Like any major city, Kathmandu is a turbulent, consumer-driven marketplace full of hundreds of shops and stalls selling goods, clothes, bags, more bags, souvenirs, scarves and everything in between. Shoppers are met with an abundance of choice to bargain and barter for whatever they desire, but in this article, I want to talk about another choice shoppers have – an ethical choice.
It is rare that you can trace back to the origins of many of the products and garments sold in the busy streets of Kathmandu, with many products unethically sourced from sweatshops in China, Bangladesh and other cheap labour bearing nations. These products are sold so cheap that it makes you question the wages and working conditions of the person who made them; a dress for 200 rupees ($2), a scarf for 100 rupees ($1), there is a big question mark surrounding the origins of these cheap clothes and one that tourists are increasingly giving in to. While cheap garments are appealing to the penny-pinching traveller, there is an ethical responsibility we hold as human beings to choose brands that don’t support slave labour.
The good news is that Kathmandu is a place that you can easily make ethical choices when it comes to shopping. Local organisations are supporting the fair trade movement in Nepal and the Fashion Revolution has really taken off here in the land of the Himalayas. In fact, Fashion Revolution Nepal was created 5 years ago as a way to encourage ethical fashion in the region. The Fair Trade Group Nepal is also encouraging such ethical practices and supporting producers in every step of their journey.
While in Kathmandu make an ethical choice and support local producers with the help of this list of fair trade shops in Nepal’s capital.
Local Women’s Handicrafts
Local Women’s Handicrafts (LWH) is a fair trade textile and handicraft collective in Kathmandu focused on empowering and educating disadvantaged women using sustainable methods. The shop ranges a variety of products from clothes to bags and jewellery, all produced by women here in Nepal. Profits from the store contribute towards local community projects in the areas of women’s empowerment, education and health. They also stock a range of eco-friendly products made using recycled saris and materials, committing to sustainable development in Nepal.
Sustainable Travel Tip: Local Women’s Handicrafts offer the chance for you to make your own Nepalese souvenir in their workshop in Kathmandu. You will learn the ancient techniques of garment and handicraft making from Nepalese women artisans. You will also learn how to stop child labour and how to uplift disadvantaged women through skills-sharing. Book the tours through the responsible tourism platform I Like Local.
Beni Handicrafts was started by Beni Ghale, a health worker and prison social worker, with the intent to provide work and income to women in need. In partnership with Mountain People, she provides opportunities for women in Kathmandu looking for work in order to provide for their families and children. They collect rubbish from the streets, from hotels and restaurants, and they wash, dry, cut and then weave the plastic wrappings from crisp bags, biscuit, chocolate and noodle bags into fashionable and functional products. You can find the quirky, planet-strong products in their store in Thamel.
Ekadesma is a local, chic, community-focused brand specialising in upmarket all-natural tees, funky bags, and other handmade Nepali crafts. Their store is located on Thamel road and has a modern, contemporary feel for those looking for something away from the traditional handicrafts you commonly find.
Shed The Light
The Shed the Light Nepal Women’s Empowerment organisation was established as a non-profit organisation in February 2015 with the vision of ‘All women in Nepal have social and economic empowerment and their children able to attend school’. You can purchase products from their store in Thamel with proceeds going to support their community projects including earthquake relief, women’s empowerment, children’s health and education.
The HUB Thamel
The HUB is an interactive space in the heart of Thamel that houses the concept of conscious living. It does that by bringing together the two privately owned social businesses – kar.ma COFFEE and socialtours in one open space.
The venue supports women empowerment projects by showcasing initiatives that are working in that space. Examples of this are the Aamako Achar, Putali, Maya Universe and Dharti Mata. You can purchase some of the ethical products made by these ethical organisations.
Sustainable Travel Tip: HUB Thamel offers a pay-what-you-feel cooking class run by responsible travel company Social Tours. Chefs Sakuntala and Asmita take you to the shops to buy ingredients and teach you how to cook specialities like momo, dal bhat, or aloo paratha, amongst some other options.
