Tekka: Changing Lives One Stitch A Time

Shailaja Kayastha Kasaju

FOUNDER, TEKKA

Shailaja Kayastha Kasaju, Founder of Tekka, goes back in time when talking about how she conceptualised her business. She was doing voluntary work in Sindhupalchowk when the big earthquake struck the nation in 2015. She recalls that a majority of houses had collapsed and people had to take shelter in tents set up on agricultural fields around her. Kasaju immediately got involved in relief work for the local community. But she soon realised that the relief measures were just immediate responses to the disaster and that a long-term strategy was required to help the people regain their livelihood.

Working with an NGO then, Kasaju held a community meeting with the local women and had extensive discussions on what they felt would help them raise their living standard and life in general. “Everybody spoke on the same lines: they all wanted to be empowered and able to earn a living,” she recalls.

Understanding the desire of the local women to be financially independent, Kasaju brought some crochet dolls to the village and taught them to make them. The reason she chose crochet was that it was affordable and the women embraced the training with enthusiasm. “Not only did crocheting help them earn money but the women also found a safe space where they could come together, talk to each other while finding solutions to common problems,” she says.

Working with and for the community started in 2008 for Kasaju. She especially recalls the Vagina Monologue being her first fundraiser where they featured victims of human trafficking. “The women shared the pain and stories of how they were shunned by society after being rescued and brought back home, many eventually returning to sex work.” The fundraiser was to help them find an alternative income source to end the trend of them going back to illegal sex work. This, she says, was a ‘turning point’ for her also as it made her realise the impact of social movements on the lives of people, and that she could change lives if she kept on doing what she was doing.

“In every challenge there is an opportunity and for me, the inspiration was to start Tekka and give it continuity for all these years,” Kasaju states. Tekka uses local raw materials to make their products. For instance, they use locally produced hemp to make bags, diaries, socks and purses and pashmina is used to manufacture sweaters, caps and slippers. “We also use banana fibre to make table mats and coasters and have been making handmade toys and eco-sanitary pads,” she elaborates.

Though Kasaju has earned praise for her work through Tekka, it was not smooth sailing in the initial days. She had to overcome many obstacles. “One of the major problems in starting a business is finance or the lack of it and for women it is even more difficult to obtain funds,” she says.

In all the years of doing business, Kasaju also rues the lack of support for local products among the general populace. “It is time we try to promote locally produced goods if we really want to substitute imports which is the main cause of the huge trade deficit that the country is facing,” she points out.

While talking about her business success, she says sharing stories with her customers has been a powerful business strategy tool.

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