Sarita Tuladhar grew up in a business family with her ancestors owning a jewellery business in Indra Chowk. From a young age she used to visit her father’s shop which made her want to operate a business just like his and become a businesswoman. However, her father rarely encouraged his daughters to stay in the shop and be involved in the business. Nevertheless, this did not stop her interest in starting one of her own.
Born in Kathmandu, she completed her MA in Home Science in 1987 from Padma Kanya College. Sarita was always interested in developing and designing clothes and in the world of business. She also used to modify and redesign some readymade dresses that she used to receive as gifts when she was young. This inspired her to develop a career in fashion design.
Following her dream, as soon as she completed her post graduate degree, she went to Japan to pursue a Diploma in Fashion Design at Kyoto Bunkyo University.
Soon after completing her course in fashion design, she came back to Nepal and started working as a fashion designer, design consultant and developer in different companies for several years. She then started her own company Swoniga Design in 1992 and had it registered in 1993.
To start her company, she initially invested around Rs 200,000 by using her savings and selling the jewellery that she owned. “Jewellery can be bought again. I felt that doing what you were passionate about was more important. So, I sold the jewellery and started the business,” she says.
By taking things one step at a time and adding a little at a time, she expanded her business. Today she employs around eight people at her company. Prior to the covid-19 pandemic, she states that she had around 16 staff working at her company.
Swoniga Design makes custom and ready-to-wear western outfits such as evening dresses, bridal gowns, winter coats, business suits, baby blankets, capes, shawls, scarfs, blankets and bed throws. All the products are made out of cotton, silk, chiffon, wool, linen, satin and pashmina. Tuladhar says that she tries to use natural fabrics as much as possible. Although the natural fabrics are quite delicate and expensive compared to other synthetic fabrics, she says she tries to keep the price as reasonable as possible.
Tuladhar states her prices start from Rs 2,500. “This differs according to the design and fabric used,” she adds, giving an example, “Some fabrics cost up to Rs 5,500 per metre. Such clothes will cost accordingly.”
Apart from custom tailoring, she also provides design consultations to customers. She says a lot of her customers are expats and people who love western styles and designs.
She has also worked with many export companies and European designers. Till date, apart from working with many western designers, she has exported products to countries like Denmark, Ireland, Japan, and Norway. “We don’t directly export. They send their concept to us and we make a product according to the sketch and send them back the product,” she says.
Since the concept of owning a boutique was new at the time when she started out, people did not pay much attention to the value and work that designers do. However, the support she received from her family, friends and society encouraged her to keep working. “If my family hadn’t supported me, I would not be where I am today,” she says.
Tuladhar says experience has taught her that a person should never lose hope and give up in any situation. She talks about the lowest time in her life when her husband was in a very critical condition and she had no one to rely on but herself. “It was seven years after I had started the business. For six months, my husband was bedridden. My daughter was small and my mother-in-law was also sick,” she recalls teary eyed. At that time, she had thought about giving up everything. However, she managed to collect herself and found the strength to continue. She says that this incident taught her that the ability to cope with difficulties, showing dedication and self-belief will make a person stronger and successful.
She recalls another incident where she learned the value of being optimistic and positive under any situation. “Our shop was once flooded due to heavy rains and we were facing losses worth hundreds of thousands. I was very frustrated at that time as well. I felt all my hard work had gone in vain,” she says. Nevertheless, she told herself that what she had lost was more than salvageable and she managed to pick up her business. Today she has a small workshop and showroom in Durbar Marg which is visited by local and expat shoppers alike.
Tuladhar says that she now gets a lot more praise and appreciation for her work and her name is more often than not associated with Swoniga Design. Through her work, she feels that she has been able to motivate people to do something and become independent. She was able to help her two older sisters establish their own handicraft business (quilted products) and inspire them to become entrepreneurs as both of them were housewives.
Her continuity in the field and dedication towards doing her bit to develop entrepreneurship in the country was recognised when she was awarded the Best Women Entrepreneur Award by the Ministry of Industry in 2012. She has also been honoured with the Best SME by Planet Finance as well. In the past, she has also participated in different national and international trade expos, handicraft exhibitions and fashion shows. Her designs were part of the SAARC fashion show in Nepal and Sri Lanka in 2018.
A veteran designer, Tuladhar says that there have been immense changes in women entrepreneurship today. With the increasing number of women entrepreneurs, awareness about and exposure to women empowerment has been raised. “When I started, we used to learn things by doing. But today, many organisations give different trainings even before starting the business which makes it a lot easier. And it’s really positive,” she says.
Although the country is seeing a rise in the number of women in business, family responsibilities and problems of finance more often than not hold them back from continuing the business. A supportive family helps, but sometimes this boils down to a matter of dedication and keeping the right priorities. “I have always worked according to priorities. I always make a-day prior plan and work accordingly, be it at home or at the office,” says Tuladhar.
Tuladhar, who has been active in the fashion sector for three decades, is also a member of various organisations. She has been an executive board member of the Federation of Women Entrepreneurs Association of Nepal (FWEAN) since 2012. In addition, she is also a board member of Trans-Himalayan Environment and Livelihood Programme (T-HELP), a member of WEAN and twice became an executive board member of the Federation of Handicraft Association of Nepal (FHAN).
A workaholic by nature, she likes to hike, exercise and watch television in her free time. She also keeps thinking about new designs and products. In between the many uncertainties and the plans to go online, the future seems less than certain, but she looks for the positive side of things and works accordingly.