Every journey starts with a small step and for Leena Koich, it began as a hobby five years when she started doing some do-it-yourself designs on her t-shirts and hoodies, using logos of underground Nepali bands.
“I used to go to many concerts back then. So it didn’t take long for my friends to notice all the shirts I wore,” Koich says. “They started asking me to make similar designs on their clothes.” The small favors here and there then spiraled into Koich meeting more and more people interested in her work. Her husband, a former vocalist and guitarist for the band Death Wish, had eased her way into the underground scene, and soon her leisure activity morphed into an online band merchandising and custom manufacture business.
This was back when she was 19. Today, she is 24, and Leena’s Print has become a popular name in Nepal’s underground music scene. In 2017, at her husband’s suggestion, she officially changed her designs from hand-painted to professionally screen-printed merchandise. Bands often go to her when they need quality products bearing their names. She uses a line table she DIYed herself and with a heating press of her own at home, Koich prints designs on everything from sleeves and t-shirts to keyrings to caps.
So far she’s worked with bands like Binaash, The Voices Unheard, Animality, The Screaming Marionettes, Void Turned to Message, Famous Last Wishes, Triangle, Eclipses and Defiant. Koich has also made merchandise for foreign bands like Phlegmicide, Syphilectomy, Confusion, Raped by Pigs, Langdarma and Estrotomy. She caters mostly to underground bands as the more mainstream Nepali bands are not much into merchandizing.
The process of manufacture is convenient for everyone involved. Her consumers—musical bands—bring their own designs, logos and vision of what they want. For bulk orders, the online business makes at least 25-50 pieces at one go and 100 pieces at most. Price differs according to design quality. For simple artwork with less color variation, printing price ranges from Rs 500 to Rs 600. But if it’s a complicated artwork, the price goes up to Rs 700. After purchasing, it’s usually the band that takes the responsibility for distribution and marketing. But Koich also advertises it on her own Instagram page, giving musicians good publicity.
Leena's Print also does custom printing for other clients (the price list for which is in the table alongside).
Price per piece (Rs)
Large DIY patches
Small DIY patches
Leena’s Print is limited to social media at the moment, and growth has been slow but steady. Obviously, starting a brand has come with its fair share of struggles for Koich, and she is no stranger to rejection. “Even though it doesn’t happen often, sometimes people don’t like the sample,” Koich tells ApEx. “While that’s understandable, it’s disappointing to see their merchandise printed somewhere else while I’m still waiting for their order confirmation.” Silent customers, for Koich, are worse than cruel critics.
Sometimes people's subtle sexist comments upset Koich—it wasn’t something that she had expected at the start. “The underground music scene in Nepal is men-dominated. So when people hear of a woman making merchandise for heavy metal bands, they tend to question product authenticity and quality,” she shares. “It’s not rare to hear people doubt my products and online shop. But I’ve learned to take these remarks in my stride.”
When asked if she’ll ever open a physical off-line shop of her own, Koich says that point hasn’t come yet, although she does aim for it. “I get offers from brands for collaboration, and it would be a dream come true,” she says. “But before that, we need to be financially strong. If I am going to this, I want to do it right.” It’s a challenge though given the small Nepali music industry, and even smaller underground music scene.
It’s only realistic for Koich to wait until her business matures before she ventures into something newer or bigger. Until then, her Instagram and Facebook pages will continue to serve as her business platforms.