This young entrepreneur is redefining the traditional craft of pottery with her vision and aspirations.
--BY REBATI ADHIKARI
Alina Prajapati grew up watching her father molding clay into various pottery items as she aspired to follow his footsteps. She always wanted to be part of her family business someday and take it to greater heights. However, Alina took some time before stepping into the clay business. After spending some years to groom herself working in various salaried jobs, the Bhaktapur native got into her father’s company Cera Nepal Udhyog as the Managing Director at the end of 2019.
It has been one and half years since Alina took charge of the company to give a new direction to her family business. Her company produces different types of ceramic goods like crockery, decorative items, sculpture, terracotta tiles, pots and flower vases.
Before stepping into the family-run business, Alina did some research and found out that there was high demand and low supply of ceramic products particularly due to lower domestic production. “The demand for ceramic products is big but the supply is not adequate,” she says.
While Alina’s parents didn’t persuade her to get into the pottery business, she realised that the sector lacked the involvement of youths and that the traditional craftsmanship must be preserved and passed onto the next generation.
Regardless of the economic challenges her family faced like other middle-class families, Alina thinks she is blessed to have received the best education. She completed her SLC from VS Niketan Secondary School in 2010 and joined GEMS College for the Cambridge ‘A’ Levels. She completed her BBA from British College and is currently pursuing an MBA from King’s College. From the very beginning of her career, Alina was engaged in volunteering activities and building networks. Her family has always supported her when it comes to going beyond the societal stereotype of girls reaching home late or getting more education. “My parents are happier with my career growth and experience I’ve gained than my academic scores or income,” she expresses.
Before joining the company founded by her father, she worked at different companies from 2015 to 2019. In 2011 when she was in her high school, Alina got involved in voluntary and community services. Later in 2014, she joined Glocal Khabar, a news portal focused on youth entrepreneurship, as the Editor; a year later she took the role of General Manager at the portal’s parent company Glocal Pvt Ltd. Besides, she used to go to villages to provide trainings on entrepreneurship and spread awareness on child marriages. Likewise, she has also designed programmes for college students to prepare them for the job market.
Cera Nepal Udhyog was established by Alina’s father in 1984. Before that, her grandfather and other family members used to carry out their pottery business on a smaller scale. Her father received training on making ceramic products from Thailand and started Cera Nepal Udhyog as a cottage business.
“Our company was not performing well. In 2019, my father decided to open an outlet to expand the business and boost sales. Before that, our entire business used to be conducted solely from the factory,” says Alina. The outlet of Cera Nepal was opened at the Chhaya Center, Thamel from where she started looking after the business. However, the company’s business remained subdued even after opening a modern showroom. This situation led Alina to think of taking the business online for faster growth. She started focusing on the marketing and public relations side of the company and began to use social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram to amplify the presence of Cera Nepal.
Alina has worked to re-establish the company with the adoption of new management policies and digitisation. She has brought changes in human resource management, administration, accounting and work space to motivate the company’s staff. “Tiny changes it may seem but managing accounting records and keeping track of past and current transactions help us to strategise and improve sales,” she shares.
Alina is also working to promote traditional pottery and elevate it to the value-added ceramic business. A few months ago, her company introduced a programme named the ‘Pottery Session’ with an aim to promote pottery and spread the knowledge about the craftmanship which has existed since the ancient times. "The sessions introduced during lockdown last year have garnered many positive reviews motivating us to move forward. After participating in these online sessions, many youths and foreigners have contacted or come us to learn the pottery skills,” she says, adding, “It is helping us in branding and selling ceramic products enabling people to know about the significance of handwork and the effort that goes into producing the clay items."
Cera Nepal was dealing with multiple challenges when Alina took over the operations and management of the company. According to her, there was some difficulty maintaining smooth production and a supply chain. "Timely sourcing of raw materials was an uphill task. Most of the raw materials like insulation bricks, ceramic fibre blankets along with machines for producing ceramic items have to be imported. Getting our hands on the local resources like clay was also challenging," she shares. She started to stock up on raw materials like clay beforehand when the production of ceramic and other pottery items was relatively low such as during the rainy season.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Cera Nepal had around 15 employees to produce ceramic items for both domestic and export markets. Now the company employs 10 people. “The demand for our products used to be equal from both the domestic and export markets. Right now, we are working only at 10 percent of our production capacity since export orders are nil due to the disturbances created by the pandemic,” says Alina. Before the global health emergency, Cera Nepal used to export different types of ceramic products to countries such as the United States, Germany and the Netherlands.
Alina is hopeful that business will revive soon after the Covid crisis is over. According to her, Nepali customers are becoming aware of the need to increase the use of locally made products and it is Nepali customers who are helping businesses like Cera Nepal to sustain themselves at the moment.
She suggests that traditional skill-based businesses like Cera Nepal should be provided with subsidised loans by the government to scale up their growth. “However, the government has not made cottage businesses like ours eligible for financial support,” she mentions.
Besides her company, Alina is also involved in social organisations. She is a member of Zonta Club of Kathmandu and Nepal Women Chamber of Commerce. Similarly, she is working as Country Director of Women in Digital Nepal, a social enterprise working to empower girls in the tech sector.
Alina thinks good vision, problem solving attitude and communication skills are a must to become a successful entrepreneur. “I believe that vision guides an entrepreneur and paves their future path. Likewise, an entrepreneurial mindset can assist to spot an opportunity in any situation,” she says, adding, “An entrepreneur is always interacting with people. When seeking for financial resources or marketing the product, they have to deal with different people, so it is crucial to communicate with them effectively.”
According to Alina, gender should not be used as a pretext to question the ability of women. She stresses that in the male dominated entrepreneurial world women need to come forward boldly to answer to the people who believe women are holding top positions because of some privileges and support rather than because of their own capabilities. She believes women are still held back by societal stereotypes and restrictions on what they should and should not do. “Nonetheless, things have started to change as the young generation males have become supportive to women to pursue their entrepreneurial aspirations,” she says.
Alina has plans to establish a training school focusing on pottery. The Pottery Session programme, which is currently being supported by her company, will be formally catered through the school. Likewise, she intends to increase the production of ceramic items using more machines but also keep the traditional handmade production intact. At present, she and her brother are working on product designs for Cera Nepal's customers. Before, customers used to send in their own designs. She plans to further promote the in-house designs.