People Tree partners with Kumbeshwar Technical School in Nepal to create a collection of beautiful hand knit jumpers, cardigans and accessories in wool and cotton. Read this interview with KTS to learn how hand knitting can change the fashion world.
Why is Fair Trade important to 2000 knitters in Kathmandu Valley?
Fair Trade provides work opportunities for women in the Kathmandu Valley to enable them to become independent and improve their families’ lives. Many are farmers whoonly have seasonal incomes and housewives from low income families who are skilled in hand knitting. Most of the families have a difficult time to earn enough to feed themselves. With Fair Trade they are able to support their family and send their children to school.
Durga Laxmi Maharajan, aged 45, is one such individual. She lost her mobility due to typhoid at 18. Her husband left her. She returned to live with her parents. She received knitting training from KTS and set up a hand knitting group. Durga is now a group leader providing work with Fair Trade wages for around 40 other women knitters in her neighbourhood. We offer free hand knitting training to all low-income people so they can earn a living and escape from poverty. We are able to provide a free nursery and primary school for 230 children too.
How has People Tree helped you to improve your products and organisation, bringing the benefits to your local community?
In 1999 we were struggling to survive – previously we depended heavily on donations for our social development work. Our knitted product didn’t meet international standards in terms of design and quality.
People Tree really helped. Fair Trade can now be used to fund our social development work. At first, 50 knitters benefited from the fair wages. Now over 2000 knitters are supported! Also at the beginning designers visited frequently to give design ideas and feedback which has helped us keep on improving our products. People Tree continuous support has enabled KTS to become self sustaining.
Why is a Fair Trade business different than a conventional business? How?
For the knitters in Kathmandu, Fair Trade business means getting fair wages and also socio-economic support. Fair Trade provides lots of opportunities including capacity building, socio-economic support and support for child education without exploiting anyone. Conventional business does not ensure wellbeing of the knitters and its workers. There are many cases where knitters have joined KTS because they were tired of conventional businesses exploiting and cheating them.
What were the motivations to start KTS?
In Nepal there was caste based discrimination where “Brahmin” (Hindu Priest) are at the top and “Pode” (Street Sweepers) at the bottom. The Pode were considered untouchables and were social outcasts. They were not given any opportunities or rights. They were confined to their area and only ventured out during dark hours of early morning to sweep the streets. They didn’t have any option of other work nor were they allowed to go to school or even to the temple to pray. KTS was founded in the 1970s to uplift this community and fight for their rights, to provide opportunity for education and choice of work.
What do you think about the trend and new interest in craft and hand knitting?
People’s interest in craft will hopefully make them aware of the skill required to make a high quality hand knitted garment. We hope the interest in the craft skills will increase the value of the product. Your cardigan was featured in WWB the fashion magazine, it’s on trend, it’s fashion, and hand made and fair trade. How does that makes you feel?
We feel very proud to see our cardigan in WWB the fashion magazine. This really motivates and inspires us to keep on improving our product quality. We hope this will enable us to secure more orders and continue our support to disadvantaged children and provide work for poor artisans.
Why are hand knitting and craft skills important to an economy like Nepal and the people? Is our current capitalistic system outdated?
Hand knitting and craft skills are very important to an economy like Nepal.Due to lack of stable government and infrastructure, there are lots of power cuts, fuel is imported with disruptions. Due to this a lot of factories have been shut down, creating 70% unemployment.Traditionally Nepali people are good at hand crafts and there are lots of beautiful temples and houses in Nepal created entirely by hand. Handcraft skills provide work.
People and the environment should be central to everything we do. It is time we let go of our greed and work for the common good. If people start caring for each other there is going to be less violence. If people think of the environment then we can live healthier lives, free of pollution and provide our future generation the chance to see nature in a pristine condition. Disregard for the environment has brought about global warming which has affected lots of communities worldwide especially the poorest people. If we do not start thinking of the environment now, then communities and countries are going to disappear.