Manu Karki and her husband were on a trip to Taiwan for four days, in 2018. Her brother’s friends in the country, Susu and Apollo, guided the couple during the visit.
“Both of them were leading eco-friendly lifestyles. They didn’t use anything made of plastics, which I thought would be impossible in the modern age,” Karki remembers, “I noticed that even while going to a restaurant or cafe, they were carrying tiffin boxes and mugs with them. These two people, vegan, were carrying eco-friendly bags.”
As Karki narrates, she was so impressed and inspired by their zero-waste lifestyle that she realised what difference even a single individual’s efforts can make for the environment. She says, “Their lifestyle inspired me to follow an eco-friendly lifestyle.”
After coming back to Nepal, she tried to adapt to a plastic-free lifestyle. In the process, she says that she found that such products were not easily available. Nonetheless, Karki opened an Instagram page in order to share her “eco-friendly journey”, thinking it might inspire people as she was inspired by Susu and Apollo.”
Gradually, Karki was more fascinated by the idea and tried to implement some of them. “I first ordered a bamboo toothbrush. I waited for about one month to get it delivered and when I had it in my hand, it was wrapped in plastic bubble wrap, which disappointed me a lot.”
Months later, this incident triggered an idea to start her own company to sell eco-friendly products. Eco Sathi Nepal, a startup registered on August 8, 2019, with the main motto of advocating an eco-friendly lifestyle, making more and more Nepali people aware of this, is the result.
Focus on eco-friendliness
Many products people use in their daily life are made of plastics. As an alternative to those daily essentials, Eco Sathi Nepal offers toothbrushes, hairbrushes, combs, water bottles, bags, menstrual cups, cutlery, and many more made of decomposable elements.
Karki, 30, a dentist by profession, shares how she started her journey as an entrepreneur, “I brought about 1,000 bamboo brushes from Vietnam, investing Rs 50,000 in the beginning. I started Eco Sathi Nepal with toothbrushes as it is the first daily essential we all use after we wake up and also, I have been practising dentistry since 2013. I have a good understanding of toothbrushes compared to any other products.”
Surprisingly, all the toothbrushes were sold out within two months. It motivated her to continue the import and sale. In the meantime, her company purchased eco-friendly products made in Nepal also and sold them.
“We import eco-friendly products specially made from bamboos such as a hairbrush, toothbrush, recyclable cutlery from countries like India and China,” she explains, “Further, we also sell products made in Nepal such as an all-in-one bag that has about seven compartments, allo soap saver, make-up remover cotton pads, and soap dish.”
The price of Eco Sathi Nepal products ranges from Rs 150 to Rs 1,550. As per Karki, the company’s products have reached many places both inside and outside Nepal such as the UK, and the USA.
Karki explains she earned and is still earning a good customer base in the country. “We don’t believe in over-consumption. You buy something only when you need it. We post the products’ photos on our social media pages along with descriptions of their significance. Word of mouth has also helped our customer base grow.”
Similarly, regarding the consciousness of the eco-friendly lifestyle, Karki believes it is not a difficult task as older generations were already practising an eco-friendly lifestyle in the country. However, after plastic products came to use, they began using them due to convenience. “But, I also feel that youth are very conscious of eco-friendly lifestyles as this topic is much talked about,” she adds.
However, Karki recalls she has passed many hurdles since launching the business. Many of them are still challenging her. “I had a hard time managing my duty as a dentist and the owner of this company when I started off. But, I didn’t give up, visualising the changes one can make to environmental sustainability.”
To overcome that, she gave her morning and evening times to the company. “But, when this didn’t work, then I started doing part-time dentistry and side by side managing this company.” Further, she also hired five part-time staff members who are looking after accounts, technical parts, packaging, and whole management.
Another challenge that Eco Sathi is dealing with is that some of the imported products are a bit expensive as one has to pay high taxes even for eco-friendly products. It is quite challenging to make people understand why it costs a bit more, informs Karki.
“As I am not from a business and management background and I know nothing about record-keeping and managing accounts. It was a huge challenge,” she adds.
Furthermore, she says the challenge with the Nepali products is about difficulties in getting raw materials as some of them need to be imported. Due to that, it is hard to maintain the consistency of the products.
“To cope with this problem, what we did is to bring better products than those in the past,” shares Karki.
Coping with every challenge coming on the way, Eco Sathi Nepal is now in a very good status, Karki claims.
With that, Karki is now planning to go into production and aim at reaching out to more and more people and making them aware of the significance of the eco-friendly lifestyle. Along with that, “We look forward to increasing the access of Nepali people to the easy availability of eco-friendly products.”