Producers | Mahaguthi

Who makes our stuff?

Who makes our stuff?

WSDO Nepal
Children Nepal

Mahaguthi, Nepal

Mahaguthi is based in Lalitpur, Kathmandu, but buys from five main regions across the country. This group is a founder member of Fair Trade Group Nepal and has been established since 1984.

They provide access to market, training and support for more than 100 producers. Over 95% of their workforce are women.

Their founder, Tulsi Mehar Shrestha, was a student of Gandhi and, as a devotee of his principles, started working with untouchables and low caste women to help them earn a living.

The ashram he founded is truly inspirational as it provides skills training in spinning, weaving, dressmaking and block printing as well as having a nursery for the workers’ children and seven acres of gardens for growing rice and vegetables.

After the political struggles in 2006 and the rising cost of living, Mahaguthi were optimistic the new government would improve people’s lives but they continue to experience great difficulty.
Mahaguthi’s export sales have dropped because of the economic downturn. Daily power cuts, severe water shortages in Kathmandu and migration to the city from rural areas make life very difficult.

With a widening gap between rich and poor, the need for fair trade is greater than ever.

The artisans at Mahaguthi produce beautiful handmade products with great skill: paper from the lotka plant; handloomed and hand block printed cotton for men's shirts, and women's dresses, shirts, trousers and skirts; silver jewellery; pottery; mithila painting; bamboo and musical instruments.

As over 80% of Nepalis live in villages and rely on agriculture, crafts are a useful source of much needed extra income.

Barbara Wilson, lovethatstuff director, visits Mahaguthi

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• Ashram children
I visited Mahaguthi in June 2007 with my daughter Lily and we had a wonderful time. Our first taste of Nepal was getting a visa at Kathmandu airport. The immigration officers were smiley and friendly and I immediately felt relaxed.

Later I learnt that Nepalis are slow to anger and quick to smile, a wonderful and refreshing change in today’s overstressed and time-harried world. What could be nicer than their greeting ‘Namaste’ – I greet the divine within you?

Whilst in Kathmandu we stayed with one of the potters, the delightful Govinda, above his workshop in Thimi, the city’s pottery and farming region.
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• Ashram sewing class
We spent the first three days visiting the ashram in Lalitpur, Kathmandu; the clothing production unit close to the office; and the Mahaguthi office and shop.

Our schedule was busy but constantly punctuated by meeting the most engaging people.

On Saturday, the traditional day off, we visited Bhaktapur, a region of Kathmandu which has remained virtually unchanged since medieval times.
What could be nicer than their greeting ‘Namaste’ – I greet the divine within you?
Barbara Wilson
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• Cotton handloom
The Mahaguthi ashram was truly inspirational. Set in seven acres of garden, with wonderful flowers, trees and bushes, and bright-eyed children playing, this seemed an idyllic haven from the hustle and bustle of the main city.

They even grow some of their own rice here. The ashram or ‘shelter’ had areas for spinning cotton, handlooms for weaving, a block printing workshop and several sewing classes.

The girls we met in the sewing classes were mainly from rural areas and one we talked to was 19 and came from the west of Nepal.
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• Spinning cotton
She had one brother and sister and came from an agricultural family. She had stayed at school until ninth grade and then failed this level so had to leave.

She told us her family had enough for the basic necessities but she needed to find a skill and that when she had finished her training at the ashram she wanted to go back to her village to train more women to sew.

Mahaguthi prefer to employ women as they will ensure their kids go to school and also tend to plan better for the future.

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• Pottery workshop
We were surprised how physical the handloom weaving was. The women had to use both hands and both feet but they were as good tempered as ever. As we were leaving we saw some beautiful lengths of cloth laid out to dry in the sun and Sonali, the Marketing Manager, told us this prewashing helps ensure clothes don’t shrink.

At the clothing production unit we met the very lovely Anita who headed up this workshop. I had brought some new ideas for designs and we were quickly surrounded by eager, capable women with tape measures at the ready. I felt so reassured – all is possible with tea and the right people, and here we had an abundance of both. After thirty minutes four new designs were underway.

For the next six days we did the holiday bit, arranged extremely well by Mahaguthi. First stop was Pokhara, with a three hour pony trek, a walk to the World Peace Pagoda and a dawn visit to Sarangkot to see the sun rise over the Annapurna range.

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• Rice pickers
Then it was off to Chitwan National Park for fun and frolics with elephants, rhino, crocodiles and birds. It was an amazing experience.

Returning to Kathmandu, it was time to check out the jewellery workshop. Their skills are awesome but we were on a mission to develop more delicate designs for the Western market.

We had fun and lots of laughs as we explored new ideas and adapted some of their existing designs. We left with about fifteen earrings and pendants in the pipeline. Blooming good stuff.

What did we like about Nepal? When we left we asked each other what had been the most awe-inspiring – the mountains, the wildlife or the people. It has to be the people.

