Krishna Gurung became a vegan in 1998 when veganism was an anomaly in Nepal. It was harder for her to get vegan products, including clothes and shoes, than vegan food.
But that’s been changing lately. “We now see a lot of vegan products. From physical stores to online stores, these products are also getting separate sections these days,” says Gurung, “but still not enough.
Veganism in Nepal has only been brought up in debates and promotion for the past decade. But veganism and vegan products are still surrounded by many more misconceptions. This means that vegans have to be skeptical and compromise on the products they consume.
But, these people say they are determined to change the situation.
Vegan products in Nepal
Vegan products can be seen in the market, but vegans are not satisfied with the number.
Samu Yonjan shares: “If we only talk about shoes, it is very difficult to find a pair that is not made of leather. Sellers do not and cannot identify which is pure leather and which is synthetic. So we have to dig around and find shoes that work for us. But, this is not always favorable. We choose plastic shoes and wear them for a long time.
“The same goes for makeup and raw materials for food products,” says Yonjan, owner of Loving Heart Restaurant, one of the few vegan restaurants in Kathmandu.
Pasang Sherpa, the owner of Shoe bar and accessories, is one of the few suppliers that cares about serving the vegan community. It provides certified vegan leather shoes and they have gained traction in Nepal, becoming popular not only in the vegan community but also in others. “Many female doctors who are looking for feasibility, comfort and durability have chosen the vibrant animal print sandals. Other consumers include expats who have been more into the designs and their unique appeal.
Sherpa sees that there is a market for vegan products among animal lovers, including vegans and Jains. “Impressed by the design and quality, I became a regional dealer for Calceo from GOBY during lockdown and started selling the products through my Facebook page.
Yonjan says that if such shoes are available, she prefers to collect money and buy them instead of opting for unidentified “synthetic” leather shoes.
Naturally, vegan products are intended for use by vegans. But, points out Gurung, “Although they don’t advertise that they are vegan, many people use plant-based and cruelty-free products. Many others want to, but they are unaware of the options. Many are waiting for things to become more mainstream and accessible before making this change in their lifestyle.
This means that there is a market for vegan products in Nepal.
“Recently, in a temple, I saw a man take off his belt and his accessories outside because we do not usually enter temples with leather products, so we leave them outside, even if we risk the loss or theft. But, his alternative could be vegan leather, right?”
However, Sherpa has yet to fully capitalize on markets in Nepal while Gurung says no one has identified the market yet. “Market research is needed to determine how many people are adopting a vegan lifestyle and how many more are willing to make the switch.”
Commercialization of veganism in Nepal
Veganism in Nepal has gained ground with issues such as protests against the Gadhimai festival and scattered cases of animal cruelty. It is also stimulated when social leaders and celebrities such as Angfuri Sherpa, Krishna Pranami and Ashmi Shrestha talk about veganism. But this approach of promoting veganism through influencers has not been explored in Nepal.
According to Gurung, who is also a businessman, “Business-wise, in Nepal, there won’t be big profits like that. But, it’s the right choice for a lasting effort for the community. Yet there are many ways to communicate choices to people. »
“We can first start by letting people know that vegan products are available and that people have cruelty-free options. Another is to make them aware of the carbon footprint they leave behind by importing live animals or animal products. In this, reaching out to the younger generation is easier than the older ones because they are so aware of these issues now and many are already adopting such a lifestyle.
The approach to veganism in Nepal is always to make people understand that the use of their rights should never diminish the rights of others even if they are animals or cruelty to animals should not be encouraged for the food or products and vice versa. Sherpa adds: “There are options like shoes that are made cruelty free, without guilt and azo-free.”
Veganism in Nepal is still shrouded in misconceptions, says vegan activist Shova Bhujel. “The first is that vegetarianism is a choice while veganism is considered a ‘sect’. And every time we try to talk about veganism, they take it as a personal attack and it turns into a debate, between two communities.
Despite the backlash, the community continues its work and that’s because, they say, compassion goes a long way. “Environmental connection with veganism can be effective, but when people feel inconvenienced, they are more likely to return to their old way of life. However, we have found that when people make a compassionate connection with animals, it lasts longer with better impacts on life and environment.
Therefore, the market for vegan products is not necessarily for vegans in the community, but for all animal lovers and those who promote cruelty-free practices, says Bhujel.
The foreseeable future
The concept of veganism is still vague in Nepal. But, activists pledged to continue their efforts to talk about the idea.
To increase awareness, the World Vegan Association is soon organizing the International Vegan Festival in Lumbini, Kathmandu and Pokhara with sessions on veganism, cruelty to animals and human health as well as vegan products for the vegan and non-vegan community. It is assumed that 10,000 participants ranging from national delegates to international delegates will attend the festival and this will help them inform the people of Nepal.
“After the Vegetarian Fest 2017, the market for vegetarians and vegans took a boost. Now we also hope the same in Nepal with the festival. It could be a good hookup platform for those who want to get an alternative option suitable for their lifestyle and learn more about vegan products,” Gurung hopes.
Meanwhile, Sherpa intends to continue its efforts to establish brands in Nepal that will have USPs. She says she is already in the process. But, for its vegan leather shoes, it will now focus on customization and meeting people’s specific needs.