Khalikhutta: Back to Barefoot Basics

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Khalikhutta

खाली खुट्टा’ (Khali Khutta), when translated in English means Bare Foot. One of the two founders, Mrs. Prabighya Basnet says that the whole idea behind the company was to embody a barefoot, grassroots approach, which enables the company (and therefore their customers) to know where the materials for their items come from and where they are made.

As the name suggests, Khali Khutta is all about getting closer to nature and promoting locally made, natural products that do no harm in their production or disposal whilst being a pleasure to use. Khali Khutta is also focused on supporting rural livelihoods by working with traditional materials made in rural communities throughout Nepal.

1. What is the social problem that you are trying to solve?

I think there are many. I studied forestry and during my research in Bhutan, I learned about how many women harvested non-timber forest products such as nettle and many medicinal plants to generate income for themselves. This provided them the financial freedom to manage their households. I feel that a similar scenario exists in my own country of Nepal; long traditions of working with nettle and hemp, suppression of women and more recent rejection of age-old traditions. 

I visited Sankhuwasabha in Makalu-Barun where (predominantly Kulung) women told me that their tradition of working with wild nettle is viewed outside of their communities as a retrograde practice and that similar communities around them had given up harvesting nettle in favor of more modern lifestyle and image. However, they also explained that they valued their heritage and would continue to work with nettle regardless due to its deep-rooted meanings in their community.

This is an example of one of the communities that we work with to produce our products. Our objective here is to support the continuation of such rich traditions found throughout the country.  We use nettle and various other natural fabrics such as hemp as well as brass, wood, and beeswax (from native bee species) to manufacture our products, which are 100% biodegradable and handmade – even the fabric dyes come from plants or minerals. 

Khali Khutta works with both women and men. We acknowledge the recent trend for men to leave the country for work opportunities abroad, so we wish to create opportunities here in Nepal itself so that families need not separate but live together. This is also important for raising the kids for the next generation.

2. Do you see social changes your products have brought in the society?

We are not a huge company but the families of the men and women we work with have achieved greater financial stability through our work. It has also shown the value of these traditional skills for these communities and others  Our customers, both here in Nepal and internationally, have started realizing the importance of such work in safeguarding heritage and the future of our planet and have started to value these products and the “handmade” movement in general. 

3. Could you talk to us about the beginnings of your venture with Khali Khutta and it’s legal status?

We are a private company established in 2016. From our very inception, we have been focused on providing the best quality products. While our ethics guide us to always make a natural product, sourced and made sustainably, quality is intrinsically interlinked with this – poor quality means a lack of sustainability too as items need to be purchased again and again. 

Initially, I started thinking about an alternative to the imported chemical-based detergent for washing dishes and clothes here in Nepal. That was when I found ‘Rittha’, (soap nut berries), which is a tree native to Nepal. I also practice yoga and am a qualified yoga teacher. I have seen that people from all over Nepal and elsewhere in the world, buy yoga mats made of rubber and chemicals. While these are often advertised as “non-Amazon-harvest natural rubber” I felt that this was not enough. So, I started looking for alternatives and making yoga mats out of nettle and hemp. Our other products have come into being through extensive designing and testing using natural materials sourced from within Nepal primarily focused on items that are currently less readily available in natural materials or not available at all.

People have slowly come to realize the importance of reducing their negative impact on their environment and our planet and hence, it has become easier for us to turn them into customers. I see a positive sign for products like ours with every passing day.

4. What stage do you think the company is in right now?

The company has grown steadily and we had a really great year in 2018. That serves as a major motivating factor to continue and grow. We aim to share our profits to provide permaculture and sustainable agriculture training to farmers in Nepal Accordingly, we are setting up a permaculture farm in Suryabinayak called Three Trees Permaculture. Overall I would say, we are growing as a responsible company and inspired to continue on this path.

