Sachin Shrestha: The Local Project Nepal || Sangai Community

We spoke to our friend over at The Local Project Nepal, Sachin Shrestha. They were the first store to stock Né Nepal products back in 2018, so it only made sense that we kick off our Sangai Community Series with them (more about Sangai.)

We were so excited when the opportunity to share a retail space with them came up in 2020, building this space with them was truly a milestone for us! That's the 3rd store for them in Nepal. It's been incredible to see their growth and see them be a launchpad for so many brands from around Nepal. 

 
He has been an inspiration to many so we sat down with Sachin over coffee to ask him a bit more about his journey.
Can you please give us a brief description about yourself and your business? How did this idea come to life?
I have engaged in promoting and supporting locally made products even, before I started The Local Project Nepal with his partner Binam Shakya. At first when we started the shop, it was just a basic idea of how we want to provide a platform for young entrepreneurs and a few small business. But slowly the idea of supporting sustainability/natural products and brands started growing in us, and also because of our surrounding which consisted of like-minded people who were following similar practices.
So when you say it started before TLP? What were you working on? 
It started during college years, I worked for a company which produced project based handicraft products. While working with them, I got to experience this certain shift in the production, the 42 year old company slowly started switching into sustainable production. And that’s how I learned about this subject and through which I received many opportunities to learn and meet different people from different parts of supply chain
How was the experience?
I was doing most of the field work, one of the major challenge I faced during that shift was trying to switch people’s mindset. People who have been doing the same thing for most of their life, practicing and perfecting their craft were asked to switch to more sustainable and ethical practices. They were quite hesitant and not up for change. I was studying business and majoring in banking and insurance. So, it was a completely different segment from what I was interested in. And in the long run, these experiences started growing on me. That same year, my business partner was also coming back from Australia. While they were job hunting, one thing led to another and I resigned on February 2017 and April 2017 we soft launched The Local Project Nepal. Woohoo.
What’s so unique about your business?

When we first started out in 2017, we were quite unique because there were not so many platforms or concept stores that catered towards locally made products in different dimensions.
What was your mission at the start of your company and has it evolved ever since?

Our ultimate mission is to be a hub for young entrepreneurs and individual brands which don't have a physical store to showcase their products/brand. A platform that could tell their stories and take care of their sales and promotions. So, the small businesses and individual brands could focus more on creating quality products.
Yes, over the past year, we have evolved from having physical stores to a web shop. We are trying to grow as an e-commerce platform. We are updating our website and social media platforms frequently and trying to be more responsive. Other than that, we also host events and organize markets and over the last few years we have also been interested in collaborations with like-minded individuals and brands that follow similar values to us.
What services or products do you offer? Who are your potential customers?

The Local Project Nepal is a collective space where you can find more than 30+ brands and products categorised from apparel, accessories, home decor, kitchenware, books, food, wellness products and many more.

Our potential customers are both locals and foreigners. Before the pandemic our customer base was around 60% foreigners and 40 % locals but after that it’s quite opposite now 60% of our customers are locals and the remaining 40% are foreigners.
What are your company goals?

Our company’s major goal is to support and contribute towards growing the local economy. Since our country is an import-based country, I believe that it's quite crucial that people support the local market and producers. So that the money doesn’t go out.
Why did you choose the craft industry? 

Most of the local crowd was not aware about the quality products made in Nepal as majority of the production is being exported to developed countries.
Hence, we also came to realize that there’s not many platforms to showcase the individual and small businesses in the market and the local public a misconception that locally made products are too colourful, hipster or are not made well.
 
So, we saw that there’s a gap in the market and we wanted to fill the gap by creating a proper marketplace for aspiring young and small businesses. Through our initiative, we wanted to motivate and provide a platform and we also wanted to change local crowds narrative by familiarising them with the variety of quality products that are being domestically produced in Nepal.
My father also ran a garment manufacturing business which exposed me to the manufacturing process from an early age, which eventually influenced my decision to start a company in this industry.
How do you advertise your business? Do you use any professional services?

We promote our business mostly on social media platforms like: Instagram and Facebook to advertise our business. Instagram is more responsive in comparison to Facebook.
Yes, we do use professional services which have outsourced our marketing. We have a team behind it, we have a professional photographer, content writer, editor who looks after our advertisements and promotional activities.
What are the challenges you had to overcome in the early years of your business?

During our early years and even today, one of the main challenges that we face would be to make people understand the concept of our business and our product prices.
Since all the brands and products showcased in our store are locally made in Nepal. Several local visitors/customers would have this misconception that since it’s domestically produced and is not imported from other countries, it should be cheaper. They would usually compare our prices with the outer market.

So, we had to enlighten them about why this product costs the amount it costs. We started by providing a simple example like if you go to any normal store, most probably the storekeeper wouldn't know what kind of raw material they’ve used, where it came from and who made your product.
But with every brand we work with, it has its own story, which elaborates on who is making your products, what kind of ethical raw materials are being used, are the workers receiving liveable wage or not, considering all these ethical steps eventually costs more.
And how has the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic impacted your business, how are you dealing with it?

