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Be faithful to your own taste,
because nothing you really like
is ever out of style
- Billy Balwin -
Meet Meena Gurung, founder of Bora Studio, which she started in 2017. Bora Studio is a slow fashion, environmentally responsible clothing brand in Nepal. Meena uses natural fabrics and dyes for the making of both women's' and men's clothing.
Her idea is to make products that have high utility value and produce this clothing with minimum environmental harm.
Meena uses fabrics from Nepal, like cotton, hemp, bamboo, and silk.
"We can make use of what we have here in Nepal, take our responsibility for the environment and still produce high-quality products," Meena says. For the dyeing and printing of the fabric, she uses different ingredients, like eucalyptus, both the pit and skin of avocados, and many other ingredients to extract color to dye the clothing.
I met Meena in 2018 for the first time, in her studio, then in a different area of Kathmandu. I remember searching for her while getting lost in this quieter part of Kathmandu. I didn't have her exact address, but was determined to find her, and hear more about the story behind her clothing brand. I had just found out about Bora Studio a few days before leaving Nepal, after my extended stay in 2018. It wasn't meant to happen that year. Still, I was happy we got to meet that day, hearing her story and assuring each other to meet again next year to discuss working together and selling products from Bora Studio through MUNIMUNI.
We met several times during my next visit to Nepal, and I spent a day with her to watch the process of dyeing and eco-printing one of the silk scarves.
It's a time-consuming process, but amazing to watch! Even though Meena has colored many different scarves and fabric, still every time the result of the print is a surprise. Every scarf and kimono is different, no print is the same, no color is the same.
Eco Printing is a form of natural dyeing where the colors from plant material are transferred to paper or fabric via steaming or boiling. It is an ancient technique that people have been using for many years and over many generations.
Meena came to the scene of eco-printing a bit late, as she says. "I fell in love with the process and how you can connect with mother nature and the earth more. You are so surprised, you put one leaf, and then the color comes out differently, and you pick another leaf, and it comes out differently again. Every time I use the eco-printing technique, the result is a surprise. I love experimenting because whenever I'm doing this, I get new prints, new color tones, and I'm learning a lot during this process as well.
The leaves I use are eucalyptus, blackberry leaves, roses, and rose leaves, maple leaves, and also barks give really lovely colors. I have heard Maple leaves are really great for eco-printing, but they don't grow in Nepal. If you ever find them, please bring them to me in Nepal! Besides this, I also use vegetable dyes like avocados and onion.
I try to find the local vendors, rather than going to a big company, where they manufacture the textiles. I go to small local shops, small weavers who produce in a very limited quantity. I buy the material directly off of them, and if I want to order, then I order a small quantity from them.
I'm against mass production and fast fashion. The process is slow. I get my fabrics from local vendors who make in very small badges, and they are not very much profit-oriented. The local vendors have been in the business for 40-50 years, and they just want to sustain the business rather than just making money out of it. Supporting local people.
I'm contributing to the economy of my own country as well in a small way.
For the production, I make the sample piece myself, I cut, sow it myself, and then when it is finalized, I take custom orders. Then I give it to local tailors, around my house or Kathmandu, and they work, for example, 10 pieces per person. I don't bargain and pay them a fair price.
I don't want to own a factory, that would be against my ethics. I'm against fast fashion. I really follow slow-fashion. Growing everybody together, it is more sustainable in the economy as well.
Sustainable fashion is so important, as we all know global warming is real, earth temperature is rising so much. Natural disasters are happening all over the world. We need to address this and be a responsible citizen of the world, not just the country. Try to embrace the smallest acts of sustainability in your individual lives. For example, switching off the lights when not in use, try not to use plastic bags and use reusable tote bags, or get bamboo or steel straws. A big problem is the fashion industry, which is the second biggest polluter in the world in terms of global warming. Many clothes are manufactured in a very fast manner. In one year, brands have six or seven collections launching. They are produced in such a massive process, and they are not concerned about how it will affect the environment. They keep piling up. You buy the product, you wear it, and you throw it away. For that fabric to decompose, it takes 20, 30 years, up to even 100 years to decompose. It is pretty bad for the environment. We can't keep doing it; otherwise, in the near future, nothing will be left for our children or future generation.
