by Ankita Jain

There is not a single item at Né Nepal store that you don’t want to bring home. Harmonious colour stories, intricate patterns, fragrances, jewellery— Né Nepal is a décor enthusiast’s dream come true. Over the five years of its establishment, the brand has ventured into several lifestyle products and grown into a label that through its long-term relationship with Nepali artisans and mindfulness, has cemented its very signature.

Co-Founders Ishu Dhakras and Tulja Kedia completed their education in marketing in the US and Paris respectively. Childhood friends, Ishu and Tulja met in Mumbai years ago and decided to come up with a homegrown brand. “I was working with Anita Dongre, Indian fashion designer, and her work with Indian artisans really inspired me. This experience was the germination of Né Nepal,” recalls Ishu. Later, the duo spent three years on research. And during their participation in a pop-up exhibition in Moksh Café in 2018 they launched Né Nepal. “We witnessed immense love for our products during the exhibition and it gave a kickstart to our brand,” Ishu says.

But why did two marketing experts who could work anywhere in the world, give up their jobs and come back to Nepal? “We wanted to present what our artisans are capable of. We wanted to have pride in the products made solely in Nepal. We are two passionate women who are exploring and extending our brand with everything made in Nepal,” says an excited Ishu.
The brass and silver jewellery of the brand are influenced by the personal tastes of the co-founders. “The designs signify everything that we were looking for in the market and couldn’t find,”says Ishu flaunting a beautiful self-designed NéNepal necklace. Their non-designer qualification did come in the way as initially getting things done came with trial and error.
Their ceramics designs have been contemporised to please the millennial. “Five years back, there was a dearth of places that sold well-made products with Nepali aesthetic,” she discloses. The duo wanted to bridge this gap and offer products that revived forgotten craft traditions and celebrated the best of Nepal without being kitschy. “When we launched our ceramics, we were met with much love and appreciation, and soon faced with an overwhelming demand,” she adds.

Today the brand works with more than a hundred artisans across Nepal for different product designs. “You need to build a relationship with the artisans; simply communicating doesn’t work. Over the years, we have learnt to co-create designs with them. They are our real mentors,” she explains.

“When we set out, we thought only tourists would be interested in our products. But during the pandemic, we witnessed the evolving Nepali consumer. As their sense of cultural identity emerged as a statement of pride and style, the brand found its niche and a flourishing audience. We offered them good quality products with designs rooted in our culture and tradition,” she says. “I also feel that it is our responsibility to promote craft traditions and to collaborate with artisans to evolve the design vocabulary for a contemporary global audience,” she enthuses.

All this came with a fair share of challenges. “From floods to bears, each day is a new adventure,” she laughs. Building an artisan community-sustaining business in Nepal requires both tenacity and a sense of humour, she adds.

More focused on social media marketing, the duo is particularly keen about how their products are featured. “We love content marketing and product aesthetic is something we don’t compromise with,” she says. There is story behind every product but the brand first wants you to fall in love with their product and then discover the beautiful story behind. “Coming from marketing background, we have really invested all our savings in marketing,” she adds.

The appreciation for their products is not only limited to Nepal but is present in India and the United States. “In India, we recently launched our e-commerce platform and are part of Ajio Lux, Nykaa Fashion, and a few concept stores. Our small fulfillment warehouse manages all the sales. In the USA, we launched our global, e-commerce platform last year, and are selected as one of the 20 impacts first start-ups to showcase our business at SOCAP, which is the biggest impact investment conference in the world. We are going there to represent Né Nepal in October. We are quite excited as we have many plans to grow in the USA this year,” she states.

The brand is launching their flagship store in Sanepa International Club by July end and the store is expected to be one of its kinds. “We wanted to keep everything raw and give the store an earthen vibe,” says Ishu. “We are focusing on smaller spaces with experiential retail as we grow and expand,” she concludes.

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