Simple silhouettes, timeless designs, stylish, and comfortable—that is how your clothes should be, says Anuza Rajbhadari who, along with her younger sister, Alpaza Rajbhandari, founded the sustainable clothing brand Ekadesma. The 42-year-old mother of two loves natural fabrics and believes what you wear shouldn’t have a high environmental price tag. In a conversation with Cilla Khatry of ApEx, Rajbhandari spoke about her love for slow fashion and how sustainability is at the heart of everything she does.
Can you tell us a little about Ekadesma?
Ekasdesma is a lifestyle brand that was established in 2011. My sister and I identified a market gap for a homegrown brand. Nepal was importing a lot of stuff but we didn’t have that many options when it came to a locally-made clothing brand. We wanted to use locally sourced materials and create unique pieces that reflected our culture and roots. And, with the collective experience of working in the garment business and marketing, we thought we could pull it off.
We started with a retail store in Thamel, Kathmandu. After the 2015 earthquakes, we realized we could and must generate employment for underprivileged women and started our manufacturing unit. Now we have two outlets, one in Thamel and the other in Kupondole, Lalitpur. We export our products to the US, Norway, and New Zealand.
What is slow fashion and why is it important in today’s world?
Slow fashion is a movement for a better world. It’s an approach to fashion that focuses on sustainability. It’s fashion that thinks about its environmental and social impact. It’s also about ethical manufacturing and mindful consumption. Brands can promote slow fashion by being transparent and ethical in the manufacturing process. People can opt for slow fashion by being conscious of what and how they choose to buy clothing.
There are a lot of things slow fashion takes into consideration that fast fashion doesn’t. From fair wages for the laborers and a safe working environment to higher textile quality and durability of the finished product, there are a lot of reasons why slow fashion is beneficial. Slow fashion is also timeless so when you buy a piece you can wear it multiple times, for different occasions. Ekadeshma is still selling designs that were a part of our earliest collections. That’s the beauty of slow fashion. It transcends trends.
How do you come up with a new collection?
Alpaza, my younger sister, who is based in Seattle in the US, designs the collection. It’s a lot of work and it takes a while. We only launch two capsule collections in a year—in summer and in winter. Once my sister sends us the designs, our team in Nepal, which has an assistant designer as well, studies them. We conduct a feasibility test and make a prototype.
What’s different about Ekadesma is that we don’t just test the fitting of our clothes on dummies. We get actual people to try them. They tell us how comfortable it is and if something needs to be fixed. Then we manufacture the design in four sizes, from small to extra-large. Another thing we are conscious about as a sustainable business is to minimize waste. We try to use every possible inch of fabric. We make accessories like small pouches and laptop bags from leftover cloth. We are still trying to reduce the waste produced and, if possible, go zero-waste.
What are some major challenges of running a sustainable business?
People are much more aware of sustainability and its importance now than they were when we started. But it’s still quite a challenge to make them understand why our products are a bit on the expensive side. In that sense, I believe there is still a lack of awareness and education. It’s been an issue since day one. There is also no clear government policy for sustainable businesses. There are no studies or reports to measure the impact of sustainable businesses. People aren’t aware of the positive chain of events that they kick off when they opt for sustainable fashion.
As a sustainable business, transparency is key. But we have to deal with suppliers and weavers who would rather not be transparent. So that causes problems in the supply chain. Since we only use natural materials like cotton, linen, and hemp, we also have to be extra careful to make sure there aren’t any synthetic materials in our textile. It requires a lot of effort, time, and patience.
How do you overcome them?
We are particular about our textile weavers. We only work with the transparent ones. We also try to be more visible to create more awareness. We showcase our brand at fairs and exhibitions. Despite having two outlets, we use every opportunity to promote our brand. We reach out to people and talk about sustainable business.
Challenges can affect you personally so, as a business owner, you have to look at the positive side of things and power on. It’s easy to give up. My sister and I have had moments when we questioned why we were doing what we were doing. But you have to believe in your company’s vision and long-term goals. We wanted to give back to the community and, as cliché as it might sound, we are passionate about our work. Also, we receive good feedback from people who wear our clothes. We have seen the growth of the women who work with us. They are happy and empowered. It gives us every reason to continue despite the difficulties.
How can people incorporate sustainable fashion into their lifestyles?
Our brand has grown organically, largely through word of mouth. I think that is because, slowly but surely, people are waking up to the importance of sustainability. Sustainability is a conscious way of living, and consumers are a lot more conscious than ever before. But the younger generation is driven by trends and that promotes fast fashion. To change that, effort is needed on a policy-level scale.
On an individual level, there are many ways in which you can opt for sustainable fashion. Rewearing and restyling your clothes is the best way to be sustainable in your fashion choices. You can re-dye your cotton clothes to give them a new lease of life. DIY ideas can be used to mend your clothes and give them a fresh look.
What has been your biggest lesson so far as a business owner and a promoter of sustainability?
As a business owner, you have to be patient and resilient. It’s easy to start a business but it’s difficult to give continuity to it. When you start something new, you are sure of your ideas and you have a lot of energy. But when you start facing hurdles, as you inevitably will, it can be tempting to give up. That is when you have to give yourself a pep talk and be willing to learn and adapt and do what it takes to stick to your business ideals. I wasn’t a very patient person but owning a business, especially one that is as challenging as sustainable fashion, I have realized that you can’t expect instant results. You have to be persistent in your efforts.