Perseverance, Creativity and Hopefulness in
Coming from a humble family background, the determination of this entrepreneur to boldly face challenges along her way is inspirational.
“Goals should be challenging but achievable. To set too much big expectation might also upset you if you are unable to reach them,” says Mingma Sherpa, founder of home-grown footwear brand Paila Shoes. Sherpa, who prefers quality over quantity, believes perseverance, creativity, optimism and taking one step at a time as the qualities to become a successful entrepreneur.
Sherpa, originally from Sankhuwasabha, was raised in Kathmandu. Her parents came to Kathmandu in search of better opportunities. After coming to the capital, they opened an eatery near Boudha. As she was the eldest among five daughters, she had the responsibility of supportting her parents in their business and also taking care of her younger sisters. Running the small business, she witnessed her family’s economical ups and downs while also learning about managing accounts and handling clients. “I could experience what it meant to be perseverant during the hardships my parents faced,” she says, adding, “They are actually my role models who taught me how to struggle and overcome the challenges and to keep moving.”
Although her parents were uneducated, she says that they have a progressive mindset. “I still remember my father saying that ‘I cannot promise you wealth, but all I can do is to provide you with a good education so that you can stand on your own feet and don’t need to struggle like us’,” she recalls. Her parents were the first Sherpa family from their village who invested in a good education for all their children despite the social pressure and stigma related to daughters. “I would credit my parents for showing the right direction in our lives and being able to stand up for ourselves,” expresses Sherpa.
Nevertheless, her parents were against the idea of involving their daughters in their business. They did not want their daughters to go through the instability and risks that might come along while doing business.
Initiation of Paila Shoes
As someone with a strong inclination towards portraying creativity and uniqueness in every work, she never liked following others. She considers this as one of the reasons why she was able to challenge herself to come out with something which portrays a fusion of her experiences with a touch of creativity and uniqueness to it.
Before starting her own venture, she worked with various INGOs and UN agencies. As an individual with a critical mindset regarding work and organisations, she only chose to work with such institutions where she could see some kind of immediate results or the ones that she could relate to considering her values and character.
In her quest of creating a product that represented Nepal’s cultural heritage and identity using local resources and workforce, she commenced Paila Shoes in February 2015. A home-grown footwear brand, Paila produces beautifully crafted shoes using locally available raw materials. “Paila was the step I took towards attempting what my parents thought was not an option for us and an answer to my ‘why’,” she says. The main goal of Paila Shoes is to do zero waste designs.
“The idea behind Paila was to create shoes with contemporary designs with some Nepali essence. I wanted a simple design accompanied by outstanding details and colours,” Sherpa elucidates. Paila Shoes are made especially from ‘Allo’. They also use the ‘Dhaka’ fabric to create different styles and patterns in the shoes. Besides shoes, they also produce bags and other accessories.
Initially, Sherpa took time to work on developing a brand identity. Along with her husband, she did advertising and marketing for the new venture. She opened an Instagram page of Paila Shoes which now has almost 1,800 followers. Likewise, she also started a Facebook page that currently has 11,000 followers.
The most difficult thing for Sherpa was to decide to shift from a growing development sector career to entrepreneurship. “Working with a team of experienced staff, following specific guidelines to fulfill duties and getting paychecks every month was a piece of cake compared to working alone, making your own guidelines and not knowing when you will receive your next income,” she expresses. It was the most crucial and difficult moment for her to get accustomed to. However, the support from her family and friends kept her strong during this phase.
Her sister’s unconditional support is the reason that motivated her to move ahead. Whenever she had any financial trouble, her sister would jump in to help her. Likewise, she also credits her friends who believed that she was exceptional, strong and good in what she was doing. Furthermore, she says her husband has always been very supportive, encouraging Sherpa to push her limits.
According to her, the Covid-19 pandemic was the most difficult situation she faced as an entrepreneur but she has managed to surpass it. She says that this experience has made her stronger and more confident to embrace the uncertainties and challenges that life brings.
At times whenever she feels low, her immediate reaction is to keep herself busy by cleaning and organising her room while playing music in the background. Besides, she also indulges in yoga. Similarly, she sometimes spends her time doing nothing and gives herself time for some reflection or a break.
Impact of Covid-19 Pandemic
As soon as the pandemic started, and the lockdown was announced, Sherpa decided to close the company’s outlet at Dhobighat, Jhamsikhel where business was gradually gaining momentum. It was a hard decision to close the store at a time when the brand was becoming visible with growing sales. As paying the full rent while the shop was closed due to Covid related restrictions was not economically sustainable, she had to close the shop. She says that although it was not easy, it was a necessary step in order to survive and to come out with an alternative plan.
The pandemic has also reduced the flow of potential customers in Nepal. Most of her customers are tourists, expats and members of the Nepali diaspora.
Before the pandemic, she had made lots of changes to make the store more functional. As production halted, with the outlet closed, she slashed all the fixed costs and restarted the business from home.
She sees 2021 still as a challenge, however, and thinks that it will be a year to try new modalities of work and a time to reflect on other possibilities. “Plans are afoot to partner with other stores. So, our clients can find our products in different stores. We will also be focusing more on online sales,” shares Sherpa.
Changes in Women Entrepreneurship
According to Sherpa, many Nepali women have been quite active in entrepreneurship for a long time now and the issues currently are about visibility and acknowledgement. “It has a lot to do with social structure, guidance, access to information and resources. There should be more transparency, awareness and outreach programmes from the government to reach women of all social statuses and backgrounds,” she opines.
She feels that there are times when women have to make compromises, especially when they are married and have family obligations and priorities to fulfill, no matter how empowered they are. Nevertheless, she believes that young women of today are more exposed to global trends and new ideas and have a better understanding of how to challenge a patriarchal based society.
In a situation like the present, the government should provide adequate support to all businesses and there should be some regulations to check landlords from increasing the rent, she feels. She believes that the government should also have spaces specifically assigned for business incubation, mentorship along with workspaces with minimum fees and for a certain amount of time so that there is change in batches.
She feels that the government should also allocate premises where home-grown brands could rent spaces at subsidized rates. “Moreover, there should also be microcredit-based funds for women entrepreneurs which could encourage more startups,” she says.
Whenever she is free, she likes to arrange some time for herself and take care of herself. Although she is not an avid book reader, she says that she read a few books during the lockdown. At present, she is actively learning to play tennis. A fitness enthusiast, she used to go to the gym prior to the lockdown and run at least twice a week if she’s not involved in other sports.
She also loves to spend time with her husband and daughter outdoors such as going trekking, exploring new destinations in Nepal and taking vacations abroad. She has also included more time in her routine to visit her parents more often.
Like other businesses, the Covid-19 crisis has severely affected her business as well. She says that the situation has made it difficult for her to make projections about her business in the future. Her objective was to garner more clients abroad and popularity among local customers as well. But she feels surviving is the only important thing at the moment. “I think the only goal for us is to try to survive these next few years and wait for the economic recovery while making a few changes in our work strategy,” concludes Sherpa.