Meena Gurung : Promoting a Sustainable and Ethical Fashion Business

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Meena Gurung : Promoting a Sustainable and Ethical Fashion Business

This entrepreneur aspires to move ahead with her eco-friendly business and other initiatives beneficial for the environment and the society.

Globally, fashion is considered as one of the most polluting industries. However,the recent years have seen entrepreneurs and designers becoming conscious about the environmental impacts and trying to make the activities of the fashion business sustainable. In Nepal, there are some entrepreneurs like Meena Gurung who are focusing their efforts on creating home-grown sustainable and ethical fashion brands. Gurung, who is the founder of the Bora Studio Nepal, thinks that fashion is more than about design. “More important in our area of work is to tell the story behind a product, its making process and how much money fashion industry workers are getting. It is because there is so much exploitation in the fashion industry in Nepal. There is no fair pricing, and nothing is ethical,” she says.

Born in Aanbu Khaireni, Tanahu, she went to Gorkha to pursue her studies at St. Mary’s School as there was no quality education in her village. She grew up in a schooling environment where extracurricular activities like sports, arts and craft, sewing and weaving were prioritised along with regular studies. This led her to garneran interest and attraction towards arts and craft. She would participate in arts competitions and would secure first place.

While studying in grade 6, the worsening Maoist insurgency forced her to change school. During that time, a fire caused by a bomb blast at the school’s principal’s office burned important student documents such as mark sheets and transcripts. But later she got transferred to St. Mary’s School, Pokhara and completed her schooling. After SLC, she came to Kathmandu for her higher studies.

As an arts enthusiast, she wanted to study arts but her parents made her study A-Levels instead. “I tried to convince my parents but could not. My father wanted me to become a doctor. But as I am a faint hearted person, I refused it and joined the A-Level course,” she says. However, time and again she tried to convince her parents to let her study arts. Later, Gurung decided to study fashion design and her parents agreed. “They might have felt the study more alluring than arts,” she assumes. She studied fashion at IEC College of Arts and Fashion for a year. In 2012, she was selected to further her study in fashion design in Ireland.

After the massive earthquakes hit Nepal in 2015, Gurung returned to Nepal thinking to start something on her own in the country. Going abroad had given her wider exposure and she wanted to break the stereotype about women prevalent in the country. “There are many restrictions that women have to follow and I wanted to break that,” she elucidates.

While surfing Facebook one day, she got connected with a lithography painter Kabi Raj Lama. “Lithography is a very old way of printing. Lama is probably the first individual in Nepal in this type of painting,” she says. Highly interested, she went to his exhibition where she was very inspired by looking at his art work. “Initially, I didn’t know about him. But after seeing his work, I got interested and asked him to make me an intern in his work,” shares Gurung.

Showing care towards planet earth was something that was deeply instilled into Gurung’s heart and mind since her schooldays. This encouraged and inspired her to work in the field of sustainable fashion.  “I could have earned a lot of money by designing dresses copying high-end designer brands, but I did not want to move along that path,” she expresses, adding, “As a designer, I also have a responsibility to mother nature and the economic condition of the people who I work with.”

While working with Lama, she also researched about incorporating natural dyeing and printing in clothes because she avoided using chemicals and wanted to go zero waste. After working for about a year with him, Gurung started her own venture Bora Studio Nepal in 2017.

She did not receive family support when she started her own business. But she did not lose hope. “My parents thought stepping into business was not a good idea for me. They wanted me to get married but I said no. So I had to struggle a lot to commence the venture,” she says. As someone who is looking to start a business without financial support, she had to seek help from others. Gurung had two partners to look after financial and other arrangements enabling her to solely focus on the product design. However, the partners left the venture later after they got other opportunities. Nevertheless, Gurung did not give up her determination and started her home studio in Samakhushi. Recently, she has also collaborated with an organisation Nepal Silk which works for women empowerment.

Keeping the venture close tonature and the arts, Gurung named the studio ‘Bora’ inspired by jute which is known as a soft yet sturdy fibre. She designs and produces apparels made from jute, cotton, hemp, allo (Himalayan nettle) and bamboo that not only demonstrates the exclusiveness in terms of Gurung’s design philosophy but also showcases her environment-friendly approach. She uses different varieties of flowers, leaves and chilies for colouring.

For Gurung, eco printing is more an initiative of the arts and peace of mind instead of just something that earns money. Every design of Bora Studio is different and unique. Gurung, who believes in quality over quantity, says that every product that she creates is so close to her heart that sometimes she does not like to sell the item. She says that every product represents a place of Nepal. “A lot of pigment can be extracted from nature if we know how to do it. We can even extract pigment from dried leaves,” she says, adding, “However, we should not destroy the plants and jungles and select the necessary items responsibly.” She says that the colour pigments differ according to the place, temperature and climate.

After the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and thelockdown, she shut down her studio and went to her birthplace Tanahu. Visiting hervillage after many years gave Gurung a chance to explore the surrounding nature and a time to think. She ended up feelingsomething there. “I’ll be opening an arts school where kids can come and learn art, painting, dyeing, ecoprinting, nature therapy and much more,” she says. She also plans to give free training to the kids coming from financially weak families.

“I will also be focusing on organic farming,” she says. She is also planning to utilise the land in the village and to find ways to help the local economy to grow better.

Due to the pandemic, Nepali women are doing online business staying at home which is very positive. But she says making transactions during the lockdown was problematic. “Although orders kept coming from abroad, there were problems related to transactions as my clients were unable to make direct online payments,” she says, adding that she hopes problems like these will be eased in online transactions in the future.

She feels that the government’s decision to provide collateral-free loans to women entrepreneurs at subsidised interest rates is positive and encouraging. According to her, this scheme needs to be taken to a large scale in order to make it meaningful. “Also the process to geta loanis very lengthy. Talking about my own experience, I felt like giving up at one point due to the procedural hassles. In addition, so many documents are needed that rural women cannot arrange the required papers themselves,” she adds.

Lately, she has been visiting villages to study the economic situation of the people of the rural areas. She then works to come up with strategies on how she can help the people to raise their living standard. She also runs arts and crafts related trainings according to what is required. Moreover, she trains women and teaches them the value of their work so that they won’t be exploited. She is also focusing on influencing people on ways to adopt sustainability through visual stories and storytelling. “And I think that’s my calling now,” she mentions.

Gurung is planning to travel to Koshi Tapu for six months as an artist in residence and conduct research to come up with a strategy to form a circular economy. As a nature lover, she also has plans to organise a plantation in her village.

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