CULTURAL AND FINANCIAL PROMOTION
“Five years ago if somebody had told me and my partner, Chris, that I would be starting a bag company, I’d have laughed it off.” Woody divulged as we sat at the mahogany oval table of The White Yak office, two stories high. When Woody and Chris came to Nepal (Joshua Woodward and Chris Woodall), enamoured by the beauty of the Himalayan Region and the lifestyle there, they decided they had to find a way to stay in Nepal. The idea of doing business that promoted the Himalayan products along with contributing towards the upliftment of the people in the region seemed like a better fit.
Four and a half years ago, the American duo set up the factory, named it “The White Yak” and has been selling fairly traded and ethically made bags since then.
TELL US HOW THE WHITE YAK STARTED OUT AND HOW IT HAS EVOLVED THROUGH THE YEARS?
Before coming to Nepal, I worked as a mountain guide back in the America. So when I moved here, I wanted to help people who are ethnically Tibetan since I did a lot of work at the Himalayan Region. I wanted to help the trekking industry here and I also noticed these beautiful pangden from different areas. These colourful aprons are a big part of Tibetan culture and I reckoned it would be a great way to combine them with leather bags and start a business. An appropriate way to bond with the culture alongside providing jobs as well as spreading ideas about the Tibetan Culture was our intention and here we are.
Starting a business in Nepal is quite tough for foreigners. There are a lot of rules and regulations to follow. We took almost a year figuring out and sorting all the legal work for the business. We had to decide what we wanted to do, what bags we need, what design to go for, how much are we going to produce and sell et cetera. As of now, we are producing bags for the new season. We are still doing a lot of homework and tweaking things here and there, only to make this whole trade better.
WHAT IS THE WHITE YAK’S VISION?
Our goal is to promote the people and the culture of the Himalayan areas. An appropriate way to bond with the culture alongside providing jobs as well as spreading ideas about the Tibetan Culture was our intention and here we are. There are ladies working for us who supply us pangdens, and we have people working mostly on lining and designing of the bag.
WHERE DOES THE PRODUCTION TAKE PLACE AND HOW IS IT DONE?
Our first line of bags was designed by one of our American friends who lived in Taiwan at the time. At present, we sit down and come up with ideas before designing the patterns ourselves. Then we take it to the production team where the first few prototypes are made.
We have three tailors; a young girl who does the liners, a guy who does the leather cutting and we also have another tailor who oversees everything. We have another person who does the finishing, i.e., checking for the scratches in the leather, polishing it, quality checks and such. Lastly, when the bags are ready, we sit down and do the final checking.
HOW DOES THE NEPALESE MARKET PERCEIVE THIS WHOLE OPERATION?
Sure enough, we provide jobs that are rare, but apart from that the best people to answer this question would be the market itself. The first year we sold just as many bags as we did abroad. We have around six places locally that sell our bags. I would say people really like our products. I believe they (customers) understand the ethical part as well. Initially, we spent a few days at the factory watching how they produce leather, if they take good care of their employees and all.
HOW HAVE YOU TACKLED ALL THE OBSTACLES TILL NOW?
We’re still learning how to overcome them one by one. However, the bond between me and my business partner is what keeps us going. We bring our wives into business conversations. The four of us sit together and bring whatever we can on the table. I walk around in New Road area and ask people for suggestions as well. My business partner’s wife is an accountant so she handles that part. So it’s the four of us who work together as a team and look for solutions.
LASTLY ANY FUTURE PLANS FOR THE WHITE YAK?
We are definitely working on new stuff right now. We are always looking for ways to expand the help we provide to people. We hand out filters in the villages when we go trekking and we also distribute toothbrushes. We may not be in a position to help rebuild a whole village but we do our best to assist in uplifting their lifestyle as well as our business.
As for future plans of The White Yak, we do have big things coming up. We are still mapping it out so we do not want to reveal it right now.
TEXT BY ABHIGYA SUBEDI | PHOTOS BY ROYAL RAJ MANANDHAR