By introducing industrial design to a traditional industry, Kala Kathmandu seeks to modernise crafts in Nepal“Craft adds colour to our homes, but more than that, it serves functionality,” says Astha Rajbhandari, founder and creative director of Kala Kathmandu. “Most people do not see craft in that light. Functional things are not seen as something that can be aesthetically pleasing.”
“Craft adds colour to our homes, but more than that, it serves functionality,” says Astha Rajbhandari, founder and creative director of Kala Kathmandu. “Most people do not see craft in that light. Functional things are not seen as something that can be aesthetically pleasing.”
Kala Kathmandu seeks to change this. Rajbhandari’s company sells a variety of ‘crafts’ that not only serve specific functions but are also aesthetically pleasing. From lamps and clocks to coasters and planters, Kala Kathmandu’s range of products showcase an eye for design and a modern aesthetic.
This vision to change how people have always viewed crafts came to Rajbhandari in 2014, when she returned to Nepal fresh out of graduate school, with a degree in industrial design focused on product designing from Symbiosis International University in Pune, India.
“When I returned, there were few who had done the same course and fewer people who were using machines to create products,” says Rajbhandari.
As the craft industry was still very traditional in its approach, Rajbhandari saw space in the market for a business that could produce high-quality, machine-crafted products that had precision.
“That’s how Kala Kathmandu was formed,” she says.
Today, Kala Kathmandu is an industrial design and product innovation studio based in Chakupat, Lalitpur, which produces a selected range of interior accessories.
"We create products using advanced manufacturing technology so our products have a finesse that is otherwise lacking in handcrafted products,” says Rajbhandari. In many ways, Kala Kathmandu is trying to redefine the way the craft industry has always been viewed.
“When it comes to crafted goods, people do not expect finesse: the finishing of one product is never quite the same as the other. Through Kala Kathmandu, we want to create an industry that produces goods in large quantities, without compromising on the finishing,” says Rajbhandari. “What we basically want to do is change the perception people have towards Nepali art and craft.”
Besides its modern approach to creating crafts, Kala Kathmandu’s design aesthetic also deviates from the traditional use of cultural motifs. While traditional Nepali handicrafts use motifs that resonate with a ‘Nepali’ identity, Kala Kathmandu’s designs have a minimalistic approach that dabbles with primary colours and nature, and has little to do with culture.
“We usually have a theme with which we design a collection,” says Rajbhandari. “We focus on making creations as interactive as possible for customers.”
To help bring Rajbhandari’s creations to life, she has a team of two more designers and five others who help in the studio to cut and put together the final product. Rajbhandari also has a silent partner, who takes care of the manufacturing section, while she oversees production, market and design.
Rajbhandari’s team creates products using material such as coloured, laminated medium-density fibreboards—an engineered wood product made by breaking down hardwood or softwood residuals into wood fibres. With the use of machines such as CNC routers and laser cutters, Rajbhandari’s team is able to materialise their designs into the final products. Their products as then put up on display at the Local Project, in Jhamsikhel and Lazimpat.
Putting their products at a hub like Local Project is a conscious decision, Rajbhandari says. “Right now, we are trying to gain a brand identity and placing our products at places like the Local Project will help us do that. Also, I don’t think our product range is wide enough for us to set up a dedicated store right now,” she says.
Of the collection they have right now, Kala Kathmandu’s prices range from Rs 200 for key chains to Rs 3,000 for lamps. They also have light boxes, wall clocks and ceramic planters—all of which come under Rs 2,000.
Kala Kathmandu is also open to customising products, if customers choose to do so. “Even if it is just one product, we are open to customising,” says Rajbhandari. “Whether it’s a keychain you want with your handwriting, we customise. We do have to take into account the raw materials we have on hand though.”
Besides working on their own products, Kala Kathmandu also collaborates with young artists. “We are open to collaborating and creating new things. We recently did a series of wall clocks that featured the artwork of another artist’s paint-pouring techniques,” says Rajbhandari.
As for projects in the pipeline, Kala Kathmandu is currently exploring different avenues. “Eventually, we want to include all types of crafts in our product line. That is the long-term plan: to produce high-quality, machine-finished goods that represent the Nepali craft industry as a whole,” says Rajbhandari.