Sustainability is not just a global trend, but an important civic action today. Many entrepreneurs are invested in making products that are sustainable and have minimal environmental impact while still being functional and appealing to an increasingly conscious consumer. Sikarmi, a sustainable furniture brand based in Dolakha, is one such venture that focuses on creating unique tableware pieces out of waste wood.
The type of wood, the knots and natural imperfections that come with it, and the distinct handle designs on each piece is what makes every utensil by Sikarmi a unique one. Arun Lama, the founder of Sikarmi, points out that the brand name ‘Sikarmi’ is a thet nepali word which means ‘woodworker’. The selling point of Sikarmi is that they can customise items as per customer request, shares Arun. Be it a ladle with a curved handle for left-handed people or a mini spoon-and-fork set for travelling, Sikarmi carves it out for you with attention to detail that you will fall in love with.
“Creating the exact same design again and again makes our work monotonous. So, we try to spice each piece up by giving it an unusual twist in the design,” says Arun.
Growing up amidst the thick forests of Dolakha, Arun has always been fascinated by woodwork. “I would notice the fallen branches rotting away in the forest every day,” he recalls.
So, when did he decide to start Sikarmi? Arun is also a music performer and recalls a time he had gone to his hometown during the lockdown and brought back wood to Kathmandu to make a guitar by himself. But because of altitude changes and temperature issues, the wood splintered on the way back. “That’s when the idea to make use of the broken pieces of wood by carving it struck my mind,” he shares.
He started experimenting with wood and attempted to carve a bird. “I utterly failed in my first attempt at carving,” he laughs. But he persisted and his first successful at carving a spoon took five hours of non-stop effort. “Although it took so many hours, the ability to create a product from scratch is just so amazing,” Arun expresses.
Now he tries to teach the villagers in Dolakha the techniques he knows to carve utensils, not just to grow his business but also to create an income source for the locals. Only a few locals are skilled in carving but he plans on training many villagers on the essential skills for wood-carving to help support the local economy.
All pieces of wood utilised by Sikarmi to carve the utensils come from fallen branches or wasted wood. The most common types of wood used for their products are Green Ash, Himalayan Cherry and Rhododendron. “We give new life to wood that would otherwise go to waste,” says Arun, proudly.
He walks us through the process of making their best-selling product – a ladle made from Sisau wood. First, the wood is left to soak in water for approximately 24 hours since Sisau, because of its hard nature, is a challenging wood to carve. Then, a wood-carving tool is used to carve the wood and give it unique details. After carving, sandpaper is used to sand its surface by hand, giving it a smooth finish. Finally, the product is coated in organic oil, making the final product look glossy, shiny and ready for use.
The majority of Nepalis are still unaware about the concept of sustainability and the need to use more environment-friendly products. This, according to Arun, is one the main challenges he faces to sell his products in the domestic market. “While most of my products are sold in the European continent, some are sold in the local flea markets as well,” he says.
Aside from creating kitchen utensils, Sikarmi also works with restaurants to build sustainable furniture. One of their recent projects for a restaurant involves reusing old pallets that are used to load luggage in airports to build table and chair sets.
Another interesting aspect of his work is that every time he visits a new place, he carves two utensils using the local wood: one for the local he stays with and another one for sale at Sikarmi. He talks about his recent visit to Kalinchowk, “I used the local wood found in Kalinchowk and carved two spoons — one, I gave to the owner of the hotel I stayed with and another, I brought back with me for sale.”
“I am happy with the progress I have made within a short span of a year and plan on taking the business forward one step at a time with a clear aim of building a sustainable future,” he concludes with a smile.