Prem and Maya’s workshop is tucked into a large house and grounds in the green hills on the outskirts of Kathmandu. They live on the upper floors of their house: the lower floor is dedicated to human-powered treadle looms, quality control and packing. In the yard is a collection of men and women cheerfully working around the giant metal pots in which they dye and wash their woven goods. All around are a jumble of small sheds and work buildings filled with foot-operated treadle looms, a 60 foot long table for silk-screening and printing, and other rooms where women knot tassles into scarves and shawls or sew on labels.
They also have a separate workshop with two power looms that seem to date from the early 1900’s.
Location . . . . . Kathmandu, Nepal
Number of Employees . . . . . 180
Founded in . . . . . 1976 Years of relationship . . . . . 3
We had been receiving emails from Sherpa Pashmina for some time, but had ignored them. Finally, we got curious enough to answer one. Soon afterward we received a sample pack of cashmere and silk shawls of many sizes, colors and qualities. We estimated that the cost was probably at least $300, including courier fees. After that we knew they were serious, and scheduled a trip to Nepal to meet them.
On the last night, Maya invited me to dinner, and when we reached an open area with a bonfire, I found myself surrounded by 6 Buddhist monks in robes that she had also invited. They were friends of hers. A fascinating evening with some very interesting company.
As the name indicates, Prem comes from the Sherpa clan famous for shepherding climbers in the mountains of Nepal. Prem’s father Lhakpa Sherpa started the company in 1976 dealing in raw cashmere for a small producer. In 1988 he formed his own manufacturing company with his son. Over time, they exceeded the local supply of cashmere and began importing silk and cashmere yarn from China and doing the dyeing, weaving and finishing in Kathmandu. Prem and Maya work together, and it’s likely that their children will also go into the cashmere business.
Things we talked about on the last trip: The imported liquor business in Kathmandu (Prem owns a restaurant/liquor store). The details of caste and religion in Nepal.
India’s economic harassment and why it made my previous shipment late. How they went to a monastery and the monks chose their infant son for education in the monastery. (They rushed him home and didn’t return.)
Kathmandu is Disneyland for textile lovers. Although it’s located in a remote valley in the Himalayas, it’s a cultural crossroads of Northern India, Mongolia, the Tibetan Plateau and Eastern China. Silk brocades, pashminas and linens representing many textile traditions are found in Kathmandu’s ancient crowded streets. Interestingly, Kathmandu merchants import silk and cashmere yarn from China and raw wool from New Zealand and export their finished products all over the world. Quite a feat for a land-locked country at the roof of the world!
Because their products are so well finished, it’s easy to lose sight of the amount of hand-work in them. Typically, the scarves are woven and then washed in big tubs, dyed in small batches in similar tubs, then washed again. The tassels are hand-knotted one by one. This is a trade item that goes back many centuries.