Pragya Chitrakar was always fascinated by the works of her parents. Her mother used to stitch clothes whereas her father was into Paubha paintings, the traditional family occupation of the clan. Clothes and designs always fascinated a young Chitrakar since early childhood.
By the teenage, she had already begun dreaming of becoming an entrepreneur. But, it took her many years to combine her fascination with artistic work and the entrepreneurial dream. Simrik Design Studio, a fashion design studio that offers minimalistic clothing and a variety of lifestyle products including unique handmade candles, is a result of that combination.
Fascination to entrepreneurship
By the time Chitrakar completed her 10th grade, she was certain that she wanted to get into the fashion industry. Therefore, she joined A-Level as well as a diploma course in fashion immediately after her 10th grade.
Completing her A-Level, she joined Namuna College of Fashion Technology to pursue a bachelor’s in fashion. “There, I got a chance to intern at a company, where I got real exposure to lifestyle products. While working there, I got to know that Nepali products can be so exclusive,” says Chitrakar.
She then went to Bangalore of India to pursue her master’s degree. “After returning from India, I worked with companies that export Nepali products including pashmina. That broadened my exposure and understanding of fashion and design,” shares Chitrakar.
Eventually, in 2015, she launched her own Simrik Design Studio using the basement of her house. She started her studio investing around Rs 300,000 with two staff. Four years later, she moved the studio to Jwagal.
“As my father makes Paubha paintings, I incorporate that in my design using subtle and neutral colours, organic Nepali fabric (hemp, cotton and linen), hand embroidery. I follow a minimalistic approach in the style and visual display of every outfit”’ Chitrakar says about the essence of her brand.
During the initial days, Chitrakar was only into making clothes. She then noticed that a lot of textile waste is being generated in the process and wondered how she could utilise them.
“Initially, we threw all those scrap fabrics, but later, we started giving them to collectors. At the same time, a few concept stores were starting in and around Jhamsikhel,” she opens up, “Then, I thought of utilising such scrap fabrics and making small products like pouches, hand-embroidered cushion covers, table runners, tote bags and others.”
Back then, she was new to the business; she says she did not understand the market enough. Therefore, there were many challenges. “Sometimes, the products we (entrepreneurs/designers) like is not liked by customers probably because we are ahead of our time as we are usually influenced by foreign concepts, “ she continues, “I also struggled with costing, and my design being copied without proper accreditation by big manufacturing companies.”
Nonetheless, Chitrakar says she kept her studio steadily growing. In the process, she says she kept on brainstorming about other possible products and adding different products including jewellery.
Seeing opportunity in crisis
In the meantime, the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world in early 2020, but some entrepreneurs turned it into an opportunity. Chitrakar was one of them.
“The lockdown provided me with an opportunity to explore different product ideas. I was addicted to my work, and I couldn’t stay idle,” she recalls, “I always had a scented candle lit in my room. Therefore, I tried making scented candles myself to kill my time. I used the silicone cupcake mould and tried making one candle. It came out nice.”
Side by side, she also searched candle manufacturers in Nepal as she sensed the market potential of scented candles. Luckily, she found one such manufacturer, talked with it and later collaborated for production.
Initially, Chitrakar says they used single flavouring in candles from among vanilla, lavender, rose and many others. But after some trials and errors, Simrik Design Studio produced scented candles in vanilla, lavender, rose and other mixed flavours. It also began making botanical candles using real dried flowers’ petals and leaves.
Scaling a level up, she along with the manufacturer also experimented a lot with jars and glass.
The price of these candles ranges between Rs 200 and Rs 800. She says. “There are people who find these candles expensive. There are also people who buy them happily. We have a niche market; there are very few who understand herbs and scent and their worth.”
Moreover, the challenges with the production of the candles are that the price of wax fluctuates a lot and it directly affects the price of candles, according to Chitrakar.
Hoping higher amid challenges
There are different types of wax used to produce candles. The most common is paraffin wax and is cheap, but many think it is not healthy enough. Soy wax is comparatively very good for health as it is all organic. However, it is not readily available in Nepal and also costs double the amount of paraffin wax.
“Moreover, we are dependent on import even for the smallest things like cotton and wooden wicks, bases, and colours. Therefore, sourcing materials for production becomes so tough.”
As per Chitrakar, many people in Nepal are colour-sensitive. It also may be due to the cultural aspects. Hence, people in Nepal usually do not understand subtle colours or like one.
Also, after the lockdown, the buying pattern of customers has changed a lot. People have lost their job, have become conscious of sustainability, and the gap between the haves and have-nots has aggravated.
“This has also affected our consumer base. Therefore, we are focusing on affordable, yet sustainable Nepali products. People also don’t understand the concept of designing thus hesitate to pay for it,” she expresses.
Yet, gradually overcoming these hurdles, Chitrakar says, “We haven’t reached the maturity stage as it is taking time for brand recognition. Still, I wish to expand my studio further and introduce more luxury items.”