1.618 Sustainable Luxury Selection 2015
1.618: What was the trigger for the creation of your brand? Why did you choose this name?
Marina Vaptzarov Shrestha: In 1993 I began creating all kinds of paper products as “Marina Paper”. Obsessed with the qualities of Daphne paper and the idea of making its worth known in Europe, I relentlessly experimented with it in my designs. I created collections that gradually became more refined. Realizing the company name did not reflect this evolution; I replaced “paper” with my maiden name "Vaptzarov", in memory of my Bulgarian father, a nonconformist and eloquent architect and writer, who imparted to me his passion for creativity.
1.618: Tell us an anecdote related to your brand...
M.V. S: I am always surprised to learn how disconnected the word “handmade” is in people’s mind, with the reality of truly handmade products. Each time someone visits my workshop, they are always surprised to discover all the work that really goes into making one object and they often exclaim, “its truly ALL made by hand!”. That’s when I had the idea to add a story-card to each product, explaining through symbolic hands, each artisan skill that goes into making the product.
1.618: What was the biggest challenge that you managed to take up?
M.V. S: Back in 1993, the tendency in Europe was to minimize the value of products that were handmade in Asia, giving high-end European production workshops the monopoly. Knowing of the actual high standards and refinement of Nepalese traditions and particularly daphne paper, I wanted to prove that handmade products from Asia could fulfill the standards of quality and finishing found in Europe. Today, I am happy to see that I was successful in bringing products made with Nepalese craftsmanship to the standards of the luxury market.
1.618: What would be your advice to future entrepreneurs willing to launch a sustainable luxury brand?
M.V. S: [...] From the very start, make sure you choose to work only with products and raw materials that are already sustainable. Working with limits is actually far more interesting and, as an architect, I experienced that restrictions pushed our creative capacity to its farthest.
1.618: What drives you and makes you get up in the morning?
M.V. S: The idea of creating something new.
1.618: Which personality inspires you most these days?
M.V. S: Eckhart Tolle
1.618: In front of which situation did you think: “I have never seen something so beautiful!” ?
M.V. S: The awe-inspiring geology of Mustang (a region on the border of Tibet in Northern Nepal), works of art carved into mountains and gorges from years of erosion, that remind me of Gaudi's creations.
1.618: Which sustainable development challenge that you managed to resolve are you most proud of?
M.V. S: Developing the innovative non-woven material I have named "vegetal leather" as it feels and looks like wrinkled leather but is entirely created from the same sustainable Daphne fibers used to make traditional nepalese paper. It is extremely soft to touch and its textured style has made it a wonderful material to make leather-like blinds, journals and decorative cushion covers. I am still in the process of researching ways to further improve and strengthen it, in the hopes of creating a viable replacement for leather used in wallets, pockets and bags.
1.618: Tell us about your main raw materials...
M.V. S: All raw materials we use are natural, handmade, sustainable and rich with history. Daphne paper is traditionally handmade in the foothills of the Himalayas where the Daphne bush grows. It regenerates spontaneously and matures in only six years due to its very harvest. The vegetal leather that I have developed is made using these same Daphne fibers. Allo (himalayan giant nettle) and hemp are traditional textiles hand-woven from plants that naturally grow in abundance in Nepal.
1.618: How did you integrate the social and societal aspects in the cycle of life of your product?
M.V. S: I only design products and their packaging with raw materials that are handmade by traditional artisan communities. In this way I have tried to preserve their cultural heritage. Trained local artisans, who have been around from the very beginning of the company and have stayed on, forming a sort of family, assemble and produce my designs along with their packaging. They receive health benefits, insurance and educational scholarships for their children. All products are natural and very simple to take apart and recycle.
1.618: How do you reduce your environmental impact throughout the cycle of life of your product?
M.V. S: From the very first stage I make it a point to only work with natural and handmade raw materials that demand little to no energy in making and come from sustainable plants. Choosing to have an entirely artisanal production also largely reduces energy needs. We have taken steps to reduce pollution in production by recycling all paper offcuts, replacing our courier's motorbike with an electrical bicycle and training our suppliers in water filtration methods so that no chemicals are released into the drainage when dying.
1.618: Why would your brand never be accused of ‘greenwashing’?
M.V. S: Working solely with sustainable raw materials was in the initial approach when I started this project so we did not need to modify our production to make it eco-friendly. And we always try, whenever possible to improve when there is a concern like with the disposal of dyes. It is a question of commitment and integrity, which are at the foundation of the company’s values from the very beginning.
1.618: Some particularly exceptional aspects of your brand are…?
M.V. S: Marina Vaptzarov products are infinitely rich in form as much as in substance. All products are the combined expression of the ancestral know-how of Nepalese communities in the Himalayas, the sustainable raw materials used and my creative designs. This cultural and sustainable heritage and the beauty of each design are two inseparable aspects that make the brand.
1.618: What’s your brand’s latest news?
M.V. S: I am considering the possibility of franchise in Europe/USA/Canada. Effectively there is no existing slot for luxury handmade paper products and MV branded stores would be the best way to showcase them. Our original store is in Kathmandu and sales are always good. As these products are unique in so many ways, they tend to present best together; there is a kind of synergy between them, which creates a very attractive and warm atmosphere.
1.618: We selected you as an actor of positive change; what is the next challenge your company wishes to take up?
M.V. S: There is a great waste of paper in the luxury hotel and spa sector. We would like to help reduce their environmental impact by working with them, using Nepal’s sustainable heritage and our design experience in proposing sustainable solutions for their amenities and accessories.
1.618: What else would you like our readers to know about you?
M.V. S: Ever since I travelled through Asia in 1976 and discovered its immensely rich cultural heritage, I have developed a passion for researching creative solutions to preserve these traditions and give them a place in the 21st century through design and product innovation. With the desire to continue this mission beyond Nepal’s borders, I now offer my services as a consultant in the development of sustainable products that capture and preserve local traditions to other companies based in Asia with similar principles.
1.618 Sustainable Luxury Selection 2015
Sustainable development is at the heart of the Marina Vaptzarov activity, from the choice of the raw materials and the suppliers to the methods of manufacturing.
Marina Vaptzarov promotes the development of the local economy by employing Nepalese artisans and highlighting their traditional know-how.
The company also supports the traditional paper manufacturers, weavers of natural fibers and local goldsmiths. 90% of the materials are sourced locally in Nepal and all products are biodegradable from 85% to 100%.
Marina Vaptzarov regularly works with the same suppliers for 10 to 15 years and has established trusted relationships with these communities. These are often family businesses and cooperatives, from different ethnic groups and castes.
Founder educates the employees and business partners to the challenges of sustainable development by showing them the right course of action to protect the environment every day.
Marina Vaptzarov explains on her website all her commitments in terms of sustainable development, which are at the heart of the project from the very beginning.