Where Local is King

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Where Local is King
 
Through The Local Project is how some of the most innovative Nepali artisans are showcasing their products.

Located in the premises of Evoke Cafe, in Jhamsikhel, The Local Project (TLP) is a tiny world of its own. “The Local Project is a hub that brings together a carefully curated and unique selection of products made in Nepal,” say Sachin Shrestha and Binam Shakya, founders of The Local Project.

The duo soft-launched TLP in April last year during one of Evoke Cafe’s events called Fashion Revolution. At the time, TLP only showcased seven brands, and the store was mostly empty. “It was a way for us to test the feasibility of the store and make the required adjustments before we started focusing on marketing. We continuously took feedback from our initial customers, friends and family, and made changes accordingly,” says Shakya.

After a three-month provisional phase, The Local Project made its big launch on July 8, by which time the store had gone from showcasing only seven brands to showcasing more than 20.

 

How it started

The founders had no pre-existing roadmap for The Local Project. Shakya had just returned from the US, and was looking for work here; Shrestha, who was previously managing a local manufacturing and exporting firm, was looking to start something of his own. The two friends came together and after multiple brainstorming sessions (and suggestions from friends and family) they evolved their 12-year-long friendship into a business partnership.

Coming up with a name for their business took some time. They wanted to go with something Nepali or Newari, but at the time Nepali-named businesses were all too common, so they were afraid they would get lost in the crowd. In the end, they went with the name The Local Project—simple and to the point, it was a name that captured the essence of the business.

TLP doesn’t want to be just another store in Kathmandu. They want to carefully add to the goodwill they have created for themselves. Which is why, they are rather selective when it comes to the kind of brands they display at the store. To be a part of TLP,  products have to be made in Nepal, and be of the finest quality. Shrestha’s background in local manufacturing and exporting has been instrumental in helping TLP determine the quality of the products the store works with.

 The business was entirely self-funded since there wasn’t a huge upfront cost, other than fixtures for the store and the rent. The founders had a clear vision for what they wanted the store to look like, so they didn’t feel the need to approach an architect or a designer, which saved them money. The only big expense that the duo really had to incur was the big launch in July. “Even though we had to spend quite a bit on the launch, it was money well spent. We met a lot of potential customers at the launch, and the launch also helped us garner recognition in the startup community.”

 

Perfect partnerships

For a startup, a brick-and-mortar presence requires a huge amount of upfront investment, which most retail startups don’t have. Maintaining an online presence presents fewer barriers to entry, but it also limits the reach of the retail startup. Both of these approaches have their own advantages and disadvantages, and The Local Project has created a hub that amplifies the advantages and mitigates the disadvantages.

 

At TLP, the hub and the brands that it showcases benefit from each other. With commission from sales, TLP has been able to sustain itself these past months without much struggle. And through TLP, the brands have been able to build meaningful relationships with customers—something that’s not accounted for when companies only have an online presence. And the brands often tell TLP how they no longer have to go the extra mile to assure customers of the legitimacy and quality of their products.

 

Brands on display

The brands displayed at TLP are some of the most well-known Nepali-made startup brands (like Mheecha, Yatri Supply, MetalWood, Allare, etc). The first brand TLP approached was Yatri Supply, back in April 2017. It wasn’t difficult for the founders to get Yatri onboard, as they were well-acquainted with Yatri’s founder, who understood what TLP was trying to do. Following the soft launch in April, TLP hasn’t had to do much marketing in the retail startup community, as most brands have been approaching TLP, instead of things being the other way round. Some brands like Arniko and Dinadi have even come through referrals, which shows the faith the retail startup community has in TLP.

 

The Local Mini Market

The 20 brands that TLP is working with is only the start: 18 more are on their wait list. The shelves at the store are completely filled, but Shakya and Shrestha know that they can do more. Which is why, every alternate Saturday, they hold a bi-monthly market called The Local Mini Market. In the market, they accommodate brands they have not been able to showcase in their store. “With the live music and colourful stalls, it’s almost like we are celebrating a festival here,” says Shakya.

 

In the pipeline

The duo hope to open a few branches around the Valley so that TLP can accommodate more Nepali labels. They’ve also started prototyping products of their own and hope to launch a label soon. Ultimately, TLP hopes to one day become the one-stop store for Nepal’s leading handicraft makers and artisans. 

First Published in M&S VMAG

 

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Guest Tuesday, 25 September 2018