Lockdown Economy Nepal in a Recycled Paper Handicraft Organization with Kritica Lacoul
The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Sujan Lal Manandhar
Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world
In this interview hosted by Sujan Lal Manandhar, we meet Kritica Lacoul, the Executive Manager of Jamarko, which is a recycled paper handicraft organization. They promote the idea of sustainability by offering paper products made using locally sourced raw materials and recycled paper. We talked about the problems Jamarko faced during the lockdown. They had to close their physical store. The workers could not come to the office. It was a major problem because their products are handmade. They also faced issues in paying salaries. It was also difficult paying its vendors. They came up with a few solutions. They shifted their operations online for sales. They had to quickly learn marketing their business online and find delivery partners. They started producing upcycled masks. In the coming months, they will work more on their online platforms, especially their website. They aim to market to people outside Kathmandu valley.
Could you introduce us to Jamarko?
Kritica: ‘Jamarko’ means ‘effort’ in Nepali. Our effort is to reduce environmental pollution by recycling paper. We collect waste paper from different organizations and individuals. We recycle that paper and make our products such as folders and envelopes. In addition to that, we have added Lokta (meaning: wildcrafted, handmade paper in Nepal) paper products to our business where we make lampshades and gift boxes. We also customize the products as per customer demand. We have been upcycling newspapers as well by making newspaper bags and pencils. We have a small team. We have around eight direct employees. We also hire indirect workers on an as-needed basis. We have both individual and corporate clients.
What problems did you face during the lockdown?
Kritica: We had to close our physical store because we could not afford to operate it. We basically had zero business at that time. So, we had a hard time paying our staff and our vendors. After the first lockdown, the odd/even (traffic rule where vehicles with odd license plate numbers could drive only on odd dates and even plates on even dates) rule made it difficult for us and our workers to come to the office.
What strategies did you implement to solve the problems you faced? What worked and what did not?
Kritica: Firstly, we shifted to the online platform as we had closed our physical store. We focused on Facebook and Instagram for sales. For this, we had to learn ways to market our products online. We had to find out how to do online business. We looked for delivery partners. Secondly, our products were labelled ‘non-essentials’. We did not have to focus on the production of other products. We saw the pollution created by improper disposal of surgical masks. Hence, we started producing upcycled masks (reusable fabric masks) since they became a basic necessity. WHO has recommended a three-layered mask for protection as well. We used fabrics from different boutiques and we hired local tailors to make them. Besides giving them wages, we also provided them with 5% of our retail sales from the masks. We also had done some giveaways online. As for the strategies that did not work, switching to an online platform helped our visibility but the return was not as before the pandemic. We had to struggle at that end.
What kind of interactions did you have with your customers?
Kritica: We informed our customers that we had switched to an online platform through our social media. Our store was open after the first lockdown so our salesperson conveyed this information to customers directly as well. We started doing home deliveries. This made our customers quite happy.
How did you approach the lockdown differently from your competitors?
Kritica: Although we could not sell a lot of our products we started telling our customers how they could do simple DIY projects at home. There was a lot of free time during the lockdown. The customers could stay home and make the products sustainably with their families. We gave continuity to our values in this way.
Now that the lockdown has been eased in Nepal, how is your business performing?
Kritica: It is better but it has not been like before. Besides our core products (which are labelled non-essential), our masks are doing quite well.
What is the outlook for Jamarko for the next three months?
Kritica: We are working on our website and our online presence. The customers used to come to us before. Now we have to develop a completely new online strategy. We are brainstorming on it. It is very time-consuming and costly but we look forward to it. We were not used to getting orders from outside the (Kathmandu) valley but this pandemic has created opportunities to sell outside the valley as well. After everything has settled down, we might try to reach the international market.
What are the three things in your business that you need help with?
Kritica: Firstly, we want our customers to support local businesses like ours more than ever before. This is important because it helps to develop the local economy. They can purchase from us. If they cannot do that they could follow us on our social media pages and refer us to their friends and families. Secondly, we are open to collaborations. When our store was open, we used to collaborate with local artisans to provide them with a platform to sell their products. Lastly, we would like to support from the government. Since we did not have any business during the lockdown, they could exempt taxes for at least the pandemic period. They could provide subsidies to local handicraft products. And they can also use these products because handicrafts are of very good quality as well.
About the guest
Kritica Lacoul Shrestha is the Executive Manager of Jamarko, a small handicraft business that makes recycled paper and produces paper products in Nepal. She was a member of Nepal Young Entrepreneurs Forum in 2018. She likes to travel to different places and explore local arts and crafts. She joined her family business ‘Jamarko’ in 2010 and since then has been managing the overall operations of the company.