On a typical winter morning in Kathmandu, one hears the ringing of the local temple bells, the honking of horns, and the cooing of pigeons. One smells the ever-present mix of incense and exotic spices — and so the daily hustle and bustle of city begins… On such a morning, I set out with my friend Theresa Bastrup Hasman to source vintage saris for her line of slow-fashion clothing. Theresa’s dream is to create sustainable designs using high quality premium products while simultaneously creating opportunities and livelihoods for vulnerable communities in Nepal. She invests her time and resources to train disadvantaged groups of young women in pattern-making and tailoring the up-cycled saris whose colors and textures once adorned the homes, streets, and temples of this amazing city.
Weaving through the crowded and dusty streets of central Kathmandu, we make our way into a narrow alley and up three stories of a less-than-seismically safe building to a small room (12 square meters) of wall-to-wall bundled old saris. Theresa’s eyes grow bright as she sees the possibilities unwind along with the ropes tethering the beautiful fabric. I am awed by the riot of color.
As a photographer, I love color and I chase light. Even as I initially felt overwhelmed by this treasure chest of a room, Theresa was immediately in her element. She began with touch - feeling the sari fabrics to determine their age. Against the light of small window, she held up the sari after sari to examine their weaves, colors and vibrancy. Through this process, Theresa came across a number of stunning saris that could not be up-cycled because they had been too well-loved by their previous owners. Seeing these saris not make it in the “yes” pile was sad, but for all of those not leaving with Theresa, there were many more equally gorgeous and, more importantly, with the strength to start a new life as a new product. Theresa is rigorous in her sourcing of prime material and quality is key. She will not tolerate anything less than the best in her products - from the sourcing of fabrics which she does personally, to the making of her designs, which she oversees at all stages.
All of this sounds lovely - even fun - which on most days she will admit it is. However, Theresa had to arm herself with fortitude to start and run a successful business in Nepal which is still on the raw phase of development. While Nepal is both fascinating and beautiful, it can be difficult to run an operation like hers when “bandhs" (national transportation strikes) and fuel shortages are the norms. Not to mention that Nepal is still a country psychologically and physically scarred by the not-so-distant earthquake.
Theresa’s passion, drive, and commitment is to build a sustainable brand that promotes Nepal and provides a livelihood for her employees. Her vision is producing great designs in a sustainable manner while providing training and long-term employment. One can clearly feel her compassion for the people engaged in bringing her creations to new life. Her commitment to create new sustainable products is a reflection of her desire to provide new opportunities for women who might otherwise have had few chances to make their own life decisions.
As we part on the dusty street below, I feel privileged to have shared a few hours with Theresa and to have seen firsthand her passion not just for design, but for the people of this amazing place in the foothills of the Himalayas. Kathmandu, like Theresa’s work, will weave its way into your heart and leave you better for it. We are all fortunate to have the opportunity to share Theresa’s world and vision through her work in Resa Living.
Photographs and blog by Monique Kovacs Nathan
March 8th 2017, Nepal
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