As I continue to seek new and exciting brands for CW, lockdown presented the perfect opportunity for me to put some quality time into researching a reliable and ethical supplier to produce Cleverly Wrapped’s own-label knitwear collection – something I’ve always wanted to do…
After many hours of research I found exactly what I was looking for – a small but long established family business manufacturing knitwear. Based in Kathmandu they strive to have a positive impact on the environment, society and the economy – something that was important to me too.
The factory owner had previously been a member of the British army serving in Nepal, but on retiring from his military duties he and his wife decided to remain in the area and set up a small knitwear factory. For the past 20 years he and his eldest son have been in partnership with a Tibetan refugee, Tashi (pictured above) whose expertise, amongst many things, is sourcing materials, including high quality cashmere, lambswool, cotton and linen.
The company’s lambswool comes from farmers whose sheep populate the mountainous Himalayan foothills. Their cashmere is harvested from the goats in the plateaus. The health and wellbeing of these animals is of huge importance and the nomadic herds are allowed to wander freely. Furthermore, the animals are shorn by skilled shearing teams to make sure that the process is efficient and cruelty free.
The UK Connection
The owner’s son lives in the UK (in Hampshire in fact!) which has enabled me to build a great working relationship with both him and the factory, resulting in a succinct and reliable supply chain.
He and his wife and daughters visit Nepal at least once a year, not only so his children get to see their grandparents but also so that he can oversee production first-hand and ensure they’re meeting their customers’ expectations in terms of service, quality and delivery. This is also the perfect opportunity for him to catch up with the workers too – some he has known for almost 20 years – and to participate in the business’s ongoing efforts to invest actively in Kathmandu’s local community.
The company currently employs about 50 people, a workforce that comprises mainly of young women who are usually the main income earners within their family group. They are well paid for their skills and have excellent working conditions, something the company feels are basic rights. They have introduced facilities into the workplace that would seem normal in the United Kingdom but are not so common in South Asia – for example, clean drinking water machines and proper toilet facilities. There is very little staff turnover and many of the employees have been with the company from the very beginning, their continued presence valued as the company has grown.
The company has two production sites in Nepal where they manufacture their high-quality knitwear. The garments are made on hand machines – a labour intensive and skilled process. The machines knit the garments into the correct shape, style and measurements, using pre-made design patterns. The garments are then assembled and hand finished, before passing quality control and being packaged for shipping.
Meet Some of the Team
Binita (above) sets up the knitting machines, to the required style eg. a cable-stitch sweater, then she loads the bobbins, wound with pre-dyed yarns and begins to knit the individual elements in sections – the front and back bodice, the sleeves, the arms etc. A single garment takes approximately one day to knit and Binita stays with the machine the entire time, to ensure the stitching and yarn tension remain consistent.
There are 30 machines in one room, each set up to knit garments of different gauges/weights.
The ladies above are linkers. It is their job to receive the individual garment parts then stitch them together initially by hand before they are put on the linking machines.
This room (above) contains the linking machines, where the garments are pieced together. Ray is one of the only males working in the factory and has been with the company for 15 years.
It is Aanya’s responsibility to then check every garment for any dropped stitches or flaws, which she then corrects by hand.
Sanu (above) and Alok are responsible for pressing the garments and folding them prior to them being packaged for shipping.
Sonam (above) is Head of Production and the main liaison between the factory and the UK.
The company continually strives to be environmentally aware, using as many local materials as they can and by using neighbouring suppliers, thereby creating work for people outside the business. All the packaging, tags and gift boxes are sourced locally, as well as the transport and shipping services that move their goods. This approach contributes to creating a rich source of income for the community.
In parallel with their business growth, it is the company’s ethos to support and give back to the local community where they are based.
They recruit and train people from the local communities and actively support local schools, charities and hospitals with much needed funds.
Above is a photograph of one of the schools they have helped build – Peace Garden Secondary School in Khokana, Lalitpur. These are children from poor families, so the company contributes towards their uniform costs.
Factory workers also regularly visit the school to dispense vitamin A tablets – a much needed supplement that counteracts pupils’ poor diets. De-worming tablets are essential too, to reduce the level of unwellness and absenteeism.
Cleverly Wrapped’s Knitwear Collection
Following a number of Hampshire based meetings, where I was able to sit down and talk through my knitwear designs, yarn colours and details eg. buttons, zips etc, I am delighted to now be stocking a really beautiful collection of women’s jumpers and men’s gilets. Not only is the quality exceptional but I’m pleased to be indirectly supporting an ethical business that actively looks after its employees and supports the local community too.
Our knitwear is spun from a very soft blend of cashmere and wool. Each piece is designed to be an understated classic, destined to be in your wardrobe for years to come. Subtle details eg. a contrast stripe, buttons across the shoulder or zip up the back, add a chic and stylish edge.