With the website going live just a month ago, Urban Dhago‘s collection of knitwear comprising of shawls, scarves, ponchos and accessories is now available for all to shop. The launch which came just ahead of the festive and the winter season is timely for the brand. The story of Urban Dhago is one which many Nepalis living abroad may identify with. The desire to follow a passion and bring to the UK a piece of Nepal led to the creation of Urban Dhago, a company which honours the rich heritage and traditional methods of weaving whilst placing an emphasis on creating opportunities within local communities.
‘Follow your passion’ may be a piece of advice that’s shared effortlessly but in this interview with the company founder Ekta, I learn about her strict work ethic that is helping her juggle between working in Technology in London and giving time that Urban Dhago requires to take it forward. Having a confirmed spot at UK’s biggest fashion trade show in February, Urban Dhago has a year to look forward to. The brands focus on quality, service and it’s employees whilst ensuring the product range is affordable for shoppers is admirable.
As part of Asthma UK’s #Scarfie campaign urging people to wrap up warm and cover their mouth and nose this winter season to lessen the chance of suffering from asthma, Urban Dhago have partnered with the charity and will donate 10% of the proceeds from scarf sales through December and January.
TALKING ‘URBAN DHAGO’ WITH EKTA
LEX: In the Founder’s Story page on UrbanDhago.com, you’ve mentioned about being drawn towards your grandmother who used to knit scarves when you were young and growing up in Hong Kong. After that, I understand that life got in the way but when exactly did you feel confident enough to take your interest in fashion and Nepal further by establishing Urban Dhago?
EKTA: I would say about 2 and a half years ago. Having started my role as a Product manager, I soon realised how much I loved being part of a product life cycle i.e. from identifying the gaps in the market to designing and delivering the end product to the customer. I always wondered if I could apply the same principle outside work. A lingering thought remained in my mind and one day I asked myself – ‘What makes your heart sing?’ Home (Nepal) was the first thing that came to my mind. How could I start something that linked me back to my homeland? How do I relive the memories of me sitting with my Grandmother to knit scarves? Luckily for me, I found my answer in my wardrobe. I have always only worn scarves I have knitted myself or purchased from Nepal. Not only do they feel luxurious, it can’t get any more authentic. I always got asked by colleagues, friends sometimes even strangers from the street where I got my scarves from. This really gave me the idea to start my own knitwear line. But I had one problem. I didn’t understand a lot about the fashion world, in fact I had no idea. I don’t have a degree in fashion nor do I have anyone in the family who works in the fashion industry. But what I do have is the passion! Passion to succeed, passion to find happiness and satisfaction in what I do. Most people only look at the finished product hanging in the shops. They don’t see or understand what goes on behind all of that. So I started doing my own research, subscribing to various fashion articles, attending events, talking to industry leads and reading lots of books & magazines on fashion, trends and consumer behaviours. I also squeezed in trips to Nepal to meet up with different manufacturers. Visited different sites to understand the process that goes behind. What started as a personal journey to understand the industry, what I discovered was eye opening. I realised we have so much talent in Nepal. The talent that has been there for generations and generations which is constantly being tapped by the biggest fashion retailers in the world and yet we are so naive when it comes to finding our own potential. Once I started to understand the craftsmanship and how dedicated these people were to making it, it gave me more motivation than ever to do something. This led me to pursue my dream.
LEX: With your professional background being in media and technology, how much research did you undertake to study the different materials available in Nepal and the process of setting up a business and bringing the products to the UK?
EKTA: I think I have covered this above but as a product manager, you are responsible for coming up with the vision of your product. Identifying the gaps in the market and understanding customers requirements. Applying this to Urban Dhago, I realised there was a huge gap in the market (London) for something traditional yet urban. A thing as simple as our traditional ‘oodni’ which is really only worn by bajais/ ammas, older women in Nepal, could be given a modern relevance to the fashion world. Urban Dhago aims to bridge that gap while representing Nepal and its local artisans. Through my research I also found out that traditional luxury brands inflate their prices extortionately. At Urban Dhago we sell our products for a fraction of what comparable brands would charge aiming to close that gap between High end and High street bands. We offer high quality, luxurious products at high street prices. I have been very fortunate to find a supplier to work with who shares the same vision as I do. I have spent a good amount of time with them understanding the whole process including different materials, challenges, the audiences etc.