For our future and to better ourselves, we need to apply sustainability to our individual lives, even though it might not be big, but start with the small changes and slowly get used to it, and you will be more accepting toward it.
As a designer, I had the same problem when I started with fashion. It was more about making very fashionable, on-trend, designer clothes, coming up with new ideas, rather than spending so much time in creativity.
I chose to invest my energy and time into sustainable fashion because I feel it is the future of our coming generation, and it is so essential to follow sustainability at this point for everybody.
It is time to stop ignoring it, realizing it and accept the fact that it is affecting and we need to change in the way we eat, the way we dress, the way we choose our brands and companies. Try to think about how it's made, where it's from, from where it came. The people who work for the company, the brands, what do they look like? How all the manufacturing processes take place. You just go to a store and buy a beautiful dress, and you show it off to your friends... its time to think about how it's made and how it has affected the people around it, the people who made these clothes. We have to recognize, accept, and address sustainability and how important it is.
"To my experience, ambitious women are not accepted that much in Nepal. Although we are living in the 21st century, Nepali society is still very traditional, and cultural visions are sometimes narrow. Nepali people have a beautiful heart, and they will come to accept it and will accept stronger and more independent women.
The recent years, I received very positive feedback from media and people around us, supporting independent women, doing something.
I think the future is very bright for Nepali women."
I'm very contrasting to many Nepali women. I've had the opportunity that my family supported my career. I managed to go out and study Fashion Design. I'm quite privileged that I was able to study and do this.
"My hope for Nepali women is that they become stronger, more independent. I wish they would not marry so early, finish their education and pursue their dreams, and aims in life, rather than taking the role of a housewife. At least knowing that this is not their only option. You can do it if you believe in it and work for it; then you will be able to achieve anything."
"Being born as a woman in Nepal, it is quite difficult, because of the way we are raised as a kid. Sexism exists in Nepal. Sons are considered more valuable in a family.
In many places in Nepal, arranged marriages are still the case. For those women, for who this is the case, I would want to say; to be very strong and not to lose hope. Be fierce and do what you love. Do not kill your dreams in the process of our society, because of what the community wants, and thinks. We will have to come out of this stereotype, and break it, because if not, then who will do it? We have to do it ourselves. No one is going to come and help us."
Being helpless, sitting, and doing nothing, will not do good to anybody; you will just be a victim. It is better to be stronger, bold, and do whatever feels good and be proud of yourself."
During her younger years, Meena stayed in a boarding school in Gorkha. Together with the other girls, they shared a small garden and learned to grow their own vegetables. "I think it gave more of my roots, and was more connected to the earth, because of that," Meena says. During the civil war, Meena had to change schools a lot because of the bombing by Maoists.
"Coping with so many changes during an early age has made me a stronger person and able to connect with everyone else.
Meena finished her IELS and applied for her studies abroad. She studied a bachelor in Fashion Design in Dublin, Ireland.
When she returned to Kathmandu, she worked in various places to get more experience. One of these places was a printmaking company, where she took more experience in lithography or printmaking.
For many years Meena had been dreaming of starting Bora Studio, her own brand, and company, with her own personality and ethics. Her parents were against it and recommended her to search for other jobs. They didn't think it would work out. Because she was quite young still and hesitant to carry financial responsibility by herself, she started with two other designers. After a short time, with good results, all three went their own way, and Meena continued by herself with Bora Studio. By that time, seeing the brand was more successful, her father became more supportive of her work.
Meena describes herself as not being scared to try new things. "I don't take other people's criticism too deeply or personally. It's ok if other people don't like something. As long as I like doing it, it doesn't matter what other people say." "I'm very stubborn," Meena says while laughing, "I think this stubbornness is a strength... and I might need to add persistent and hardworking."
"The kind of message I want to spread is "Freedom," be free, be yourself, don't be scared what people will say or what other people will judge because, at the end of the day, you are alone, you were born alone and will die alone. Don't be scared to try new things, coming up with new ideas. This is what makes who we are. Your personality will come along the way. It won't happen in a day, a week, or 2 months.
Be free, be independent."