--BY MANISHA BALAMI
For more than 80 years, the government in Finland has been providing the ‘Finnish Baby Box’, a starter maternity package consisting of clothes and other essentials such as diapers, towel, napkins and toys to help mothers take care of their newborns. When Rewati Gurung came to know about this unique parenthood support initiative from the Nordic country, she thought of starting a business to sell maternity packages in Nepal. A few years later and after some research, she started her company Kokroma in 2019. The word ‘Kokro’ means baby cradle in Nepali and Gurung’s company produces various types of baby products.
Though Kokroma came into existence just two years ago, the company has been selected for two categories in the upcoming Global Good Awards 21 which is given by the reputed UK-based business sustainability and creative strategy agency Futerra. Gurung has been shortlisted in the category of ‘Individual Leader’ while her company has been shortlisted for the ‘Covid Crisis Champions (Small Organisations)’ category of the awards which will be held on 22 September, 2021.
Gurung came to know about the concept of ‘Finnish Baby Box’ during her Gender, Culture and Politics class while attending the Helsinki Summer School in 2015. “This concept was implemented more than eight decades ago in Finland to address infant mortality issues,” she says.
As imports from China account for most of the infant clothing in Nepal, she realised that the country was losing its traditional infant clothing. “By adapting the designs and colours of Nepali traditional clothing, I felt there was room for a more contemporary approach while at the same time sourcing materials and skills locally,” she says. So, with the aim of reviving the authentic traditional Nepali infant clothing, she established Kokroma with an investment of Rs 500,000.
From her research she learned that Nepali mothers prefer pure cotton for their babies and children than clothes made from other textiles. According to Gurung, clothes produced by Kokroma are 100 percent cotton so as to ensure the complete comfort and safety of infants. “Modern look of products without distorting the Nepali tradition and quality of infant clothing are the unique selling propositions of our brand,” she claims.
Initially, her idea was to sell a complete package like the Finnish Baby Box. But, as customer demand grew for individual items, she started selling separate items through the physical store in Boudha, Kathmandu.
While Gurung was looking for the availability of raw materials in the country to start production, she got connected with prisons in the country where cloth fabrics were being made by the prison inmates. She found that the fabrics were of high quality and talked with the heads of the prisons if they could supply the fabrics. After receiving a positive response, she started buying fabrics produced by inmates. “By doing so, we are also promoting the work of prisoners providing them a source of income to support their families at home,” says Gurung.
After receiving the fabrics, the women employees of Kokroma at the company’s factory work to process the clothes. According to Gurung, while most raw materials are sourced from within the country, textiles like fine muslin are purchased from importers as such fabrics are not manufactured in the country.
Products like the Kokro basket, 100 percent raw cotton handmade mattresses and covers, bed sheets, blankets, blanket covers, bhoto sets, pajamas, dungarees, muslin pajamas, muslin sleeping sacks, bonnets, cloth diapers, khasto baby wraps, cocoon bags, mustard seed pillows and covers, bloomers, burp cloths, mittens are available at Kokroma with prices ranging from Rs 120 to Rs 3,275.
The company recently opened its first retail outlet in Boudha on July 6. Besides, the company’s products are also available at Nepal Mediciti Hospital, Timro Concept Store situated in Bakhundole and Craftmandu located in Jhamsihkel. “Having our own store has enabled us to showcase the full range of our products and to fulfill the demand of our customers and receive their feedback,” she expresses.
In a short span of time, Kokroma has also been able to export its products to countries with a large Nepali diaspora including Australia, United States, United Kingdom and some other European nations.
Coming from a different background, Gurung did not have the business know-how which was a major challenge for her. “I underwent a steep learning curve in the beginning. But with time, I learned about the business and the market,” she says.
Like other startup companies, sourcing raw materials, adhering to eco-friendly and sustainable production practices as well as keeping a close eye on the cash flow were some of the challenges, she had to face to run the company. Similarly, identifying the right market was also difficult for her. “During the initial days, even my relatives were not interested in our business,” she says.
Being a housewife and mother, managing the business alongside family responsibilities was also challenging. However, through dedication and hard work, she won the support of her family.
Gurung thinks that one should have a clear understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, the ability to identify possible solutions to resolve problems and to find the right ways of implementation in order to succeed in business.
Kokroma has a core team of five full-time seamstresses who produce most of their products. Additionally, there are 10 part time seamstresses who work from home when they get bulk orders. There are five other staff members for washing, ironing, packing and to look after social media for marketing and promotion along with sales.
“We place a high priority on the wellbeing of our staff putting them ahead of the company profit in our list of priorities,” says Gurung. Giving credit to the overall staff, she adds, “By looking after our staff, educating and training them, encouraging them to become the best version of themselves and excel at their job, we have developed a team which is highly motivated contributing to the success of Kokroma.”
Coping with the Covid-19 Impact
With the government imposing the lockdown last year to curb the coronavirus infection in the country, Kokroma faced serious challenges. The startup had to halt production for weeks and sales came to a grinding stop. However, she and her team members did not lose hope and decided to face the challenge boldly. So, to keep the company financially afloat, they started producing cotton face masks for children. “Our sales grew initially from the masks and then through sales of our new products,” says Gurung.
Later, they produced face masks for adults as well. During the pandemic, they created a set of four different sized masks with filter pockets in a variety of colours.
According to Gurung, the company had steady growth in sales before the pandemic and she could predict the future demand and sales. But after the start of the pandemic, the numbers are fluctuating due to the disruptions. Nevertheless, as an optimist, Gurung sees a silver lining in the dark clouds of the present-day uncertainties. “I would like to call it even a great time because it proved that diversity and flexibility in business are the keys to success,” she concludes.