In the mystical valley of Kathmandu, Dhaka Weaves is creating and promoting self-reliance for women while preserving an age-old Nepali craft. Through entrepreneurship and leadership, this woman-run organization is working with Nepalese Dhaka techniques to create beautiful silk, cotton and pashmina scarves. The goal is to help women worldwide, as well as help to sustain a tradition that dates back more than a thousand years.
Widely recognized for her groundbreaking work in social entrepreneurship, Rita Thapa founded Dhaka Weaves in 1991. Her passion and activism has improved women's economic independence by sharing these beautiful shawls with the world. Susanne Jalbert, supporter of Dhaka Weaves says, “Most weavers are from villages, some are handicapped, some have been abused, some are under-privileged, but all are talented and fervently producing exquisite, brilliantly colored textiles produced to exceed the highest quality international standards.”
Dhaka weavings are considered one of the oldest and most significant fabrics in Nepali culture. They are distinguishable by their bold and vivid geometric designs. Using a wood or bamboo treadle loom, the weavers craft pieces from memory that take a high level of skill, patience, planning, and innovation. The fabric is woven into a variety of color weaves, primarily working with a mixture of red, black, white and orange. The intriguing designs are unique to each artisan—made without a chart or counting the threads. Designs are in the artisan’s mind and it is common practice for one to know more than one hundred patterns, which range from complex flowers and butterflies to simplified zigzags and diamonds!
The origins of Dhaka weaving in Nepal come from an Eastern village known as “Terathum,” by the Rai and Limbu women who were and are still considered masters of this craft. Original Dhaka clothes were made using pure cotton and primarily found districts such as Terathum, Dang, Illam and Dhankuta of Eastern Nepal. The bold patterns were traditionally applied to the ends of sashes and waistbands. Women would also wear chaubandi cholo (a traditional blouse) and labeda sulwal (shawls). Nepalis continue to wear Dhaka clothing in everyday, particularly the topi—a cap that is worn with pride by government officials and locals alike.
Dhaka weaving is still alive in Nepal, but it is one that has been greatly affected by a competitive marketplace, as well as the recession. The political situation in Nepal continues to be fragile and unpredictable, creating days of power shortages and riots, which creates an extremely unstable work environment for businesses throughout the country. According to Dhaka Weaves, sales have decreased by 50 percent since 2008, which has affected all weavers who focus on traditional hand loomed processes. To help spread the weavers stories and the handicraft worldwide, Carolyn Fineran was the first to inaugurate what is called USA Tewa Tea, a nation wide tea, textile and gourmet-appetizer gathering. She says, “This allows the weavers to share their craft with the world, filling the gaps of global tension and cultural misunderstandings, sharing the richness of diversity. This is a wonderful and tangible way to give back and allows us to shift our emphasis onto small businesses and women's empowerment.”