Growing up, Sumnima Moktan always had two passions: social work and design. Born in Kathmandu, Nepal, she had witnessed first hand the gender inequality and poverty that was so prevalent in her neighbouring communities, but with an urge to pursue a creative vocation, Sumnima arrived at a crossroad.
“I came to Australia for my masters in public health, however while at uni I took a job in retail selling designer rugs. It was a very creative process and without my active knowing, I was learning so much and having an outburst of design ideas. So, then came the fork in the road: did I leave a career that I was studying towards and embark on an uncertain adventure; and if so, what about all the social work that I wanted to do?”
So rather than pick one, Sumnima decided to combine both, starting Oon (Nepali for wool), an ethical homewares and fashion brand committed to social entrepreneurship and responsibility. “With fair trade being a key philosophy, our focus is on equitable commerce and the overall welfare of our Nepalese artisans. We carefully select the factories and makers we work with, we make sure there’s no child labor, there’s good working conditions and hours, and fair trade acceptable wages. We also look for codes of practice and ethics and we do not haggle for cheaper prices or production.”
While Sumnima is now based in Sydney, she often visits her makers in Kathmandu, happy to see that many of her female artisans are able to put their wages into improving their living conditions and basic education for their children.
However, what is also important to her is that she ensures the Nepalese craft survives. “Nepal has long been known for its artisanal heritage, especially the hand-knotted wool rugs. So we design a range of these rugs, as well as felt cushions, vase sleeves, bowls and baskets. We also manufacture clothing in cashmere. Sustainability and the environment are close to our heart, so all items are made of natural, renewable materials.”
With the collection drawing inspiration from the colours, rich culture and traditional artisanal heritage of Kathmandu, the wares are suitable for both kids and adults.