by Vartika Upadhyay

In a world grappling with environmental challenges, two sisters have founded an exemplary business. Aruna Lacoul and Muna Shrestha are the founders of Jamarko established in 2001 which recycles waste paper and produces exquisite handmade products. Their business is built on the philosophy of reduce, reuse and recycle.

What does Jamarko mean?

Jamarko is a Nepali word for effort. While our short-term objective is to minimise the amount of waste paper by producing alternatives, our long-term goal is to help conserve depleting natural resources and habitats and contribute towards a circular economy.

What was the idea behind starting Jamarko?

The turn of the century was a critical time for our country in terms of economic development. However, we failed to acknowledge the consequences of industrialisation at the time which led to unmanaged urbanisation and the creation of massive amounts of waste. We grew up in a clean and green Kathmandu, and this sudden change in our environment was very concerning, so we turned to municipal authorities and organisations for solutions. Although a lot of interest was being generated to clean the environment, not much was being done to combat the problem. So, we started brainstorming ideas that we could implement ourselves. While researching, we realised that paper used for packaging, printing, books, etc. was being taken for granted and treated as disposable. People overlooked the prospect of recycling it, and we wanted to change that. We took training in recycling paper, and after a few years of experimenting with the method, Jamarko was born in 2001.

What are the products you make and who is it for?

At Jamarko, we focus on recycled and Lokta paper and products made out of them. Recycled paper is made from processing waste paper that we collect from donations. Lokta paper, more widely known as Nepali paper, is made from the shrubs of Lokta plants found in the high altitudes of the Himalayan Region and requires no tree to be cut to be made. You can find various products made from these papers at Jamarko like notebooks, gift boxes and bags, greeting cards, files, folders, stationery organisers, photo frames, upcycled newspaper pencils, newspaper bags, and many more. We have now expanded to include items made from Nepali and upcycled fabric, such as facemasks and tote bags.

Our main customers are individuals, corporations and organisations that are looking for sustainable alternatives to paper products. More specifically, groups and entities that require tree-free and/or recycled paper and paper products.

Additionally, we also cater to branding agencies, design firms, and event planning organisations that want to use unique, handmade, and/or environmentally friendly materials to promote their work. Many foreign machine-made, inexpensive products are available on the market, so we are grateful to everyone who chooses to purchase from us. We believe that these small choices do have an impact on the environment in the long term.

Who makes your products?

Jamarko began as the initiative of two sisters. Since the time of initiation, we have employed mostly women who are trained with skills in papermaking and crafting. Even today, the majority of the workers are women, from all our administrative staff to most of the makers. Since the work here is more skill-based than physical labour-based, people with disabilities are also capable and employed.

What has your experience been running this business?

Our experience from creating this brand until today has been a huge learning curve. Before the inception of Jamarko, we took training from the Department of Cottage and Small Industries on recycling paper. We also faced many challenges as it was taboo to work with waste, and many people told us to stop working or that the work we were doing was unsanitary. Further, it took us five years to make a stable profit, and we could not have established Jamarko without the support of our family. During these five years, we took part in a lot of exhibitions held by Kathmandu Municipality and JICA, gained a lot of exposure, and made connections. Only after diversifying and making products out of Lokta paper did we start seeing our business grow.

A decade later, Kritica Lacoul joined, and we opened a showroom in Jhamsikhel. We were seeing great success and even managed to open a second shop in Mangal Bazaar. But the earthquake in 2015 changed a lot of things for us. We had to close both the shops and business slowed down. The paper business halted completely as it is more of a luxury good than a need. So, we had to come up with something to stay afloat, and we decided to partner with local tailors who were suffering in their business as well and produce upcycled cloth masks out of boutique-cut fabric waste. Luckily, things have started to pick up again today, and people are more willing to purchase locally-made products that help clean the environment.

Have you noticed any positive environmental or social changes resulting from your business initiative?

Globally, an average of four billion trees are cut down every year to make paper. Jamarko started as a business to prevent waste from reaching the landfills in Kathmandu. Jamarko tackles the problem by collecting used paper and processing it to make sheets of recycled paper. By doing so, Jamarko has saved the cutting down of 7,500 trees to date and generated socio-economic value through it. Jamarko also uses Lokta (or Nepali) paper as an alternative. Using this paper not only prevents the cutting of trees, but we think that it is our responsibility to provide people and consumers with these alternatives so they have a choice and a say in the products they use and the impact they have on the environment. From reducing landfill waste to making eco-friendly choices every day, Jamarko is carbon negative and is always looking for ways to minimise the impact on the climate and environment.

What advice would you give to young startups?

It is easy to start your brand in today’s world, but it is just as difficult to sustain it. By trying different methods of spreading the word about your brand such as collaborating with like-minded business you gain more exposure. Stay authentic and work hard, you will find success and learn many things along the way.

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