In the recent times, #madeinnepal has become a movement. More people these days seem to favor locally made goods—clothes, bags, jewelry, etc.—compared to imported, factory-manufactured products. While earlier you would have to choose from a handful of companies and businesses, there is now a plethora of options. Even better, you don’t have to scour the market anymore. Thanks to mostly Instagram, it’s all available online.
Behind That Veil, run by 29-year-old Erica Sithling, joined the mushrooming community of online businesses in late 2018. The idea was to create a platform for handmade jewelry crafted by those affected with leprosy and people living with disabilities.
Sithling holds a fulltime job at Nepal Leprosy Fellowship (NLF), a non-profit that operates in the eastern region of Nepal—namely Jhapa, Morang, and Sunsari. One of its programs is giving handicraft training to people and they are also taught to make jewelry. But Sithling says there isn’t much of a market for handmade jewelry in eastern Nepal. So, trained people aren’t able to find work or generate an income from their skills.
“I thought of starting a venture to promote handmade jewelry in Dharan, which is where I live, and the surrounding areas,” she says. She started with a modest investment of her own and gave employment to three girls with leprosy. She came up with a few designs and taught the girls how to make them and took it one step at a time from there.
The initial response was good and people, mostly friends and family, loved the pieces they had come up with. In two years, her company has gathered a loyal clientele. Sithling is happy she is able to provide some source of constant income to those who need it.
“Business was a little slow during the Covid-19 lockdowns. But once it was lifted, whatever we had in stock got sold pretty quickly,” she says.
Sithling believes in quality craftsmanship, which is why production only happens twice or thrice a year at most. Limited pieces of each design, 10 to 15, are made and sold locally in Dharan and Kathmandu. In Kathmandu, Behind That Veil jewelry can be found at K Beauty Nepal in Kapan. You can, however, also place orders through their Instagram page (@behindthatveil) and the products will be couriered to you. (This will cost you an extra Rs 100 per order.)
The shipping cost is worth it because the designs are simple, classy and reasonably priced. The maximum price is Rs 700 for good quality pearl earrings. Simple stone or crystal earrings cost Rs 250 while slightly more elaborate ones are priced at Rs 350. Bracelets range from Rs 350 to Rs 550. Behind That Veil also makes necklaces depending on what’s in demand in the market as well as takes customized orders as long as the required materials can be sourced locally.
“The market is competitive and it’s hard to sustain a business unless you are able to cater to customers’ changing needs and wants. But I want to focus on making jewelry that’s exclusive so I intend to stick to stones, crystals and pearls,” says Sithling.
The aim of Behind That Veil, she adds, is to support leprosy patients and as long as that goal is being met, she’s in no hurry to expand. However, Sithling wanted to open a retail store before the pandemic but she has, for now, put those plans on hold.
“I want to focus on the local market and create a buzz about Behind That Veil by producing pieces that feel like an investment,” she says. The products support a cause and that already seems to be a reason enough for some people to continually support the company. But Sithling believes that shouldn’t be the only reason customers place repeated orders.
That’s why she spends every spare minute researching new design ideas on Pinterest, styling the jewelry for good pictures to post on Instagram, and curating her Instagram feed for an aesthetic feel. She wants buying jewelry online to be a pleasant and rewarding experience for her customers and her Instagram account stands testimony to that effort.
“I never intended to run Behind That Veil as a profitable business. I was just doing whatever I could to help. I intend to continue in that vein while ensuring people get their money’s worth,” she concludes.