The startup aims to provide a platform to authentic products made in Nepal by Nepali workers and artisans.
Back in 2016, Binam Shakya wanted to do something of his own after returning from Australia. Meanwhile, he caught up with his friend, the founder of Evoke Café who shared the idea of providing a platform for local products. As a close friend, Shakya shared this with Sachin Shrestha who is now a business partner. As soon as Shrestha heard the idea, he agreed and started working on it. Shrestha was a business student who was working in a manufacturing company and wanted to create his own brand. Though they had the vision to do something of their own, they did not have a concrete plan. With extensive research and discussion, Shakya and Shrestha started The Local Project on July 8, 2017. The Local Project is a concept store which aims to promote local products and encourage entrepreneurs to make Nepali products.
Before their formal launch, they had a soft launch on April 29, 2017. “We were very sceptical in the beginning. We were not sure if we could sell a thing, but surprisingly we got very positive responses from the visitors,” they say. The soft launch also helped them to do a feasibility study and make necessary changes in their store.
Criteria for Brand Selection
The products available at The Local Project are all Nepal made. They have wide varieties of products ranging from clothes, bags, jewellery, shoes, to small gift items and home accessories. They say that the product can be anything but it should match the vibe of their store, but on top of that, they say the product should be made in Nepal. Today there are a lot of Nepali brands and selecting the best is a difficult task. However, they say that the products should also be manufactured in Nepal using local manpower. “We really appreciate what other producers and companies are doing, but our main idea is that the products should be made using all local human resources and Nepali artisans,” says Shrestha.
“We are not like other shops who only sell handicrafts. We are open to any kind of Nepal made products, but it should be a quality product, new in the market, innovative and pleasing to the eye,” they say. However, they do not put on repetitive products. Today they work with brands such as Mheecha, The White Yak, Dochaa, White Tara, Yatri Supply, Simple Beautiful Joy, Purnaa, and many more.
With experience, they have become skilled in filtering the products and brands. On the process of filtration, they look for how sustainable and environmentally friendly the brand is. To meet these criteria, they visit the company, meet the owners and analyse their workplace as well. Shrestha’s first-hand experience in analysing the quality of the material was put to use during the product selection process.
Initially, they were unsure regarding the sustainability of the shop. Besides, they had difficulty in finding Nepali brands which produced products that are high quality and exclusive. Unlike products that were already available in the alleys of Thamel, they wanted something unique. Approaching the right vendors was also a challenge for them initially. The project that began with seven brands now has more than 40 brands working with them. Currently, limitation of space has become a challenge to them as several Nepali brands want a space in their store.
Apart from this, a lot of people, especially the local crowd, did not understand their concept. “We still have this challenge,” they say. “Some don’t understand that every work that a brand puts into comes with a price. The brands that work with us strongly support fair wage. Also because of this, the products are a bit expensive in comparison to other similar products in the market,” Shrestha adds. They say that some people still have difficulty understanding it. Nevertheless, the positive feedback from the customers is encouraging them.
Like any other startup, they also have financial challenges. They borrowed a certain amount from their family and close friends to start the business. They did not invest a huge amount in the beginning. In the first year, they had invested around Rs 1.5 million.
Likewise, the lack of a payment channel is a major challenge that they are facing at present. While they are trying to grow and reach international clients as well, this has become an obstacle. They say that when they work with customers abroad they have to look for friends who have a Paypal account.
Currently, The Local Project has its stores in two locations – Le Sherpa, Maharajgunj and Evoke Café, Jhamsikhel. Although they try to balance expensive and affordable products and want all kinds of people to come to their store, they say that the customer demography in these two places is different. Both Nepali, as well as foreigners, come to their store at Jhamsikhel while mostly expats visit the store at Le Sherpa.
“Some criticise us for being too expensive. On top of that, they don’t let us explain,” Shrestha shares laughingly. “However, most of the customer feedback is encouraging,” he adds.
The political stability and fewer power cuts have led to a more encouraging environment for producers. “A few years ago, we had to work at night because of power cuts,” Shrestha recalls.
Today, with the growing trend of buying local products, they believe that they too have greater opportunities. Moreover, they say the handmade skills incorporated in Nepali products are difficult to find in other country’s products.
“I think,” Shrestha says, “It’s a transition phase in the country. Even though Nepali products have a decades-long reputation, people were making the same products”. As youngsters are widely exposed to the outer world, today they have been able to give a modern touch to the authentic Nepali skills. So due to this transition, young people are also encouraged to enter this field.
Shrestha says that they have different personalities. However, they have a very good understanding. “We are like the North Pole and the South Pole, but as it is said that opposites attract, we understand each other very well,” Shrestha says, adding, “Being friends and business partners has become favourable to us. It has also made it easier to clear misunderstandings”. They say that this bond has made it easier to run their business.
In the coming years, they want to be in as many different locations as possible. Besides expanding their outlets, they also want to focus on their social media. “We haven’t given much attention to this, so now we want to focus on e-commerce as well,” they say. Five years down the line, they aspire to become the ‘Amazon’ of Nepal in the area of local products.
Suggestions for Entrepreneurs
“Getting into entrepreneurship is difficult unlike engaging in a 10 to 5 job. It depends on one’s decision whether the business will grow or vanish,” says Shrestha. He gives high importance to analyse things while making any decision. Similarly, working very hard is his mantra for success. “Along with hard work, the motivation factor is equally important. There are times when even one’s passion turns into frustration and at such times, self-motivation is necessary,” Shrestha concludes.