As Dikila wanted to provide qualitative high-performance wear, she started an international adventure outdoor brand 18 years ago.
After a few minutes ride from the side road, which is right opposite to Gangalal hospital, Bansbari, we reached a beautiful house with a slab-paved entrance, different types of flowers and plants around, and a couple of friendly dogs. As we walked in, we were welcomed by a friendly, charming, and smart woman, who was in her late 40s. In front of us was the proprietor of Sherpa Adventure Outlet, Himalayan Outdoor Gears, and Summit Outdoor, Dikila Lama.
An ambitious person, Lama considers good managerial skills, dedication, hard work, consistency, patience, and perseverance as some of the qualities needed to become a successful entrepreneur. "It is not always profitable in business. There is a loss as well. But one must not lose hope during a time of loss, but rather have to work on finding ways to cut off the crisis and lead the business towards profit, "she states.
Being from a well-to-do family, she didn’t have to face many hardships regarding education. A native of Kathmandu, she completed her secondary education at St. Mary's High School and went to Bangalore to complete her high school. She then completed her Bachelor's and Master’s degrees in Sociology from Tribhuvan University.
Although, as a child, she wanted to become a doctor, her interest was diverted towards business after seeing her parents start a business, leaving their modest jobs in a bank and an airline. However, before getting her hands dirty in business, she worked for the Taj Group at the Annapurna Hotel. Later, thinking that she had to do something of her own, along with her friends, she decided to start a pashmina business. As the market for pashmina was on the rise, she also chose to work in the field of pashmina, which remarkably flourished. Meanwhile, after five to six years of operation, the demand and market for pashmina declined. "After this situation, we felt it was better to close down," she recalls.
Only then, she started Sherpa Adventure Outlet Pvt. Ltd. in 2003, which launched an international adventure outdoor brand, The North Face, for the first time in Nepal. Along with this, she also operates Himalayan Outdoor Gears and Summit Outdoors, which is the authorized distributor of international brands like Columbia and Timberland. Lama also claims to be the pioneer of introducing international outdoor brands in Nepal.
Products required for mountaineering, hiking, and trekking are available from these companies. They sell high-performance outdoor products ranging from snowproof jackets and windcheaters to backpacks, hats, caps, sleeping bags, tents, and footwear to wear in high altitudes.
At present, she has outlets in Thamel, Pokhara, and Namche Bazar. "The products are comparatively expensive, but we can guarantee quality to the customers," she claims.
Nepal is a country with high business prospects in the tourism sector. A lot of international tourists visit Nepal for mountaineering and hiking purposes. However, no authentic and good-quality outdoor gear was available at that time. "Some of my foreign friends have also pointed out similar problem of not finding quality gears," evokes Lama. "Tapping this problem, I and my husband felt that if we could introduce international outdoor brands to Nepal and provide them at a bit cheaper price than abroad, there is business scope in this sector. Then we started The North Face outlet in Thamel." It has been 18 years since Lama founded the company, and she considers being able to operate the company for such a long time to be their major strength and achievement.
Nevertheless, starting a business was not as easy as she had thought. Like other businesses and entrepreneurs, she too had to face a series of challenges. The first and foremost challenge was to create brand awareness among customers and convince them to buy quality, authentic products. According to her, as long as there were no copyright and duplicate products on the market, people were used to buying them at a cheaper price. "So, it was quite a challenge to convince them to choose our product," says Lama. But with around two decades in business, she knows domestic as well as international tourists opt for them and appreciate that such qualitative and branded products are available in Nepal as well.
Time management was another challenge for Lama as she was already married and had children at the time she started her business. Apart from being a businesswoman, she had to play the roles of a daughter-in-law, wife, and mother. "Being a successful businesswoman is not enough for a woman to become a superwoman. We have to be equally successful in maintaining our home as well. But if a man is a successful businessman, then he is considered a successful man," she states. "So, maintaining work-life balance is a challenge in itself for a woman." Regardless of these things, she says that her optimistic nature helped her tackle all the challenges. In addition, she states that the support from her husband and all the family members helped her reach the position she is in today. She asserts that she has completed her studies up to postgraduate and started a business because of the motivation and initiative from her husband.
The young entrepreneur says that one’s mental balance is necessary to properly maintain a work-life balance. To balance her mind, she does yoga, meditation, and exercise, which helps her absorb positivity and think positively. "I think this is one of the reasons I have been able to balance work and family till now," she shares.
Lama, who is also an executive board member of social organizations like Burns Violence Survivors Nepal and the Federation of Women Entrepreneur Association Nepal (FWEAN), believes that there have been many changes in women's entrepreneurship today. Two decades ago, people were sceptical when a woman or daughter wanted to do business, even family members. Although she didn’t have to face such scepticism, she says that a lot of lower-middle-class women had to face this challenge. But now, people encourage women to get into business, and they’ll invest in businesses if the idea is nice. The way people look at women has also changed, and people now support female entrepreneurs. "It might be because women today have gained wider exposure, they are knowledgeable, confident, and empowered," she adds.
According to her, the biggest challenge women entrepreneurs have is the skyrocketing bank interest rate, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. She feels that it would be helpful if the interest rates were lowered and the government had waived income taxes for female entrepreneurs during the pandemic. The government's collateral-free loan for women entrepreneurs is only available at Rastriya Banijya Bank. She says that it would be helpful if private banks also provided collateral-free loans.
Giving an example from a speech by the Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris, Lama says that the Nepal government should also establish a free community child care centre. "A bill is being passed regarding this in the US," she says, adding that Nepal should also adopt this service to increase the number of women in the workforce. Women in city areas can, comparatively, go to their work as there are plenty of daycares and Montessori, but women in rural areas, especially poverty-stricken families, have difficulty going to work or operating any business. "One of the reasons is that there is no one to look after their small children," says Lama. But if such child care centers are operated by the government for free in rural areas, women in those parts will also be able to work. "This will contribute to women's entrepreneurship and encourage women to work," explains Lama. "Since the population of women is higher in Nepal, increasing the women's workforce is very important as it will contribute to the economy of the country," she stresses.
Lama also says that industrial parks for women entrepreneurs should be established in major cities in the country so that they’ll have a market.
She is inspired by her mother’s vitality and the way she handles every problem. She wishes that she could have the same energy as her mother when she is at her mother’s age. She admires how "in any situation, she never loses hope but faces the problem bravely."
Lama is an adventurous person and likes to trek and go hiking. Also an outdoors person, she shares cycling, traveling, running, doing yoga, and exercising as some of her hobbies.
She aspires to expand her business and open franchises in the districts outside the Kathmandu valley. "If everything goes well, we’ll also start manufacturing, and expand it to the international market," she explains.