She Started it All!
Posted on February 22 2020
She started it all...
That's right: Pimma Lhomi, 6 months pregnant, at age 22, walked into the first Lotus Sky store in Kathmandu, Nepal and presented a very simple crocheted glass bead bracelet she had made using a technique learned from her sister and cousin.
The bracelet was simple and unassuming: black and white in a diamond pattern. Clasp free and round, Pimma directed Sangye and I that it rolled onto the wrist and was more or less “one size fits all.”
We were intrigued, but not 100% convinced. I was familiar with the intricate crochet beadwork technique practiced in many Eastern European countries that typically was thicker than these and I initially wondered the level of detail we could achieve with thinner bracelets.
Plus, most of our training projects up to that point, lead by Himalayan women, focused more on the traditional brass metalwork featuring gorgeous turquoise and lapis, along with other fusion beadwork. We also partnered with other local women's collectives to offer them the chance to sell their crafts in our store and reach a broader audience, both tourist and local.
Pimma told Sangye and I that she knew over 20 Lhomi women who, like her, had fled her home village after converting to Christianity and knew this craft, crocheting in the comfort of their homes while they tended to their families. She wanted to leverage this knowledge with our help to give reliable jobs to the women in her community.
Most of their husbands worked in the trekking industry, she explained, and were gone sometimes for months at a time. The women liked to gather to work and discuss community matters, especially after church, where they would congregate outside under the sun with their children and sit for hours.
This conversation was all before the 2015 earthquake. We had no idea then how very important these bracelets would become to Pimma's Lhomi community...
Pimma left her sample bracelet with Sangye and me. We thought that if we played around with pattern and color selections, we could likely create beadwork art that had the same international cultural fusion vibe as the rest of our store.
So, as true explorers, we unraveled the bracelet to see how the pattern worked and examine the stitching. The crochet work was simple- we were curious about pattern. We began by drawing designs with a permanent marker and nail polish.
We soon realized that we could easily figure patterns out in our heads and developed a sectioning method on our bracelets to ensure perfect symmetry, regardless of size. We free drew patterns like our leopard print, which has since become a customer favorite!
Pimma decided that she wanted to grow her team and train many of the jobless women in her community. Beadwork crochet was a craft that was transportable and easy to start and stop as women tended to their many household responsibilities and cared for their children.
So many women signed up for Pimma's first training class that we had to create multiple wait lists and rent her a small shutter near her house. For about one full year, every day, Pimma and I met in the morning and worked a full day at this small studio, testing patterns and conducting training sessions.
Then, the 2015 great earthquake hit. The aftershocks continued with great frequency and magnitude for months and months with another huge quake one month after the first that brought down even more buildings.
Living outside in makeshift tents constructed from any plastic we could find and wood, we sheltered in an open field near a boarding school without too many buildings around. The death and destruction around us was almost impossible to fathom- nearly everyone knew at least one person who had perished, not to mention the countless animals lost or buried.
Social enterprise is all about creating opportunity from difficulty, growing beauty out of darkness. Lotus Sky is all about emulating the lotus flower to rise above the mud and fray to create meaning and order out of chaos. So even as we grieved, even as we were worried about which building would topple next in the ongoing aftershocks, we recognized that we could also create opportunity in the mayhem.
We were still alive and so were many women around us...
Remember when I mentioned that many of the Lhomi women's husbands were trekking guides? After the earthquake, most of the tourists immediately left Nepal. And it didn't stop there because Nepal is still rebuilding its tourism economy. For that whole year and the next, most of the husbands had no to little work.
And that is how bracelets took on a new meaning. See, a few days into living in the tent camps, I noticed how many women wandered listlessly. And Pimma, Sangye and I decided to offer bracelet training to any woman who wished to learn.
While the ground rolled and rumbled around us, our focus on our hands became a meditation: 1 Black, 2 White, 1 Black, 2 White, etc., bead after bead. Unable to get supplies in and out of the country, we cut apart existing bracelets to make new ones. And I decided that every woman would be paid for the bracelets she made, despite the fact that we were cutting so many apart and could not yet export.
In this way, many of the Lhomi women became the main breadwinners for their families. We lived outside for 8 months and in that time trained about 100 more women on beadwork crochet- how to make the simple, seemingly unassuming bracelet that Pimma had first brought into the Lotus Sky store.
When the border reopened, I had to figure out how to make what had been a small part of our social enterprise into a model that would sustain the livelihoods of over 120 women.
Today, Pimma fully manages her own microbusiness within Lotus Sky and is admired as a leader and role model by many in her community. She trains new women for her team every quarter and has a waitlist of women interested in joining her team.
We are still improving our standards, consistency, and creating new designs...and I am still working on ensuring that we have a sustainable model that can sell the volume of bracelets that will support all of the Lotus Sky women and the new women who join us in training each month.
Every bracelet matters. Every customer is appreciated as a part of our journey. We are deeply grateful for what we are and what we are becoming- both together and with you!
Check out Pimma's new designs HERE!