LEX: Where in Nepal is the Urban Dhago factory located?
EKTA: Harisiddhi, Nepal – opposite to where my parents live!
LEX: With a range of products on offer, what is your personal pick for the winter season in London?
EKTA: My favourite is a cashmere scarf. It is soft, light yet keeps you super warm. Each strand screams out luxury but not ostentatious. Timeless appeal and elegance, perfect for any occasion. I have enjoyed being part of the design process for every single one of them. My favourite part is picking colours. If you haven’t noticed already, Urban Dhago products are really colourful.It’s all about colours! Don’t you think life without colours would be so dull and boring? (Although I do happen to know a couple of people who would prefer living in a black & white, gray universe, Ha! Each to their own.)
Cashmere being my favourite, I like all our products. Each have their own uniqueness, celebrating the deeply ingrained cultural relationship between humans, animals and land.
LEX: Would your personal pick differ for a winter in Kathmandu?
EKTA: The beauty of cashmere is that it can be worn anywhere, anytime. Both functional and fashionable at the same time.
LEX: With UrbanDhago.com now live and ready for shoppers, what are other avenues that you plan to use to take your products to its customers?
EKTA: I’m excited to let you know that we have recently secured a spot in UK’s biggest fashion trade show in London (Feb 2018) where thousands of buyers from top retailers such as Harrods, Selfridges, Liberty, ASOS etc to name a few as well as independent boutiques will be attending to source their products from new emerging fashion brands. I’m confident this will open doors and bring lots of opportunities for Urban Dhago, not just through potential sales but also networking with some of the top leaders in the industry. The other avenues we are looking at is social media. According to a recent consumer studies, 81 percent of people are influenced by friends’ posts and 85 percent of people are influenced by celebrity endorsements when making a buying decision. As Eva Chen, Instagram’s head of fashion partnerships, rightly said, “A picture is worth a thousand words, and now a picture can speak to millions of people.”
LEX: How are you juggling the responsibility between your London job and managing Urban Dhago?
EKTA: Starting a new project/business is always challenging, be it deadlines, difficult stakeholders, budget etc. (Believe me, I have being doing this all my work life as part of my occupation and it doesn’t get any easier). Having to juggle Urban Dhago with an already existing full-time work is even more challenging. I have set myself a routine, I spend a minimum of an hour every day on Urban Dhago. I get home from work (around 7pm ish) and I do as much as I can then. I also dedicate most of my weekends to Urban Dhago. I must admit, in this process, I have missed out on my social life, but I’m incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by my family and friends who understand and support me. Urban Dhago wouldn’t be where it is now without their unconditional support especially from my husband and my mum.
LEX: Do you have any piece of advice for Nepalis in the UK who aspire to start something like you?
EKTA: My advice is for everyone who is ‘sitting on that fence’ as I once did. You’ve got to figure out what it is you love- Find that passion. Passion plays a critical role in entrepreneur’s success. Ask yourself what I asked myself – what makes your heart sing? What fires you up when you wake up in the morning? And when you have figured it out, take the plunge. Have the courage to do it. Like Oprah once said, ‘I believe that the only courage anybody ever needs is the courage to follow your own dreams’.
LEX: Finally, who would you love to see wrapped up in a Urban Dhago scarf?
EKTA: Jessica Pearson (Gina Torres), a character from Suits. She is a powerhouse, a strong, ambitious, confident woman. She’s an inspiring character with a sizzling fashion sense! No character is as impeccably styled as her. The one time she wore a cashmere poncho I almost fell off my sofa. Ha ha
The other person would be Selena Gomez. Personally, I’m a big fan of what she’s achieved so far. She’s built long-term partnerships with major global fashion brands- aiming to connect with communities of young people influencers like her have attracted on social media platforms. She’s connected with millions of people with the kind of authenticity and vulnerability which makes her one of the biggest digital influencer in this generation.