Miteri Recycle is making affordable clothing available to the people at the bottom of the pyramid

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Miteri Recycle is a social business which pivoted from its parent organization to create a self-sustainable solution for the disadvantaged rural communities in Nepal. It has a unique model of providing clothing in a dignified way to the poorest population of rural Nepal who live in cold and harsh conditions. We spoke to Jagannath Bista, Manager at Action Works Nepal, an NGO working in the field of women, gender, equality, and disaster management to learn about this innovative approach of solving the problem of scarcity of affordable clothing.

What social problems are being addressed by Miteri Recycle and how does your social business work?
Miteri Recycle Centre collects reusable and recyclable clothes from Kathmandu valley and sells it to people in Karnali, Kalikot, Mugu, Humla, and Jumla where people are comparatively very poor. Since the climate is very cold and people aren’t in a position to afford clothing, especially the women and children, we provide them with access to affordable and reusable clothes.
Miteri Recycle Centre is not a donation centre because we do not provide a one-time service of donating clothes.  People who buy from us feel a sense of dignity and self-sufficiency as they are paying for the clothes of their choice, as opposed to accepting clothes from charity. By charging nominal prices for our recycled clothes, we ensure that people have access to affordable clothing while we continue to sustain our efforts in the long run.

Can you tell us about your business model?
We collect reusable and recyclable clothes from Kathmandu Valley through donation that we generate from our Facebook page and other media channels. The collected clothes are then washed, processed, repaired, ironed and repackaged in our recycling centre, and they are then supplied to the field office at Jumla. From here, our volunteers pick up the clothing items and sell the products in the market at nominal prices.
The generated revenue is used to cover operational expenses and to pay our staff and volunteers who are also from marginalized communities. We do not have any other channel of distribution and our supply is free of cost, so the revenue we generate is sufficient to sustain and run this social business. Our model is based on self-sufficiency over profit making.

Tell me about your journey for starting your venture? When did it start?
We started Action Works Nepal in 2010. Our founder, Miss Radha, was working in Jumla during this period noticed the poor condition of people in Jumla and their need for proper clothing. We realized that donating clothes was not a sustainable solution; hence we started this venture as an undertaking of the NGO itself.

What stage is the company in? Is it registered separately from the NGO?
Currently, we are at a very early stage of the initiative and Miteri Recycle Centre is a social initiative under Action Works Nepal. However we do have plans to establish Miteri as a separate social enterprise in near future.

Do you have data on your customers?
2678 people have used our services in the fiscal year 2017-2018, out of which 853 are women and 673 are children.

What is your current staff strength?
We have one staff member in our recycling centre here in Kathmandu and one staff member who works in the field office to maintain inventory and supply. Apart from that, we have 5 volunteers to sell the clothes.

How did you raise funds to start your company?
We injected the seed funding into this enterprise through the NGO as well as personal investments from board members of the NGO.

What challenges did you face while starting the company and what are the challenges you are facing right now?
There are many challenges of running this is enterprise. One of the major challenges is finding the right kind of volunteers. We have had volunteers who are very promising and take on the responsibility of selling and distributing but then go missing in action. Onboarding volunteers at new locations have also been tough.  Managing the funds to make payments of salaries on time, limited space and resources are all day to day challenges that we have to face to keep the enterprise going.

What are the key needs of your company? 
Since we want to expand and start working in the remote places of Nepal, we need reliable human resources. There is a demand for our products indeed, but unfortunately, due to lack of manpower, we are not able to expand our services as fast as we would like to. Also, we need proper office space and finances to really get this going.

What are your future plans? Are you planning to scale your operations?
Currently there is a huge demand for clothes among the people living in poor economic conditions especially in rural parts of Nepal. They do not have easy access to these clothing items nor could afford to buy them from cities. So we do have intentions of expanding our services in districts other than Karnali.

Is there anything that you would want to add?
We would like to encourage more people to donate clothes to Miteri Recycle and be a part of our social enterprise family. This will enable us to cater to a large market of people who are in dire need of clothing.

Interested in making a difference in the lives of underprivileged people or just want to know more about this social business? Check out their Facebook page here and the website.

Interviewed by Shambhavi Singh and Edited by Jasmin Karmacharya