5. When you first started out, how many employees did you have? 

When we started it was just me and my partner. We very shortly afterward brought in a lady who runs a small stitching warehouse and still does the stitching work for us now! At present, we have around 4 people employed through our work, working full time. However, our impact reaches well beyond this, through the purchase of our raw materials direct from farmers who, as I mentioned earlier, are able to care for their families better through the employment that we are able to provide to them. 

6. Were there any challenges that you faced while starting out with Khali Khutta?
There were and always are challenges when starting your own business. Finding quality materials and having a consistent supply were some of the major challenges. Getting the finished products on time was also a challenge since delaying work is common here. The other problem was of power cuts which is getting better now. Additionally, telling people what we do things differently, and changing their mindset towards Nepali products was quite challenging as well, particularly within Nepal. 

7. Are you still facing any challenges?

Yes, expanding is always a problem as we are guided so strongly by our sustainability ethics. This includes not just environmental impacts but also social impacts on the communities we work with. We are also growing quickly, so keeping up with demand is proving challenging at times. So, sometimes the challenge is to stay small in itself. We have a lot of demand and we want to grow too but we have to operate on a small scale in order to be fair towards the products available in our country.

8. How did you overcome those challenges? Is the business profitable to make an impact?

I think, when you are passionate about something, you stick to it no matter how big the challenges are. You just believe in it so much that no challenges are big enough to stop you. And also, meeting up and communicating with people with similar thoughts and visions also gives you the strength to move on, no matter what.

The business operated on break-even in the first year, which was a great sign, and now, we are in profit. 

9. What is the market potential for businesses like Khali Khutta?

I think it is huge as our products are 100% biodegradable, handmade and support local people. People from all around the world have become more aware and support such products. Most of our products go to Europe and the United States of America. There is already a huge market abroad and with awareness, it is growing – in Nepal as well.

10. Who are your target customers and how many customers do you have on a monthly basis?

As our products are simple and some are very basic that promote the natural, local, handmade skills of people and obviously, environment-friendly, these are for everyone. Our business is seasonal so I cannot be exact on the numbers of customers.

11. How does Khali Khutta work in terms of self-sufficiency?

It is not that complicated. We have products coming from places in the far East and West Nepal. We visit those places on a timely basis to build the relationship to keep up with everything that is going on. We try to get away from middle-man and hence, have a direct relationship with our farmers and suppliers. This ensures that the money we spend on our materials goes directly to the rural communities we are trying to support. After getting the supplies, we do the stitching here in Kathmandu where the final products are produced and sold both nationally and internationally. Our profits go primarily back into the company to produce more stock, research, and development of new products and supporting causes that we believe in. 

12. Does Khali Khutta have any key needs at the moment?

Yes! Khali Khutta operates in the city but we would like to move away from here in matters of production, space, stock and more. Right now we are a small and happy family, but we’re planning to expand. And of course, we really want to step up on marketing.

13. Do you have any future plans with Khali Khutta?

Yes, marketing is something that we really need to work on. Besides that, expansion, and more farmers connection is what we’re looking after.  Also, the future of Khali Khutta is to support the farm we have outside of Kathmandu, so we can have permaculture and sustainable agriculture based training for Nepali farmers. We would also like to approach schools to bring their students to learn about natural dyeing and the environment around them and identify plants and make them aware of the choices they have.

14. Do you consider yourself as a social entrepreneur?

Yes. I worked for several companies but was never really happy. However, what I am doing now gives me a chance to be creative and to work for what I am passionate about. This is 24/7 work for me and it is great. 

15. Is there anything else that you would like to share with us?

I just want to say that it is very easy to become a follower but challenging to question what you really want to do and why you shouldn’t follow traditional ideas and become a leader yourself. Try and give back to your country and the world and communities around you. Also, do not be very comfortable. You have got to step out of your comfort zone sometimes and work for the betterment of everything.

For more information about this company, visit their website Khalikhutta or write to them directly at khalikhutta@gmail.com

Interviewed by Ashmita Rai and Edited by Yangzum Lama