By Patrick Dulay, Youth Co:Lab
Nepali social enterprise, DOCHAA, aims to preserve the country’s rich culture through its line of products that pay homage to the nation’s heritage, identity, and pride.
Established in 2017, and co-founded by Dikesh Prajapati and Watsal Rajbandhari, DOCHAA highlights Nepal’s shoemaking culture and promotes fair labor practices through its line of vibrant footwear. Named after the Nepali word Dochaa, which refers to the first kind of shoe handcrafted by Indigenous People living in the Indo-Tibetan belt, this enterprise is driven by a mission to make a difference, destroy stigmas when it comes to shoemaking, and recover from the national tragedy brought on by the 2015 earthquake.
The devastating earthquake of 2015 in Nepal destroyed not only lives and homes but also the rich heritage of Nepal. “As we helped people, we were heartbroken to see this and wanted to do something about it. That sparked the idea of DOCHAA”, Dikesh shares. Through their social enterprise, they sought to create livelihood opportunities and revive Nepali art heritage. DOCHAA bridges Nepal’s treasured traditions and today’s fast-paced modern world with its ethically made pieces, produced in collaboration with local artisans, weavers, and shoemakers. DOCHAA drives grassroots innovation and provides Nepali communities with a steady source of income while delivering world-class products.
The enterprise sources their raw materials from weavers in local villages, while stitching and design follow traditional practices to give each pair of shoes a distinct look and feel. This is then combined with a high-quality, non-slip sole that prioritizes the wearer’s safety and comfort. Together, these elements characterize the footwear that DOCHAA releases - elegant shoes that undoubtedly leave a great first impression.
To further highlight its Nepali roots, each shoe collection is named after an aspect of local culture. For example, the Buna Dochaa collection is named after "Buna'', the Nepali word for “woven”, as each piece is handwoven out of Dhaka fabric, the oldest Nepali fabric widely used for traditional and contemporary clothing designs. “The youth today struggles to embody their identity and culture alongside globalization. Through Dochaa, we want to encourage youths to know more about their culture and proudly continue it.”
When asked about why they chose to create a business around shoes, Dikesh replies, “We simply love them. We believe that every pair of shoes has its own story to tell, from the designer’s artistic vision to its wearer’s lifetime of countless experiences. Creations like these evoke emotions and revive comforting memories of home, happy times, and warmth.”
It is by combining their love for shoes with the rich Nepali traditions and culture that these beautiful creations are brought to life. As a result, their entire enterprise is centered around the marriage of comfort and culture, where each piece is not simply another pair of shoes but a piece of wearable art you can wear every day.
Driven by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 8, which promotes decent work and economic growth, DOCHAA drives grassroots innovation and creates local employment opportunities, while fostering sustainable and ethical practices.
Since 2017, DOCHAA has: economically empowered 20 men and women in their 2 workshops, helped over a hundred indirect beneficiaries, worked with 3 different Nepali communities, and reinvested approximately 60 percent of their revenue back into the community.
Despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic, DOCHAA continues to adapt and find creative ways to grow their social enterprise. “We want to use this time [pandemic] to continue innovating by creating new designs using our fabrics and exploring alternative materials like vegan leather. Doing so will help us keep the business running and support our artisans.”
DOCHAA is one of the social enterprises that was part of the 2019 cohort of the Springboard Programme of Youth CoLab, and Youth CoLab Nepal 2018. Being part of Youth CoLab, an initiative co-led by UNDP and Citi Foundation, gave Dikesh and Watsal access to specialized training, networking opportunities, and one on one mentorship to help them grow their business both on and offline.
With the help of their mentors, DOCHAA embarked on their very first crowdfunding campaign that features their latest designs that include espadrilles, tote bags, and face masks. The crowdfunding campaign which successfully raised USD 3,000 from supporters all around the globe, not only helped them increase their production, but also opened doors for DOCHAA to expand their brand to the US and Australia.
For Dikesh, “Our growth means more jobs for the artisans, traditional weavers and artists. It means raising awareness of our rich but dying Nepalese culture, the underrepresented art of artists and untold stories of different communities, especially the indigineous. Our growth means building stronger faith in local Nepali products and the continuation of our rich heritage.”
DOCHAA’s creations indeed provide an avenue to celebrate Nepal and showcase the best of its culture anywhere in the world. For those who are part of the Nepalese diaspora, each handmade piece highlights an aspect of the beautiful Nepali culture that it originates from, establishing a connection where one will never lose home - for home will forever be with you whatever new horizons you seek to explore.
Co-created in 2017 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Citi Foundation, Youth Co:Lab aims to establish a common agenda for countries in the Asia-Pacific region to empower and invest in youth so that they can accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through leadership, social innovation and entrepreneurship. Read more about Youth Co:Lab here.