The mission of Himalayan HealthCare is to create sustainable development programs in remote areas of Nepal that will improve the quality of life for people residing there. Himalayan HealthCare achieves its mission by providing primary healthcare, community education, and income generation programs that enable people to be economically self-sustained in the long term.
Related Reading: Discovering Nepal in a Sustainable Way
Timro Concept Store
The Timro Concept Store was founded as a way for local fair trade producers to showcase their products in one common space. Many local producers do not have the funds or resources to have a shop in town so the Timro Concept Store is giving these producers a place to shine. This community-minded space also sells Nepali tea & coffee, homemade bakery items, fresh juices and runs local community events, as well as being very active in Nepal’s fair trade movement.
Here you’ll also be able to purchase products from Aji’s, a social enterprise based in Kathmandu with a mission to empower the elderly to live healthy and happy lives by providing a platform to showcase their skills and knowledge.
Sustainable Travel Tip: Help reduce single-use plastic in Nepal by travelling with your own water bottle and metal straw. Metal and bamboo straws can be purchased from HUB Thamel. Many hotels in Kathmandu offer water refill stations in their lobbies or restaurants. You can also refill your bottles at the Momo Hut or at HUB Thamel. Remember to always refuse single-use plastic to plant the seed in the minds of the local people.
SAARC Chamber Craft Village
The SAARC Chamber Craft Village is a shop that showcases a collection of products made from fair trade producers around Nepal. SAARC is an organisation operating in 8 countries to promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia and to improve their quality of life. The store, located below social enterprise The Village Cafe, stocks a large variety of products produced ethically here in Nepal.
The Kolpa Store is an environmentally conscious social enterprise in Jhamsikhel that sells locally made everyday household and personal goods. The store promotes handmade products and the three R’s – reduce, reuse and recycle. The profits from the store support the empowerment of women and the differently-abled while encouraging sustainable development in their partnering communities.
Related Reading: Ethical Eateries in Kathmandu Nepal
Danfe is a livelihood project in response to the earthquake in Nepal in 2015. The program enrols young women who have been affected by the earthquake/post-earthquake. Through tailoring and leadership skills and training, Danfe seeks to empower young independent women in their own community. Most young women return to their community upon completion of the Danfe training and some work in the post-production unit to work on the sustainability model of Danfe and the Danfe Outlet.
WISE is a concept store that showcases products from female artisans across Nepal. The store houses a range of products including handicrafts and small goods. WISE stands for Women In Social Entrepreneurship and was created as a platform to encourage women’s entrepreneurship throughout Nepal, with a specific focus on rural entrepreneurship.
Mahaguthi Craft with a Conscience
Mahaguthi, Craft with a Conscience, is a nonprofit organisation that plays a vital role in supporting socially and economically disadvantaged artisans of Nepal. Mahaguthi began with the goal of making marginalised communities self-reliant and has been a pioneer in the non-profit social service sector. Mahaguthi’s focus is to promote the well-being of artisans, to provide employment and to embrace and promote the principles of fair trade.
Related Reading: Volunteer in an Eco-village to Help Rebuild Nepal
Folk Nepal is an NGO with a focus on providing skills development training to marginalised communities of Nepal. Folk Nepal has been a member of WFTO-Asia for more than two years now and is also a member of the Fair Trade Group Nepal. The organisation provides an opportunity for artisans in Nepal to distribute their products to an international audience, with many of the profits contributing to local community projects.
Sabah Nepal is a social business that works towards strengthing the livelihoods of financially deprived and marginalized home-based women in Nepal. They empower women in rural and urban communities working through economic self-sufficiency. Their beautiful range of fair trade textiles can be found at their online store in Patan.
Do you know any other ethical places to shop in Kathmandu? Leave your comments in the section below.
For more information on the fair trade movement in Nepal? Listen to my podcast interview with Nasreen Sheikh –