Dhaka Updates: 2012: Antonia’s Visit

Dhaka Weaves is a very special non-profit company founded 20 years ago by visionary women to preserve traditional Nepali weaving and create a culture of self-reliance for Nepali women weavers, who lovingly and painstakingly sew each all-natural, artistic creation by hand.

Proceeds from the sales of Dhaka textiles go directly back to the Nepali women weavers, who are primarily from remote villages, often suffering abuse, disability, or poverty. Dhaka Weaves offers them a skilled trade, employment, and good working conditions, including childcare. In 2005, Dhaka Weaves built a Weaving Center outside Kathmandu on land it now owns, contributing to its sustainability. I was first introduced to Dhaka Weaves by a dear friend, Dr. Susanne Jalbert, an international business development expert, who has supported Dhaka Weaves since its inception. A decade ago, she hosted an intimate “Tewa Tea” fundraiser for Dhaka Weaves in her house, like a Tupperware party, and I was hooked. Hundreds of these Tewa Teas have taken place across the US and elsewhere, hosted by women supporting women.

I have purchased dozens of scarves, as well as tablecloths and placemats. I was so excited to see where it all began, and to meet the inspirational founder of Dhaka Weaves. Of course I bought more scarves and textiles—they are impossible to resist with their beautiful colors and stunning designs that bridge traditional and modern patterns. But most of all I listened to her stories. Stories of determination and adaptability. Stories of innovation. Stories of vision. Stories of how she has overcome obstacle after obstacle. It is hard to comprehend just how challenging it
is to run a legitimate business in a chronically unstable country like Nepal, fraught with political and economic upheaval. Every time she thinks she has stabilized her company and can grow it to the next level, the Government throws her a curve ball. For example, recently the labor law changed disallowing piecemeal compensation in favor of hourly compensation. Under the new system, her productivity has decreased markedly as the incentive has been eliminated. Now she cannot employ as many women, and she is forced to cut back and streamline her colors and patterns until she can find a new way to increase productivity or sales or both. Her determination remains, but she is tired. Dhaka Weaves has been a remarkable success, an inspiration for many similar projects in similar countries. But it is also a reminder that true long-term development cannot be taken for granted. I think sometimes we, in the industry, fixate on the early successes, because even these are rare, when what we need to do is be a steadfast partner over the long haul.

If anyone is interested in hosting a Tewa Tea or buying textiles to support Dhaka Weaves, just let me know. I can easily put you in the loop. You can also visit the website: dhakaweaves.org.

Antonia DeMeo