The growing popularity of some home-grown apparel brands has indicated that a new direction for Nepali RMG industry is in the making.
Nepali readymade garment (RMG) industry entered into a period of prolonged and deep recession from 2005 when the United States scrapped the quota-free access to Nepali RMG products.
As United States alone used to absorb more than 80 percent of the total garment exports of Nepal, the expiry of Agreement on Textile and Clothing (ATC), a transitional framework agreement which governed the global trade of textile and RMG from 1994 to 2004 hit the Nepali garment industry the most.
The quota restrictions implemented by the US and other developed countries made it possible for apparel manufacturers of small economies like Nepal to export to markets in US and Europe. Prior to the phasing out of the quota system, Nepal was exporting garments worth Rs 12 billion which generated around 500,000 jobs in the sector.
Fourteen years later, the Nepali RMG industry is yet to recover from the slump. However, Nepali apparel producers who were earlier centered on garment exports are now gradually turning their focus locally. This new paradigm shift has been led by new generation of readymade garment entrepreneurs who are exploring new avenues within the country, by introducing domestic apparel brands primarily for Nepali consumers.
They are coming up with quality products having a unique Nepali touch and style, catering the needs of domestic consumers carving out a niche for themselves. The likes of Juju Wears, Bastra, Voto and Phalano Luga are some of the popular home-grown apparels brands in the market at present. Bikram Sambat is the latest entrant which has started production and sales of high-quality denimwear in 2018.
With expansion of internet penetration, and mushrooming of online shopping platforms, Nepali apparel manufacturers have new means to market their products. And, these home-grown brands have exploited the potential of digital medium at the fullest to expand their business and establish their brands. The advent of social media platforms – Facebook and Instagram - has helped domestic apparel manufacturers to attract consumers towards them.
Bastra and Bikram Sambat, which rely on online marketing, are sustaining their business well. They are getting several inquiries from customers living in city areas like Kathmandu, Dharan, Butwal, Chitwan and Pokhara. Most of the Nepali brands are tying up with authentic online shopping portals such as Daraz, Sastodeal, Socheko etc.
Established after the 2015 earthquake, Bastra has adopted a unique business model – selling its products through the online medium only. Bishal Adhikari, marketing executive of Bastra Clothing, says, “We realised that whatever we wear comes from foreign countries like China and India. So, we started our own business to manufacture and supply apparels.”
With limited business skill, the company initiated its business through the online medium while it set up a factory at Banasthali for the production with around ten employees. The company, which manufactured t-shirts, men’s kurtas, trousers, and shirts from Nepali cotton, now produces other products including hoodies, fleece trousers, sweatshirts, pants, jackets, sweatshirts, hoodies, dhaka topis for men.
According to Adhikari, the brand has served over 20,000 customers including prestigious clients such as Sipradi Trading, Chaudhary Group, Euro Kids Montessori, Neco Insurance, Doko Group, Yeti Brewery, Bottlers Nepal, Kantipur Dental Hospital, Nepal Tourism Board etc. The company has a production capacity of producing round or V-neck t-shirts of 20,000 to 25,000 pieces per month. Its product varieties are available at affordable prices, ranging from Rs 600 to Rs 8,000.
For those who aspire to wear branded denim, Bikram Sambat could be a good option, it is the only local brand producing denim wear. Impressed with Nepali brands such as Juju Wears, Karuna and Phalano, Shovit Raj Upadhaya aspired to start his own apparel business to deliver quality jeanswear at reasonable prices to customers. It was his love for denim that lead to the establishment of Bikram Sambat. After much market research and trend analysis, Upadhyaya started the Bikram Sambat brand with the production of casual polo t-shirt in 2018. Now the company company is highly focused on the producing stylistic and comfortable denim wear. Its product portfolio includes jeans jackets, pants, tunics and cotton polo t-shirts with price ranging from Rs 2,000 to Rs 5,000. The company imports raw materials including fabric, button and denim from India, Pakistan and China. “Since we manufacture quality jeanswear using all imported raw materials, they are a bit costly but reasonable and offer the value for money,” shares Upadhyaya who is the managing director of the company. Bikram Sambat designs all its apparel itself.
Unlike other home grown brands, Voto has primarily focused on garments for women. Besides the local sales, Voto exports its products made of bamboo and cotton such as scarfs, shawls and cashmere pashminas to Europe.
Realising that imported apparels dominate Nepal’s clothing market, Pooja Rimal and Pooja Pandey jointly started the Nepali apparel business establishing its own factory at Sohrakhutte and outlet at Hattisar, Kathmandu. Pooja Panday, director of Voto shares, “Since the commencement of our business, sales of products that are made of organic cotton and yarn have been good. Till now we have 4,500 to 5,000 pieces of cotton wears in stock. A team of 16 well trained staff design and produce quality products for both men and women.
Though its product varieties such as jumpsuits, one-piece gowns, scarfs, bamboo t-shirts, bamboo shawls, ponchos, cashmere pashminas and saris are not glossy and glittery, their simplicity, unique design and eye-pleasing colour have made them an attractive proposition among the buyers. Reliza Shrestha, brand ambassador of Voto, shares, “The fabrics used in our apparels are handmade. They are crafted with much attention and details.” Voto, which has been selling its products from its outlet located at Hattisar has apparels starting from Rs 1,300 going up to Rs 10,000.
Pradip Man Shakya’s quest to resurrect his garment business, badly hit by scrapping of quota-free access to the US market led the creation of two popular brands - Juju Wears and Karuna Natural Wears.
Shakya’s company Sharman Apparels, which currently owns Juju and Karuna alongside another brand Tara T-Shirts, was amongst the domestic players in 1990s and early 2000s that used to export RMG products to the United States, Europe and Japan. Back then, the company used to supply apparels to US giants such as global giants such as Walmart and GAP.
To recover from the post-2005 setback, Shakya quickly moved on to revive his business by opening a Karuna Wears outlet at Durbarmarg in 2006. In 2013, Sharman Apparels started the Juju Wears brand to convey social messages through t-shirts in printed form. The prints carry themes of conveying a positive message and reflecting Nepali identity. For the fine printing art, images and design with original content, the company has a separate production team with professional having over 29 years of painting experiences. The company has 300 varieties of printed t-shirts and soon it will be expanding its product portfolio with new design and patterns for fall and autumn. The prices range from Rs 990 to Rs 1400 and are available at four outlets, located in Jhamsikhel, Lazimpat, Durbar Marg and Kupandole.
Nepal’s renowned cartoonist Rajesh KC stepped into the apparel business by starting Phalano Luga in 2013. The company basically produces t-shirts that are printed with humourous illustrations carrying political and social satires along with culture, tradition and heritage with a real sense of Nepali touch. Many of its t-shirts come imprinted with the images of a man wearing traditional Nepali cap which KC has used as the central character in his cartoons depicting the common Nepali for the last 25 years.
According to Jeevan Khatri, finance and administration manager of Phalano Luga, the company designs, print and produce apparels at its factory in Harisiddhi, Lalitpur. Meanwhile, the supply of the t-shirts is done through the company’s outlets at CTC Mall, Sundhara and Pulchwok. Phalano Luga t-shirts carry a maximum price of Rs 1,450.
The apparels are made of 100 percent organic cotton and are also exported to markets including Europe, US and Dubai. Khatri says that the company’s profit stands at 35 to 40 percent from the sales of the t-shirts while its annual turnover is approximately Rs 10 million.