By Aswasan “AJ” Joshi
Nepal is an import-heavy country—there are no two ways about it. In the wake of the pandemic and the measures that were implemented to control the spread of COVID-19, Nepal saw a slump in import activities. But there has been a steady uptick ever since the lockdown measures were relaxed. While the trade deficit continues to widen, the country, in the recent years, has also seen a spurt in locally produced products—from apparels to home decors and personal care products. Nepali brands, with humble beginnings, are proliferating and have started gaining traction with local consumers. The home-grown apparel brands, especially, are seeing a tremendous growth lately, albeit the market is still dominated by imported clothes from China, India and Bangladesh. One such brand offering quality infant and maternity clothing and accessories with eye-catching designs is Kokroma.
Kokroma—brainchild of Rewati Gurung, a filmmaker-turned-social entrepreneur—is a curious amalgam of the traditional and the contemporary. Kokroma, which literally means “in a cot”, is bringing back Nepali traditions pertaining to baby care with fabrics that are designed to mirror modern-day tastes. Rewati noticed that most infant garments and fabrics were imported from China and did not adhere to the traditional Nepali style of “Bhoto” sets. Kokroma was conceived by Rewati while she was in Finland attending summer school at the University of Helsinki in 2015. In her “Gender, Culture and Politics” class, she learned about the Finnish Baby Box. For the last 90-odd years, mothers in Finland have been given a care package from the state that includes all the essentials to help care for their newborns—from clothes and toys to diapers and sheets. Today Finland has the lowest infant mortality rate in the world—this can, in part, be attributed to the maternity package. Inspired by this story, Rewati saw a need for something similar in Nepal and started her own enterprise in early 2018. Kokroma’s flagship product, Kokro Basket, is a maternity pack modeled after the Finnish Baby Box. Marrying traditional styles of infant clothing with European design aesthetics, the pack comes with clothing, baby care supplies and bedding while the locally handmade bamboo basket itself acts as a cradle. At the same time, Kokroma also sells individual infant and maternity clothing items. Kokroma’s products can be found in Timro Concept Store, Nepal Mediciti Hospital, Craftmandu, and also their website and social media channels.
Rewati takes pride in the fact that her enterprise values sustainability and fairness. Kokroma gets high-quality, 100% cotton, dyed cotton fabrics from women prisoners in Kathmandu, who are trained in weaving. They get paid for their work while serving time. These fabrics are then tailored by 15 local women at Kokroma’s workshop in Jorpati. They have benefits and flexible working arrangements, while getting paid fairly. Kokroma, with every eco-friendly product it makes, tries to make sure it meets international standards for quality and comfort. To minimize waste, it has a zero-waste policy, and recycle every scrap fabric. Committed to improving lives of mothers, Kokroma also teams up with philanthropic organizations in Nepal and around the world to provide maternity packages to underprivileged communities.
The pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns did not pardon Kokroma, but it displayed resilience. After having to halt production for weeks, Rewati resolved to start producing face masks for children as Kokroma was already stocked with raw material. Kokroma’s women tailors, by early-May, were making hundreds for children masks every day at home and catering to the huge demand, expanded into manufacturing and exporting adult masks. Kokroma has already shipped thousands of cotton masks through leads generated from its social media channels which enabled them to retain all its employees. Rewati also used this time to work on new designs and patterns.
In early-November last year, Kokroma applied to One to Watch (OTW) COVID-19 MSME Fund Nepal. Through the Fund, they were able to get a loan from Laxmi Bank. The Fund will pay the interest for 12 months. Kokroma plans to expand its product range to include older children and mothers. In addition to getting collateral-free and interest-free financing, Kokroma has also been receiving technical assistance from OTW through tailored business development services. OTW intends to help Kokroma with co-branding efforts, costing, financial reporting and billing system. OTW expects to deliver such customized business development services to at least 4 out of 10 loan-approved enterprises through the Fund.