Thank you Mahaguthi. We can’t wait to come back again.

  • WSDO Nepal

  • Children Nepal

  • ACP Nepal
Tab 1

Women’s Skill Development Organisation, Nepal

The eight hour bus journey from Kathmandu to Pokhara was as beautiful as ever with vertiginous views from the hills to the valley floor with its meandering river, at times calm and blue, at times cascading and treacherous. We stopped a couple of times for food and the roadside cafes were larger than last time and somewhat more greasy.

There seemed to be far more places to eat along the way - the tourist trade helps many Nepalis earn a livelihood. Currently and very sadly, their primary export is people. Planeloads leave every day for the Gulf in particular, where many are employed in menial jobs, but at least having a job overseas means they can send money back to their families. Pokhara is traditionally a rural farming area – most of it subsistence farming. Work through WSDO provides much needed cash income for women to buy shoes for their children, better food etc.

After a long sleep in the guest house I got a taxi to WSDO’s workshop. It was lovely to see Ram Khalli, the director, again and to be able to photograph the women at work since last time we had arrived on a rest day. The women work on narrow looms, which means the cloth they weave has no raw edges which makes for great bags. This time I also bought some belts, which look really beautiful.

We had some tea and then I took photographs of the women doing the dyeing. There were large vats – some with vegetable and others with chemical dyes, which they had to stir to ensure consistent colour through the cottons. As I was snapping away, the women got the giggles, which was great. Outside in the garden, you could see rows of colourful cottons drying in the sun.

From the garden I went into one of the workshops to photograph some of the women weaving on the very small looms. The process looked amazing with really long lengths of woven fabric cascading from the narrow loom that they sit at with their legs extended straight out in front of them and underneath the loom. Then on to the other rooms where I saw the rest of the process from sewing the bags, packing them and finally to storing them.

Then it was back to the office to decide on the styles and colours of the new bags and belts I had decided to buy. As I have a tendency to get over-excited and order lots of different things, I decided to try and just order my three favourite styles but then I couldn’t resist choosing four colours: the bright blue and bright red are from chemical dyes; then the light brown and mid grey are from tea and something called terminal chelsula. I prefer the natural dyes but bright is good too.

So that we could both remember which colours to order in future Ram Khalli suggested making a colour chart for me to take away. As time was short, we all pitched in with taking samples of colours from skeins of cotton and mounting them on card for me to take away. This was really excellent as they now have a new system for vegetable dyeing which is a bit easier than the previous one.

Thank you Women’s Skill Development Organisation for your hospitality, dedication to improving the lives of local poor women and their families, and for your sense of fun too. Oh, and great tea!

Then it was off to see Children Nepal.
Tab 2

Children Nepal

Dilly came to pick me up from seeing WSDO on his scooter, which must be the nicest way of getting around in the rural areas. After about fifteen minutes we arrived at the workshops and offices of Children Nepal.

It was so lovely to see everyone again as the last time I visited them was in 2012 and Laksmi gave me a big hug. I had quite a long chat with Ram, the director, about their plans for the future. Children Nepal are a brilliant organisation who campaign for children’s rights, provide employment to marginalised women so they can better support their children and generally support children’s wellbeing.

One really practical example of this is that they have a computer room where the poorer local kids can catch up on their skills because this is an area where they can fall behind very quickly.

Last time I bought some animal measurement charts – these are really charming cotton zebras and giraffes, which you can hang on the wall and use to see how tall your child is. Their asleep/awake dolls have sold well and these are rather ingenious – each end of the doll has a head, one end has an awake face and the other end an asleep face.

As the doll has a long dress so that one of the faces is covered, the child can do good imaginative play. We have also done some aprons with appliqué detail, which you can see on the website. So, if you know who likes cooking, this could be the perfect present.

One of the challenges of Fair Trade is to find products that people here want to buy in sufficient quantities to make it worthwhile for the producer groups to make. I suggested we try some little girls’ dresses with some appliqué detail so watch this space!

This group are great at making things for children so if any school here would like to link with them to buy things for theatre productions such as puppets etc or cloth bags for keeping PE kit etc in, please get in touch.

Thank you Children Nepal for being wonderfully warm, generous and supportive people. If the world were full of people like you, we’d all be fine.
Tab 3

Association of Craft Producers Nepal

Founded in 1984 with just 38 producers, ACP now has around 1,000 workers, 90% of which are women. All originate from low income families so the mission is to improve the lives of marginalised women principally.

ACP are a not-for-profit organisation who provide design, marketing, management and financial support to their producers to secure overseas markets and a sustainable income.

Benefits to their producers also include: a child education allowance; a savings programme; and counselling services.

ACP are working towards waste water treatment and rainwater harvesting to make sure their water usage is more sustainable.

They do lovely handloom weaving so please visit our shop in Brighton Marina and buy some beautiful fabric by the metre.

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