A suc­cess story amid the rub­ble of Kathmandu

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Asia - CATHERINE MAR­SHALL

Two days be­fore the first of the re­cent earth­quakes hit Nepal on April 25, Ni­cole Rice was re­al­is­ing a dream at the launch of a cloth­ing shop in Bouhda, a sub­urb of Kathmandu. Rice was one of the founders of Aus­tralian Fash­ion Week and is now a Los An­ge­les-based doula (birth at­ten­dant) and Ayurvedic prac­ti­tioner. She had gone to Nepal to vol­un­teer at the ROKPA Women’s Work­shop, which pro­vides a life­line to dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­nity mem­bers, in­clud­ing aban­doned wives and moth­ers.

The work­shop is part of an in­ter­na­tional aid and sup­port or­gan­i­sa­tion and its Nepalese arm also en­com­passes a chil­dren’s home, guest­house and restau­rant. Rice had known about the work­shop since stay­ing at the guest­house in 2013 and, with her knowl­edge of fab­rics and fash­ion, had im­me­di­ately seen its greater po­ten­tial.

“I thought I would get the women to make some baby swad­dles for me, so I could give them to my friends and clients in Los An­ge­les,” she re­calls. “I ended up meet­ing all the women in the work­shop, as well as ROKPA co-founder Lea Wyler, and I got to see what they did. The work­man­ship was im­pres­sive [but] a lot of the prod­ucts I saw, I could find ev­ery­where in Nepal. I told Lea how great it would be for the work­shop to have a point of dif­fer­ence.”

Re­turn­ing to Nepal as a vol­un­teer ear­lier this year, Rice set about sourc­ing new sup­pli­ers, cost­ing and mar­ket­ing the women’s prod­ucts and cre­at­ing a sig­na­ture fab­ric that would set the work­shop apart. “In Kathmandu, you see a lot of the same things — same fab­ri­ca­tions, same lit­tle wal­lets and coin purses,” Rice says. “So I wanted to have pieces that stand out and that you’d want to buy be­cause you love them.”

Through an Indiegogo.com fundrais­ing cam­paign, Rice soon had enough money to pur­chase a new loom; she then set her sights on open­ing a shop at the ROKPA Guest House in Kathmandu where the lat­est prod­ucts could be sold. Three weeks later, she’d ac­com­plished her mission. “I think it might go down in his­tory as the fastest store ever built in Kathmandu,” she says.

“It’s not big but it gives the women the op­por­tu­nity to dis­play their wares as well as some other pieces that I have bought for the store, such as Hi­malayan pink salt and Maithili (Nepali folk art) paint­ings. We did well on open­ing day and sold out of the dresses that I had the ladies make from pat­terns I brought from LA.”

But the joy of the shop’s suc­cess was over­shad­owed by the earth­quake that struck just two days later. Some­how, the estab­lish­ment man­aged to avert the death and de­struc­tion that ripped through Kathmandu. The guest­house served as a haven in the days that fol­lowed for the weavers and the lit­tle ones from the ROKPA chil­dren’s home. Weeks later, the de­spair that now en­gulfs the coun­try makes ROKPA’s work all the more ur­gent, Rice says.

“We are all safe here in Boudha, but Kathmandu it­self is a mess. More than ever, the women need the work­shop to keep them pos­i­tive and fo­cused,” she ex­plains.

“Through the work­shop, they’re able to clothe and feed their fam­i­lies and send the chil­dren to school. And if the work­shop can make a profit, the money goes straight into the chil­dren’s home so that more kids can be taken off the street. It’s a win-win for ev­ery­one in­volved.”

Ni­cole Rice, cen­tre, with ROKPA vol­un­teers and work­ers in Nepal

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