Nepali furniture industry: Besieged by imported goods
Nepali furniture industry
Bandana Shrestha, 28, wanted perfect furniture that could add to a comfortable ambience in her home. She was looking for something beautiful yet durable and she was drawing inspirations from the furniture she owned while growing up in her parental home. But as she scanned the market, she was disappointed with what the market had to offer.
“The market is full of imported products,” says Shrestha who spent a week searching for an appropriate cupboard of her choice. The traditional designs which Shrestha wanted were either outdated for a modern store or were labeled vintage and priced beyond her budget. She then gave up the search and resorted for a Chinese cupboard.
Krishna Lal Pradhan, President of Nepal Furniture and Furnishing Association, agrees that the furniture business is overwhelmed by imported products.
“In earlier times, furniture produced in the country used to be sufficient. But gradually, the demand for furniture like cupboards, beds, dining tables increased and people started importing them from India,” he says.
Currently, most furniture stores in the capital are full of imported goods from China. Chinese products hold most space due to their flexible price ranges and designs. Stores owners also point out that Chinese furniture are not infested by bugs.
“But locally made furniture are better in quality than the imported goods from China,” says Bigyan Shrestha who owns a furniture factory in Samakhusi and is running a showroom in Kalimati. He says that customers have now become used to Chinese furniture and place their first priority on them.
Pradhan also agrees that though locally crafted furniture lack aesthetic sense, they are stronger than the imports from India and China.
“But people are more concerned about designs and aesthetics rather than quality these days,” he says.
To cater the customer’s priorities, local furniture industries have also started crafting designs similar to imported ones.
“Though we produce locally, even we carve designs in the furniture that are similar to Chinese products,” says Shrestha, pointing to a cupboard that is made in his factory but many customers take it for Chinese import.
“But other stuffs like coffee table and designer chairs are hard to copy, so we also showcase Chinese furniture along with the locally made products to give variety to the customers,” he adds.
Drawing from his experience of more than four years in the furniture business, according to Shrestha, Indian craftsmen are comparatively better that Nepalis in the present scenario.
“Indian carpenters are seen to be more knowledgeable about designs than their Nepali counterparts and they have the capability to fix bad or ruined designs,” he adds.
But the numbers of Indian craftsmen are also slowly decreasing, says Pradhan.
Photos: Dipesh Shrestha
“Indian craftsmen who come to Nepal are from Uttar Pradesh. But now, the government of Uttar Pradesh is creating employment opportunities for local craftsmen,” he adds, pointing out the reason for the reduction of laborers from India.
While overpopulation due to excessive migration of people to the capital demands for more furniture, the lack of skilled craftsmen resulted in increment in foreign goods. The market, therefore, has a large range of furniture stores which showcase imported products not only from India and China but other countries like Thailand and Malaysia.
Some large furniture stores in the capital such as Index Furniture and Furniture Land boast of imports from East Asia.
“Since Index Furniture is a Bangkok-based furniture franchise, we only showcase furniture from Thailand,” says Nikhil Tuladhar, Marketing Manager of Index Furniture.
He claims that the furniture in his showroom is more elegant and also scores high on the quality factor.
“The furniture here aren’t like Chinese imports. We take care of the beauty as well as its durability. The variety of designs and a wide range of prices are the highlight of our showroom,” he says.
Pradhan, on the other hand, says that lack of technology is also to blame for the deficit of the variety of designs in the locally crafted material.
“The furniture industry lacks new technologies that help in carving contemporary designs sought after by customers,” he says.
But on a positive side, a few of the furniture companies like Sann Furniture and Akriti International have started using modern technologies that can produce international standard designs.
With the history of fine wood craftsmanship, the examples of the grandeur of skills in woodcarving by Nepalis can be observed in many world heritages sites like the three Durbar Squares of the Kathmandu Valley as well as many historical temples in and around the country. However, at present, local craftsmen are blamed for not having proper design ideas or are busy copying foreign designs.
“Many local craftsmen who are skilled in traditional woodcarving have left the business because the cultural significance of woodcarving plummeted as soon as modern architecture replaced the traditional ones,” says Pradhan.
Since traditional carvings in windows and doors were no more required, the families who were working in woodcrafts for many generations stopped their profession to work elsewhere. And according to Pradhan, a few who are in the business are also planning to leave the profession due to lack of proper government mechanism to help them boost their industry.
In addition, due to the less number of craftsmen skilled in traditional woodcarving, their products are priced very high in comparison to the Indian and Chinese goods. Here is when the issue of modern technology comes in, according to Pradhan.
“If we are able to recreate the traditional designs with the help of modern machines that require less time and effort than the traditional means, then we’ll be able to market them efficiently,” he says.
Pradhan also blames government policy of just levying taxes and falling short in encouraging the traditional industry.
“We need to support this industry before it becomes a thing of the past. Families who still have been running these businesses are still working with traditional means rather than setting up factories. So the government can help in organizing workshops to help them keep records of their earnings and pay taxes accordingly,” he says.
Traditional woodcarving business was also downsized due to the political ordeals in the country.
“Like many industries, the traditional furniture business was also affected due to lack of security and consequent deficit in investment. The industry also suffers from grave labor problems,” he says.
Though the charms of traditional furniture still persist, most people are either opting for foreign designs or lack the budget to own Nepali furniture. Furniture depicts a way of life and also documents the lifestyle of the times. Traditional furniture is not only beautiful but also presents the originality of the local culture and craftsmanship.
And apart from the cultural and historical significances, traditional furniture industry can also be a considerable boost to the economy of the country if it is run smoothly.