To childhood friends are making their mark innovating the handicraft business, one of Nepal’s oldest and yet seemingly neglected sectors.
--By MUNA SUNWAR
Two childhood friends Prasanna Kumar Shakya and Sajan Govinda Joshi used to spend a lot of time together. Their friendship grew stronger after Prasanna returned to Nepal from a six month internship in hotel management in Malaysia. The duo started brainstorming about possible business ideas they could start. Prasanna was from a family with a background in the handicraft business. Meanwhile, Joshi’s academic background was in management studies. They settled on the idea that starting a gift and souvenir business was a perfect fit for them. They began experimenting with the idea by gifting products to their families and friends. The gifts generated a warm response and demand for their products grew. “It made us feel that we could do it and motivated us to continue doing the job we started,” says Joshi. Kayo Creative Studio started operating from May 10, 2017 and was registered a month later.
The Culture of Gifting
Joshi views that the culture of gifting is worldwide and takes root in childhood. “If an individual wants to gift anyone who is young, they would go for the products like Kayo offers. Gifting has been an essential part of the social culture the world over,” he says.
Prasanna always had the passion to start something of his own. According to the founders of Kayo Creative Studio, the core reason for commencing the startup company has been to fill the gap created by the lack of innovation and interest in the handicraft profession among the youth. Turning handicrafts into gifts was the answer Shakya and Joshi were looking for in order to make the profession look lucrative for young people who have stopped showing interest in traditional works. “We thought gift was a good medium for the sustainability of handicraft scenario on top of which we added customisation and personalisation,” Shakya mentions.
A Luxury Handicraft Brand in the Making
The products of Kayo highlight the startup’s attempt to take the handicraft scene to the next level.
Shakya got the chance to work at the Implementing Expert Group, a company with a major focus on representing Nepal by showcasing arts, crafts and heritage at international expos, as a product developer for nine months. In the period, he realised Nepali artists have been following the same pattern in the handicraft industry, thus lacking innovation. He wanted to develop handicraft products other than traditional wooden Nepali windows and other mainstream items.
“There are so many people engaged in handicrafts but very few are known. There should be a handicraft brand in Nepal and the whole idea of Kayo is to make it a luxury handicraft brand in Nepal. There should be branding in handicraft products too,” he adds.
Most of the Kayo products are metal-based, mostly of brass and silver. They also have products made up of paper and wood. It has an array of handmade customised gifts items such as key rings, wooden bow ties, bracelets, pendants, pet lockets, cufflinks, brooch, trophies, souvenir paper products, card holders, boutique souvenirs, customised photo frames in its product portfolio. Prices start from Rs 850 and go up to Rs 15,000 depending on the customised designs. The products are manufactured at different vendors according to the material type. Joshi says, “The products are manufactured at separate vendors for wood, metal and paper and later assembled and packaged in the studio.” The studio is located at Jawalakhel, Lalitpur. The company only produces customised paper boxes in the studio.
The company started with a seed capital of Rs 30,000 and earned an annual turnover of Rs one million in its first year of operation. Kayo Studio’s revenue has grown at the rate of 25 percent in the last six months while the monthly growth rate has been somewhere between 15 to 20 percent. Lately, the company has started receiving recognition for its innovation in the handicraft business. Kayo Creative Studio was honoured with the “Special Recognition for Startup Company” at the 5th NewBiz Conclave and Awards 2018.
The startup has a team of six individuals who don’t limit themselves to the particular jobs they are assigned to. “The members help each other, a person engage in packaging also delivers the products,” Joshi explains. The demand for kayo’s products is the key factor that keeps them motivated. “The satisfaction we give our customers is what keeps us moving,” he expresses.
Trendiness has been one reason behind the increasing attraction of young customers towards Kayo Studio’s products. Besides the youth, the company is stepping up for corporate clients too.
The duo thinks that the corporate world has become monotonous in terms of interior design and decor. “Our targeted clients are youths who earn and want to live a life of their own. But people of all ages can gift our products to their loved ones,” Joshi says, adding, “People from the age group 20-30 are our customers and we are slowly trying to cater to corporate clients too.”
The duo attributes their success to their families for their support shown in many ways. Shakya feels that even though the products made by his family and other Nepali artisans have reached the global market, the people behind the production haven’t been recognised. “I used to ask myself why they weren’t recognised,” he says. The zeal to find an answer to this particular question led him to partner with his childhood friend Joshi in a bid to create a handicraft brand. Similarly, to bridge the increasing disassociation of young people from handicrafts was another reason why Shakya started the business. “Nowadays, youths are not engaged much in this area of work. This is why I decided to carry on with the profession which has been passed through generations in my family,” he shares. The main objective of Kayo is to promote the efforts of Nepali artisans. Kayo gives credit to the artists who craft the products. “We use local artists to manufacture products and promote them by mentioning their names in the products they make,” Joshi says.
The scope of handicraft is wide in Nepal as the demand for handmade products is very high worldwide. “Nepali craftsmanship is not lesser than Italian artisanship for the artists here are equally capable. It is just that we lack innovation in terms of a global approach,” Shakya observes.
Besides exports, the inflow of tourists has been a key driving factor for the Nepali handicraft industry. Generally, foreigners purchase handicraft items as souvenirs during their stay in Nepal. “It would be wonderful if we could provide tourists with customised handicraft products that they can take back to their respective countries as gifts,” Joshi thinks.
As a company that specialises in handmade customised gifts and decorations, craftsmanship is an integral part of the production phase. The duo found it hard to find the skilled manpower that could put the perfect finishing touches to their products. Maintaining product quality has been another challenge for the startup. According to Joshi, sometimes the fluctuation in the quality of raw materials affects the quality of the items. He says that the problems have not gone away and the unavailability of raw materials has added more challenges to the business. “Some raw materials are not even available in the local market. Our bow tie project was put on hold as the clips used in them were not available in Nepali market,” Joshi states.
Shakya has always been passionate about starting his own business. He started selling carved statues when he was in high school. Shakya has a vision to establish Kayo as a renowned Nepali handicraft brand that serves global clients. He says, “We want to make Kayo Studios a handicraft conglomerate.” Five years down the line Kayo’s founders envision it becoming an ultimate gift solution in Nepal. Kayo Creative Studio : Innovating Handicrafts