When Ellie Skeele was visiting Nepal, where her two adopted children are from, she noticed a curious product in the local handicrafts market: Himalayan nettle. The more she learned about Himalayan nettle the more she realized there was an opportunity here for her, as well as the many Nepalese subsistence farmers who are in desperate need of supplemental income. Himalayan nettle can be grown easily and refined into export quality fiber and Skeele decided to do just that with her business Himalayan Wild Fibers. Today Skeele is is connecting farmers with the fashion industry, creating jobs and paying production workers fairly.
Skeele’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
I started my business because of my children. I have two adopted children, both of whom come from the Himalayas. They were given up out of poverty – which is something that should never have to happen. So, when I noticed this fiber, Himalayan nettle, in rough handicrafts in the tourist market I decided to see if it could be refined to export quality. The rest is history now.
Our mission is to improve the lives of subsistence farming families in the Himalayas. We do this by creating value from a wild, renewable, natural resource found in Himalayan forests – Himalayan nettle. We connect much-needed global fashion dollars directly to mountain families by producing and selling a perfectly sustainable new textile fiber derived from Himalayan nettle.
Wild harvest of Himalayan nettle generates important off-season supplemental fair-trade income for subsistence farming families in the Himalayas, creating the opportunity for them to build capital and raise themselves out of poverty. They use the funds to purchase agricultural inputs and animals such as water buffalo, goats and chickens. They also pay for healthcare and school fees, and purchase educational materials such as books, uniforms and shoes. As Paul Polak said, “The most obvious, direct, and effective way to combat poverty is to help poor people earn more money.” Sustainable harvest of this non-timber forest resource does exactly that while also protecting the forests and contributing to climate change reduction.
The textile supply chain is really complex and inefficient. We have to sell to a range of different kinds of customers, creating push and pull. We are developing fabrics now, even though we’re just a fiber company, so that consumers, apparel brands, and different kinds of mills will all be able to relate.
Success is about fulfilment, not happiness. Many successful people are unhappy much of the time, but they feel fulfilled. And when I die, I want to reflect on life as fulfilling. Happy is great, but it comes and goes. Life has hard times and sadness, misery even! The sum total is then wisdom and a sense that you’ve made a difference.
My advice to women contemplating entrepreneurship later in life is – do it! But be prepared to garner less attention than younger people, to feel a bit invisible. The money is all on youth, but our experience and wisdom see us through. I invested all of my savings, risking everything, because I believe. Later in life this has more meaning and when you do get a chance to be heard, people take note of the strong commitment. Don’t be afraid to not know everything. Lean on topic-specific experts, young and old. Don’t shy away from social media!
We are having a really tough time obtaining the capital we need. We don’t fit neatly into any of the boxes created by impact investors. We address it by not giving up!