Tradition And Technology

Tradition And Technology

By Aswasan “AJ” Joshi

One cannot think of Thimi, a municipality in Bhaktapur District, without thinking about pottery. Thimi takes its name from the Newari phrase for “capable people”—fitting for a town that is a major hub for pottery making. The Prajapatis of the Newar community have been making pottery and ceramics for centuries with artisanal skills and craftsmanship that have been passed on from generation to generation. Today there are thousands of potters’ workshops in Thimi. One of the oldest among them is Thimi Ceramics. 

Thimi Ceramics was founded in 1987 by two brothers, Santa and Laxmi Kumar Prajapati, with the ambition of building on their father’s pottery line of work. They understood very early on that for the business to scale, they had move with the times and look for substitutes to the arduous and laborious methods of pottery production.The Prajapati brothers wanted to preserve their family’s time-honored customs but at the same time, were not reluctant to introduce new methods, ideas, and technologies if it meant they could streamline their production and reduce the high rate of defection. After having taken a month-long workshop, jointly organized by the German organization GIZ and the Government of Nepal, on the technical facets of ceramic production in 1983, and numerous other national and international trainings after that, the Prajapati brothers set out to manufacture glossy earthenware—different from the traditional unglazed low-value earthenware their father made. They even put together an entire array of coatings to complement the clay structure. These lead-free, non-toxic glazes, while adding a tasteful touch, also makes earthenware tougher and sanitary.  Fixated on making quality earthenware, they chose to harness electricity to spin the clay and set up a powerful furnace for ceramic manufacturing. A far cry from manually mixing and drying clay and physically powering the wheels which their father was used to. 

While all this time, the brothers kept probing, tinkering with and fine-tuning their product.  A few years later, they cooked up stoneware—a novel and refined form of earthenware—that Thimi Ceramics is celebrated for now. Since their stoneware, handmade using locally sourced non-porous red clay, is fired at higher kiln temperatures of 1250 degrees Celsius, it is sturdy, compact, and durable compared to earthenware. Remarkably, this was the first time anyone had launched stoneware items in Nepal. Combining tradition and technology, the brothers were able to manufacture export-quality stoneware products—from dinner sets and coffee mugs to vases and candle holders—that were robust yet retained their intricate craftsmanship. The production is done mostly on behalf of export-based clientele in Germany, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, the US, and the UK. Thimi Ceramics’ products are also made use of in not just high-end hotels and restaurants all around Kathmandu, but also in local households. They now employ more than 20 people and run their operation throughout the year. Certain steps have been automated but the crux of the product being handmade still remains. With stoneware, the Prajapati brothers could now scale up their production and bring to market products that could contest with mass-produced steel or plastic kitchenware as stoneware products are not only dishwasher and microwave safe but also chip resistant. All this while upholding their workmanship and artistry which differentiates their products from other commercially manufactured ceramics items. 

In mid-November last year, Thimi Ceramics applied to One to Watch’s (OTW) COVID-19 MSME Fund Nepal. Through the Fund, they were able to get a working capital loan from Laxmi Bank. The Fund will pay the interest for 12 months. In addition to getting bridge financing, Thimi Ceramics has also been receiving technical assistance from OTW through tailored business development services. The team at OTW, after having met with the Prajapati brothers numerous times to really understand their aspirations for the business, has assessed Thimi Ceramics’ current performance, identified gaps where the business can improve and come up with solutions. OTW will help Thimi Ceramics streamline its manufacturing processes, navigate its branding efforts and scale its production to reach wider markets. OTW is expecting to deliver these customized business development services to at least 4 out of 10 loan-approved enterprises through the Fund.