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Nepali Carpet Weaving as Sustainable Alternative to Migrant Labor

At a press conference held on June 1, 2017 in Kathmandu, Nepal, fair trade organization Label STEP and Jan Kath, renowned designer of hand-knotted carpets, launched a campaign to promote the benefits of carpet production as a key industry in Nepal and a critically important employer for the developing country’s people. The campaign centers on an eye-opening yet inspiring music video entitled “Nine Million Stars” – the number of stars in the sky according to Nepali folklore.

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The film crew of ‘Nine Million Stars’ prepares for shooting in
Kathmandu, Nepal. Image courtesy of Jan Kath.

“Label STEP and Jan Kath call on Nepal’s industries and government to increase their efforts to present a more sustainable future for the country’s economy and more attractive prospects for Nepal’s workers,” said Reto Aschwanden, Managing Director of Label STEP, an NGO that has been working to ensure fair trade practices in the carpet industry since 1995. “We hope that our campaign will also encourage Nepali workers to build their careers and their lives at home rather than choosing to work at often dangerous and disruptive jobs abroad.”

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Cast and crew watch as actress Reecha Sharma readies herself for
a weaving scene in ‘Nine Million Stars’. Image courtesy of Jan Kath.

Currently 10 percent of Nepal’s 28 million population work abroad. While remittances from migrant workers contribute significantly to Nepal’s annual revenues, an alarming number of these hardworking individuals do not return home alive to their families (one in 500). Last year alone 500,000 workers (95% men) left the country for work abroad, mainly to Malaysia, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In addition to the direct consequences of labor migration, workers and the families they leave behind face countless other challenges and hardships.

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Actor Tika Bhakta Jirel prepares for a dye shop scene
in ‘Nine Million Stars’. Image courtesy of Jan Kath.

“Nine Million Stars,” starring Nepali blockbuster actress Reecha Sharma and renowned theatre actor Tika Bhakta Jirel, was directed by Nepal’s award-winning Tsering Rhitar Sherpa. The video opens with the shot of a plain wooden coffin – sadly, an all-too-familiar scene for people in Nepal (every day the dead bodies of several migrant workers arrive at Kathmandu airport). Set to music and lyrics by Ankit, arranged by Rikesh Gurung, the video not only touches on the negative consequences of labour migration but beautifully depicts the strength, skill and creativity of the men and women working in a thriving Nepali carpet industry. When the weavers dance the work of choreographer Prashant Tamang, it is an unexpected highlight.

A similar video without english captioning and a call to action in Nepali is being distributed via social media and on Nepali TV. It can also be viewed here: Video (link ‘video’ to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0sadDHp7Mk&t=9s)

Nepal is a leading manufacturer of handmade carpets for contemporary interior design markets worldwide. Handmade carpets represent the country’s most important export product with more than 600,000 square meters sold annually (around $75 million USD). Handmade Nepali carpets, known for their creativity and high quality, have become synonymous with high-end contemporary design globally.

Even more important for the small country, which is still recovering from a devastating earthquake in 2015, the industry employs tens of thousands of people, primarily as weavers, but also as wool spinners, dyers, designers, washers, office workers, quality controllers and other related positions.

“Nine Million Stars” was produced by Label STEP, Jan Kath and Mila Productions.

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