It's been rough! As we had to pay our rents, we had to give out salaries, and there were no incoming sales, it was hard for us.
Even after the lockdown was lifted, we were having a difficult time . So, we tried our best to give virtual tours on our social media platforms on a weekly basis, where we talked and marketed our products. By doing so, we tried making our shopping experience contactless. We focused on making interactive videos where one would explain the product and provide information on how to use them which got better response in comparison to the Instagram post with the product pictures and captions.
We also started focusing more on building our e-commerce website. There was also an increase in demand for home delivery services. So, we eventually invested in this service by outsourcing it and now it’s been handled by a professional team.
How would you describe your company's workplace culture?

It's very casual and understanding as most of our employees are younger than us. We try to create a relaxed environment as an employer and provide proper training and guidance from their initial stage.
How would you describe your company’s success so far?

First year was such a huge success, and we were getting recognised. During that time frame, we got a lot of media attention, we were invited to do many interviews for magazines, newspapers, blogs and were receiving great responses.
Word-of-mouth circulating was also very positive between both locals and expats, so we got to grow a very diverse customer base. Overall, it was quite an overwhelming experience to begin with for both me and my business partner.
In the last few years, we even got several offers to expand and extend our branches but most of them were put on halt due to the pandemic.
Regardless, we are quite content and happy with the company’s success so far because we were able to overcome this one and half year of pandemic. 
What have you enjoyed most about starting your own company?

Running your own business gives you a lot of flexibility, you can choose your desired hours to work, you can take breaks and you can preferably choose to work from home.
Having your own firm, also means that the career growth is in your own hands. For example, while you are working for another firm as an employee, your career growth depends on your performance and how well the business is doing and there are many other external factors that affect your growth. But when you have your own business, your business is a reflection of you. If you are lazy with it, the slower it goes and as you are more creative and efficient with it, you procure more results.
Knowing what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently when you were first starting out?

Yes, there are few things we would’ve done differently. Since it was mine and Binam's very first venture together, we didn’t have any knowledge except what learnt from our past work experiences. If we could, we would’ve changed our business model from the beginning, as there are few small glitches that we are acknowledging over time and slowly working towards changing it. We believe we could’ve done better, if we had received proper guidance about a few major things then.
Any exciting projects you are working on now or looking forward to?
We aspire to expand more by featuring our own product line. We have started our own brand under the name (TLP Nepal) by taking the initials from the local project and we have left Nepal as it is. Through TLP Nepal, we are excited to explore our personal passion and partake in the manufacturing process.
For now, we have started with some kitchenware, which consists of wooden products which are available for purchase in store and on your e-commerce platform. Other than that, we are also creating naturally dyed single color cotton bed sheets.
One of the other major projects we are thrilled about is being the part of a long term market which happens every Saturday at Le Sherpa premises. We feel quite lucky and privileged that we get to be a part of Le Sherpa and having a store here and also getting the opportunity to host the market focusing towards the art and crafts section. We have plans to grow the market in a very unique way and create an experience for the visitors, where they can engage themselves in craft activities. So, you can come by and get to learn and create your own thing in one or two sessions or even in maybe one or two hours. Crocheting, painting and pottery are some of the crafts we are trying to integrate in the market. Besides that, we will also be promoting a few artists, photographers and local brands.
What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to become an entrepreneur?
If you are passionate about something just do it, don’t think too much, because when you overanalyse you get lost within your own thoughts.

He shares that where we make mistakes mostly  is when we think too much, to make things perfect but we have to realise that nothing is perfect at all times and mistakes should be accepted. When we seek perfection we end up procrastinating, so it’s important to take the initial step because if we keep on putting things on hold for a long time, we don’t end up doing it.
Any companies that you are interested to work with and want to work with?
 Lahar Srijana a NGO based in Nawalparasi, they make woven baskets, furniture and decor items. I personally visited them recently, where he got to meet the community and learn about how they work and function.
And we still haven’t directly worked with any Nawalparasi group so we are looking forward to exploring and incorporating more of these indigenous crafts by collaborating with Terai based projects.
So nowadays there are many similar businesses who are running as a concept store and are providing a platform to promote and sell domestically produced products. How do you think they are doing and any thoughts on that?

All of them are doing very well and there is some kind of mutual understanding we share and take inspiration from each other.
There has been such a drastic change in the market over the last five years and the best thing is that the market is growing and there’s a platform for even smaller businesses. If this kind of culture keeps on growing, it will give more opportunities and encouragement to individuals who want to start something new. 
Their flag ship store is inside Evoke Cafe premises in Jhamsikhel and the collaborative store that they share with us is right next to it! Come say hi!
Another location: Inside Le Sherpa, Lazimpat
You can also visit their webshop at: