This Nepali Woman Turned Her Grandmother’s Craft Of Knitting Socks Into A Brand That Supports And Empowers Elderly Artisans
If there’s anything I crave more than a bowl of hot tomato soup in this brutally cold season is a pair of handmade woollen socks made by my grandmother. One of my earliest memories of childhood is basking in the winter sun and watching my grandmother knitting finely ribbed sweaters and the cosiest socks for us, while she told childhood stories of hers. Those handcrafted woolly articles would be the most stylish clothing for me at the time, since she would incorporate all the colours and cute motifs in those designs that I would ask her to. And, I am not the only one who grew up with a wardrobe full of warm and super comfy handmade knitwear which was courtesy of the most loving person in my family.
Lorina Sthapit’s childhood memories are no different than mine. Born and brought up in the chilly weather of Nepal, Sthapit has had spent winters wearing knitted socks that her grandmother used to create for her and her cousins. Years later, she has taken her grandma’s craft to markets with an army of other elderly artisans. Her brand called Aji’s (grandmother in Nepali) sells a range of knitwear products including bright coloured socks, poncho, blankets and also jewellery and home décor artifacts, all handcrafted by very talented artisans like her grandmother.
Plus, these products aren’t just medium of survival for the artisans. The purpose is to weave their art, culture, stories and history into the yarn and share their legacy though each handcrafted piece. In an interview with AFP, Sthapit’s said, “Each product has a story and historical and cultural value. We want to keep their legacy and skills alive for the future. They grew up at a time when most things were handmade, not store-bought. So there is an amazing wealth of skills and experiences among people of that generation.”
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The idea to launch a brand of handmade knitwear came to Sthapit one day when she looked at the neatly stacked pile of hand-knitted socks made by her grandmother in her cupboard. She was inspired to share her grandmother’s craft and stories and founded the brand in 2018 with her sister Irina and husband Pursarth Tuladhar. She brought in elderly artisans on board, mostly female makers to empower and support them, given the unfair and skewed gender regime of Nepal. These women were married very young, struggled to get an education and run a family on their own, while keeping their art alive. Sthapit wanted to make these makers stand on their feet and make their stories reach the world.
The artisans and makers involved with the brand are mostly senior citizens with over 30 years of experience in the craft. “Our oldest maker is 86 years old! These items are more than just a product, they have the touch of love and carry unique stories of life and inspiration, a post reads on their Instagram. They often share pictures and life stories of their artisans who are all grandmothers and grandfathers on the social media account of the brand which makes it even special and heart-warming. They also conduct workshops for school children and NGOs.
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Aji’s has been incredibly helpful for the artisans to sustain themselves in the lockdown by engage in work that they enjoy and pays well too. Being isolated has not been easy for the retired lot and they have struggled with mental health issues, frustration, helplessness during this tough time. Knitting has served as an escape as well as a source of earning for them. A blog post of the brand titled ‘Lockdown And I’ sheds light on the plight of senior citizens. During this time, the sales of the brand dropped drastically but they changed their focus to invest in podcasts, blogs and YouTube videos to reach a larger base and keep the community engaged and busy.
It’s the makers’ undying love for knitting and the traditional techniques they use that make their products culturally aesthetic. Also, there are some very stylish pieces like a cowl and headscarf that I already have my eyes on. The brand has successfully garnered a loyal base of customers and reached international markets. Sthapit reveals, “My grandmother really enjoys being busy and even forgets her joint pains when knitting. It was as if this side of her was hidden and she has now found recognition and uncovered her bolder confident self,” she said.