FWEAN, Binita is also a member of the SAARC Chamber of Women Entrepreneurs Council (SCWEC).
Facing the Covid-19 Challenge
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a steep economic downturn and Basnet’s business has also not been spared by the global health crisis. “Although our store is open, production is at zero at the moment,” she informs. Her company has not been able to source the necessary raw materials. Compared to previous years, she claims that her business has slumped by around 60 percent in the last six months.
Despite this, she has utilised this period for designing, conceptualization and painting. Currently, she is working on new designs necessary for upcoming products. Overall the time has been productive for her, but production has come to a grinding halt. She wants the government to identify the problems being faced by women entrepreneurs and bring relief packages. “Not only women, but all entrepreneurs need a firm government support to survive this crisis,” she notes.
With the fast spread of Covid-19 infections across the world, the use of masks has skyrocketed in the recent months becoming an essential part of the lives of people. “Health safety is the foremost concern at present. So, with this reason, masks are the thing I have decided to launch,” she says and explains her plan to start designer face masks with silver technology.
According to Basnet, she is introducing face masks using the ‘silver technology’ which can stop 99.9 percent of transmission of micro-organisms to the wearers for the first time in Nepal. The masks are also reversible and can be used up to 200 washes. “These masks are something very different which will come in a designer package,” she informs.
She feels lucky that her father had given her the freedom to do whatever she liked. At a time when women used to get married very early, Binita finds herself to have been a fortunate person to have received the exposure. Even after her marriage, her in-laws, too, gave her the freedom to pursue her interests. “At the time of my marriage, they said they would support me in my decisions. And that was very unusual back then,” she says, adding, “They have been supporting me for a long time now.”
She says that there are still many women who are talented but cannot do what they like after marriage. “Whatever we say, women still have more family responsibilities after marriage than men,” she opines. But she feels women are good at multitasking and they try to handle everything perfectly.
Her family gave her the psychological support, but she says the hard work must come from within. According to her, dedication and perseverance are the two things necessary in business. “In business, there isn’t always profit, sometimes there might be loss and obstruction as well, but one must not lose hope and carry on with the work,” she expresses.
Furthermore, she says that one must follow their passion rather than following the herd. If people choose their passion, then the work will never feel tiring and theyr will love to work every day and tackle any challenges. She says that even during her free times, she engages in activities like painting and sketching. “I feel so peaceful and delighted by painting,” she concludes.