Kaligarh founder Jyoti Upadhyay was born and raised on the coast of Wales, and in 2009 moved to Kathmandu, the origin of her roots and the site of her annual childhood visits to Nepal and India. Jyoti is a keen photographer which has given her a unique perspective, “that of a local, who experiences the challenges of living in Kathmandu yet recognizes its potential for change, and that of an outsider, who sees beauty, charm, and opportunity.” Upon her return to Nepal in 2009, she worked on rural infrastructure projects and an international advocacy campaign on behalf of the world’s least developed countries, and then with a socially responsible group of companies focused on tourism. Kaligarh was founded in 2013.
How did you come to start Kaligarh?
Born and raised in Wales, I moved to Kathmandu in 2009. My roots are from Nepal and north-eastern India. My background is in anthropology, international development, and working with communities. Having long been interested in the possibilities of social enterprise and socially responsible business, I finally moved into this area as a result of disillusionment with the traditional aid industry. I believe that encouraging dignity is incredibly important, and all too often the development/aid industry achieves the opposite. There are too many perverse incentives, too many decisions being made by outsiders, and a lack of attention to the details of people’s lives. Skills and beauty have little role in that world, even though they are available in abundance in this region, and can be used for good. Operating in this overlap between the private sector and social concerns is the right fit for Kaligarh, and the right fit for me.
Though we’ve been working with most of the artisans for longer, the company was registered (both in Nepal and in the UK), at the end of 2013. Kaligarh brings together so many of my interests: design, craftsmanship, photography, travel, research, and, of course, ethical business.
What is the meaning of Kaligarh?
Kaligarh is a Nepali word for anyone who does skilled work with his or her hands. In everyday language, it’s used to refer to jewelry artisans.
We missed seeing you at Artisan Resource @ NY NOW this winter. Was this because of the earthquake in Kathmandu?
It’s been a challenging year for Nepal, and of course for our team. An earthquake of magnitude 7.9 occurred in late April 2015, which had a profound impact on our artisans and our operations. Two of our artisans lost their homes, and our office (which was also my own home) was destroyed as well. The two areas in which our artisans are based were heavily damaged, and of course everyone feared being indoors as there were strong aftershocks each day for months afterwards. Through friends of Kaligarh we were able to raise some money to help our artisans slowly get back on their feet. I was able to participate at Artisan Resource @ NY Now in August 2015, and this was an important boost for our team.
By the end of August, political unrest on the border with India meant that all imports essentially stopped due to an economic blockade. This included petrol, diesel, cooking gas, cooking oil, and more. Electricity shortages became more acute at this time, and we went days without electricity at our workshops. During this time, many companies closed and tens of thousands of people lost their jobs. The blockade ended in February 2016, and the situation is now normalizing. Though it’s not always easy to run a company in Nepal, last year confirmed to us that it’s tremendously important that we continue to create employment opportunities and support artisans and their families. The response in the US and elsewhere has been wonderful, and we’re ready and excited to grow our business.
Any new plans or exciting projects ahead of you?
Always! We are currently carrying out some historical research for a new collection, and are also looking at collaborating with artisans in more remote areas of Nepal. In March I will be traveling back to an area that was heavily destroyed in the earthquake, as part of a project to generate income and revive traditional weaving. Something great could come out of this, which will give hope to the community, in addition to tangible economic benefits.
As an entrepreneur with a fairly new business, what are tips you would like share with others who are looking to get into this field?
Know your strengths, and if you can, hire people to support you with the things that don’t come naturally. You cannot possibly do everything, and the earlier you realize this, the better! Personally, I feel that hiring two people part-time is more valuable than a single full-time employee. This helps us play to everyone’s strengths and interests, while also bringing more ideas and energy to the table.
What does a typical day in Nepal look like for you?
I wake up around 6:30 a.m., putter around, and cycle to the office by 8 a.m. We have a lovely café in our building that roasts its own Nepali coffee, so the working day always starts with that. Then it’s usually emails, handling day-to-day operations and planning our production. If there’s time, I’ll work on research for new pieces. Though our space in Kathmandu is more of an office than a showroom, we have people dropping in to have a look throughout the day, which is always a welcome break. In the afternoon I visit our artisans. Some days I’ll have Skype calls in the evening, otherwise I spend that time on light tasks like social media. That’s a relaxed day for me - usually there’s far more dashing around! I share some of what we’re up to on our Instagram (@kaligarh).
For more info, please visit: http://www.kaligarh.com/