By Richa Pokhrel/@nepalichoriblog
I am really excited about this month’s featured Nepali woman. Prabighya is the co- founder of Khali Khutta, a company that sells environmentally friendly products. I met her during the summer of 2007 when I was in Nepal and she happened to come over to my Great Aunt’s house. We talked and bonded. A few years later, I ran into her at the Bangkok airport when we were both on our way to Nepal. Through the years I have know her she has traveled all over the world, learning and growing. In 2010, Prabighya and her sisters started a marketplace where organic produce was sold in Kathmandu. Since then, her businesses and projects have expanded. I admire her because she is someone who practices what she preaches. Her commitment to Mother Earth, to her community, and her country is contagious.
1. Why did you start Khali Khutta?
Khali Khutta which means barefoot was started to give an alternative choice for consumers. This came about initially with a search for a yoga mat that is 100% biodegradable. After researching and reading different statements made by various yoga product companies, we were not satisfied with the answers that were made about “eco-mat”. We then, set off on our own venture to make a yoga mat that is chemical free and biodegradable. This was the start of Khali Khutta.
2. How do you choose what products to sell & ow do you go about finding vendors for your store?
The choice comes out of a lifestyle that wants to have a minimal impact to the environment and a maximum impact to the producers. Having grown in a family that does yoga, and never using a rubber/plastic mat for practice has made me very critical about the type of yoga mats that are available-full of chemicals, short life span and at the end of its life it all end up in a landfill. Hence, with the motto of environmental impact-our yoga range and other products ensure that they have been sourced ethically and is 100% chemical free. We also work directly with the small-scale farmers and cooperatives to make sure that they get paid fair and avoid the middlemen.
Until now, we have only sold online on ETSY-which gives a platform for alternative producers. We have recently started a small shop in Kathmandu in Dilli Bazaar.
3. Why is it important to buy local and organic goods?
Nepal, like many other developing nation, is disregarding its own heritage and local knowledge whilst giving high credibility to “new-knowledge”. For the sake of new knowledge, people are abandoning old skills such as traditional farming, seed-saving, yarn spinning and weaving, traditional medicine practice and more. By buying local and organic goods, the consumer is paying respect and valuing the traditional knowledge, which will in turn give a sense and empowerment to the local people. Buy buying local a consumer is able to connect directly to the producers and communication can further give the producers the ability to network and share ideas. Our local knowledge is highly valuable and supporting them is the only way to help it thrive. It is time to pay respect to our ancestral wisdom and become a part of it.
4. What has been the most challenging thing about owning a business?
There is a always a big question about- why aren’t you working for an INGO after all the studies? There is definitely a societal discord on what am I doing with my life? I try to explain as much and to a certain extent it works.
There are definitely challenges with work ethics in Nepal. It is definitely laid back, which is great in many ways but at the same time can make meeting deadlines very challenging. Recently, Khali Khutta has got interest from some international market, which has meant that we have to work to change the work modality with our co-workers. In addition to the work ethics we are always challenged by uncertainty in availability of electricity, lack of proper road conditions as we get our raw materials from rural parts of Nepal. These challenges keep us always prepared and what fun in work without some challenges?
5. What has been the most satisfying thing about owning business?
Creativity and endless possibilities are definitely the reason for it. I love it because it means I can stay true to my ethics and take my time to develop. I am not dictated by someone else’s vision and time. It also gives me the time to find passionate people to make this work meaningful. Basically, despite external challenges there is freedom to create what I love and share that with the community.
6. What other projects are you involved?
I am involved in a project with my partner where we are developing a Permaculture Farm and training center. It will be a space where we will be living. We want to develop a space to learn and share traditional farming skills, build seed-saving communities, create a holistic farming environment and provide marketing tools. Ultimately, we want to inspire the youth to come back to farming again and take pride in working on land.
7. What are the top 3 environmental issues affecting Nepal and what can be done to address these?
I cannot really say top 3 environmental issues as that would be restrictive. I would say that Nepal’s environment health in terms of its riverine; air; and forest ecosystems are all under stress. Nepal is going through rapid modernization which does not incorporate waste management schemes, this means a lot of new waste such as plastic/metal packaging, chemical drain from factories like dyes and waste from commercial agriculture using pesticides are all ending up in rivers and soils as solid wastes or leachate. Kathmandu is the third polluted city in the world and this itself is an example of the intensity of the problem that Nepali community is dealing with.
One of the major cause of all this is the lack of proper government control and planning. Absence of a stable and visionary government has made it impossible to hold anyone accountable for our current environmental issues. Environmental awareness is lacking in rural areas as many of these wastes are new to them and they have no idea how to dispose them and also they are oblivious to the harmful effects of such things. It is imminent to teach proper disposal techniques and ways to discourage use of non-local products. Folks in the city, where most of the educated people reside is definitely the crowd we need support from to tackle such national environmental challenges. We have to encourage and motivate this crowd to make policy changes to actually implement them and hold our governments accountable.
8. What social issues do you feel most passionate about and why?
Gender discrimination is one I strongly feel about. Whenever my parents in any social gathering introduced us as 3 daughters there was always a question or a statement “Oh you don’t have a son? Are you planning on having one?” This always made me a bit unsettled. But my mother always told us to be independent and strong. I have seen my mother, my sisters, grandmother,cousins and heard stories from villages where “women have to constantly work to please, always have to make sacrifices and one who is incompetent if you do not give birth to a son, moreover there are social stigmas related to periods which has led to unfair practices. Women are constantly reminded to be a certain way to fit the norm in the society despite being educated. It is challenging for women but we have definitely growing women number who are fighting to create a change.
9. Who are your role models?
My mother is definitely my role model as she always encouraged us to think differently and she fought for own way of life. Wangari Mathai, Kenyan woman who started the Green Belt Movement is another of my role models who fought for creating a better environment.
10. What advice would you give to women who want to pursue a similar career?
Challenges are uncomfortable but that is what allows us to pursue the change we want to see. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do.
11. Name one thing about yourself that most people don’t know.
I am tone-deaf although I love singing.
12. Best piece of advice you have received.
I got an opportunity to attend one of the talks from Wangari Mathai and she told a story that has been told many times but it is for me the one that resonates the most:
We are constantly being bombarded by problems that we face and sometimes we can get completely overwhelmed. The story of the hummingbird is about this huge forest being consumed by a fire. All the animals in the forest come out and they are transfixed as they watch the forest burning and they feel very overwhelmed, very powerless, except this little hummingbird. It says, ‘I’m going to do something about the fire!’ So it flies to the nearest stream and takes a drop of water. It puts it on the fire, and goes up and down, up and down, up and down, as fast as it can. In the meantime all the other animals, much bigger animals like the elephant with a big trunk that could bring much more water, they are standing there helpless. And they are saying to the hummingbird, ‘What do you think you can do? You are too little. This fire is too big. Your wings are too little and your beak is so small that you can only bring a small drop of water at a time.’
But as they continue to discourage it, it turns to them without wasting any time and it tells them, ‘I am doing the best I can.’
Khali Khutta website: http://khalikhutta.com/