For Rinzing Bhutia, a resident of Bhusuk in Sikkim, her world was upside down when she lost her husband a few years ago. But her determination has led her to a new world of opportunities and hope.
All thanks to Lagstal, a design studio by Sikkimese entrepreneur Chimi Ongmu Bhutia for helping dozens like Rinzing to realise their dreams.
“I was depressed, and it seemed that everything was lost. But gradually things have started to change. I started to believe in myself. I started to learn new things and thus life has brought me new hope,” said an elated Rinzing, who has been working at Lagstal for three years.
She is a part of a project on corn husk weaving along with 20 other women from her neighbourhood.
From zero income three years ago, the 32-year-old woman now earns around Rs 10,000-12,000 depending on her work.
“It’s great to see them work here. They work here daily under a very friendly environment. Over the years, each one of them has become an expert,” proprietor of Lagstal, Chimi, said.
Lagstal offers contemporary-chic, sophisticated, and affordable style for various areas of life, from home decor to personal accessories. From luminescent lamps to home decors a la mode, to organic fashion wear to replacement of plastic in everyday use products have a lot to offer for various corners of life.
All the artisans at Lagstal are women. “When I began employing women artisans, it was initially challenging to train women to keep up with the production schedules and maintain international standards of quality. However, I took it up as an opportunity to make a difference. The idea was to offer women financial independence by creating a source of income for them, and secondly, I wanted to save and revive old traditional designs,” Chimi said.
Accordingly, she adopted 20 such women from a remote area Namlung in South Sikkim.
These women are involved in corn husk weaving. Corn is one of the abundant crops grown in Sikkim. While the seeds or the maize supply of food base and are used as a fodder for the animals, the husk or the outer part is usually used as a fuel for cooking or making household items like sitting mats or baskets.
“The items made from the corn husks last for a long time because of its good pliability, moderate strength, durability, longevity and high moisture retention. The other advantages of cornhusks are it is eco-friendly and ergonomic, therefore, it gives benefits to the society towards sustainability of the environment. Mainly the rural women in Sikkim practise the corn husk weaving. However, with the passage of time and with the availability of alternate and other profitable sources of income, the practise of corn husk weaving is slowly dwindling. My efforts to revive the corn husk weaving are on and I’m in touch with several rural women artisan cooperative societies,” said Chimi.
Talking more about her brand Lagstal which she started in 2017, Chimi said that it evokes traditional Northeast crafts in a contemporary style.
“I have done a lot of research on Northeast handicrafts and have visited places to study it. I see lots of potential in our traditional handicrafts. However, there is a lot more to be done in terms of its marketing, putting in new concepts or designs and automation of its manufacturing process,” Chimi added.
“This is how brand Lagstal was born. It’s a small effort in this direction. There is an impact on the environment for every little small thing that we do in our daily life, and if we shift towards eco-friendly products, we can contribute to saving our environment and work towards sustainability,” Chimi said.
Apart from that, they are working with almost 70 rural artisans around Sikkim and other Northeast regions.
“A sustainable word means working together to create prosperity for all. Lagstal is so thankful that each one of the artisan craftspeople has joined us in this securing a sustainable future,” Chimi said.
Seeing the current scenario, Chimi is also focusing on e-commerce. “It is playing a very essential role in the online business. Although it is one of the best and cheapest intermediate methods for reaching out to new customers, if e-commerce is implemented effectively, it also offers a smart way of doing online business and expanding it more. Our e-commerce portal lagstal.com started in October, 2019 is only one of the stores who promote sustainability solutions in handicrafts products in our state. If we as individuals take the initiative of going green for a change, there will be a better drive for development in the areas, which are related to green energies,” she said.