In Kathmandu, wearing Kathmandu gear and visiting a Kathmandu factory, it really was a Kathmandu inception of sorts. After Martina had been working at Kathmandu in Melbourne for the last 3 and a bit years, we were able to liaise with Tsering Sherpa, VP of Retail Operations and Business Development at Sherpa Adventure gear for an opportunity to put a face to the wonderfully warm and stylish Khusi Beanie. Both Kathmandu and Sherpa Adventure gear are focused on sustainability and a connection to the products they sell, with Sherpa and Kathmandu also both donating profits to numerous charities/organisations. Sherpa also has an NZ connection, with founder and CEO Tashi Sherpa’s uncle being a Sherpa on Sir Edmund Hillary’s expedition of Everest in 1953.
We were greeted by Tsering at their HQ near the popular tourist area of Thamel and got formally introduced. Once acquainted, we hopped in a van to make our way through the energetic streets to the historic Kathmandu suburb of Bhaktapur and wandered through the old brick streets before coming to the factory. We were warmly welcomed into the factory with smiles and laughs from everyone and begun to learn the story behind the collective and the process from beginning to end. The women behind the beanies are a local group, and the atmosphere really is more like a social event than work. It’s a chance for them to get together and share stories while they participate in a hobby, all while supporting themselves, their families and their communities. The flexible working arrangements mean they can work from home if a family member is sick or if they would like to earn a little extra – something of a rarity in Nepal – and if the smiles and laughter are anything to go by, they enjoy their work.
The wool itself is sourced from New Zealand, and a vital ingredient in the warmth and comfort of the hat, before being spun, and then dyed. The real magic begins as the knitters get into to their zone, where they can knit up to 5 hats a day! For anyone who has attempted to wield knitting needles before, that’s quite a feat. It’s impressive to watch the skill as we saw a hat almost from start to finish just during our visit, using either traditional knitting needles, or crocheting depending on the style. The next step is the signature of the Khusi, the fleece inner that makes it so ‘gemütlich’ as the Germans say, in other words, super cosy. The finishing touch after adding the pom to the top is to stitch on the Kathmandu logo, and there you have, nice new, handmade beanie, ready to be shipped.
As we entered the packing room and got shown the ready to ship product, we noticed the label saying who had knitted each hat. In an NZ/Australian store, when we see these labels it can be easy to be skeptical that it’s just a stock image. Martina noticed the same label that she got on her Khusi Beanie, knitted by Rita. As fate would have it, Rita was downstairs knitting away, and Martina was able to meet the woman who had handmade her very own beanie! Kathmandu has a very strong stance on tractability, being one of the most traceable supply chains in the world, but shaking hands with the person who made your garment is next level. Hilarity then ensued as Martina was invited to sit down with the ladies and show her wares with the needles in hand. Much to the amusement of all those present, her skills weren’t quite up to grade in either the knitting or crochet, but with a professional helping hand she was able to save face. So if you purchase a beanie, it may very well be hand knitted in some part by Martina (and we apologise for that).
After being treated to some delectable traditional Bhaktapur yogurt and being gifted a mini beanie key chain we headed back to browse the equally excellent Sherpa Adventure gear at their flagship Nepali store.
Meeting the knitting ladies, and seeing the process from start to finish we fell even more in love with our fluffy head-warmers.
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