Looking for something different to flaunt at your next party? Why not add something traditional to your wardrobe while helping home-based women across Nepal as we bring you the best of the collection from Sabah Nepal.

Dhaka has long been considered a traditional clothing item in Nepal and is worn by people of all backgrounds. However, among the more westernized younger generations, these clothing traditions are starting to lose their appeal as they discover branded clothes and easy to wear western fashion. But not all hope is lost. There are still many designers and organizations who are still working to incorporate these traditional clothing designs into the modern fashion market, one of which is Sabah Nepal.

Sabah Nepal is a social enterprise that has been working to uplift disadvantaged women by utilizing the traditional skills they already posses such as Dhaka weaving and allo weaving to produce and sell fashionable clothing and accessories. It has been running in Nepal since 2009. 

Sabah Nepal was inspired by the “Sewa” movement, which was movement to have home-based workers recognized as valuable contributors to the society and the economy. It started in India and has since spread to all SAARC countries. After India, Nepal was the first country to run with this concept and create an organization dedicated to uplifting home based workers. 

Sabah is a member owned organization made up of home-based workers who mostly specialize in weaving, knitting and stitching. The focus is mostly on disadvantaged women. Sabah Nepal not only provides these women with a platform to utilize their skills and make an income out of it, it also provides them with training to advance their technical and leadership skills, increasing their likelihood of making a decent living for themselves and their families. 

All the home-based workers working for Sabah are registered members and at any times there are approximately 200 active members working with Sabah. Some of the staff works from home whereas some come to Sabah Nepal to work as full-time workers. Sabah’s main objective is to pull these workers out of their current status and strengthen them socially and economically.

Most of the products offered by Sabah Nepal are fashion items such as dresses, saris, kurtis, coats etc. But Sabah also creates other items such as bags, pillow clothes, bed sheets and textile. All of these products are made from traditional Nepali textiles such as Dhaka or allo. The general idea is to use these traditional skills and transform them into products that are in demand in the modern world. Bini Bajracharya of Sabah Nepal describes their designs as “traditional art in a modern form” since they utilize traditional skills like Dhaka weaving by home based workers and she and other designers at Sabah transform them into modern and glamorous attire. 

According to Bini, most of Sabah’s clients are working women who want to look a bit different than the rest and socially conscious people who would like to contribute to make society better. She even states that many of their clients work with them specifically because Sabah is helping uplift women’s status by providing them with a source of living. Most of their clients are 30+ women, but recently, a lot of youngsters are turning to them as Dhaka becomes more glamorized. Sabah is also working to put forward attires for men who are interested in incorporating a slightly different element to their wardrobes.

Since so much effort has been put into producing modern attire with a traditional touch by hundreds of Sabah’s workers and their team of designers, we decided to bring you some of their creations that you may judge on your own:  

Dress 1

This pink and black dress features a trendy A-line silhouette, which is a particularly feminine and universally figure flattering silhouette. It has a fitted bodice with a skirt that flares out. A lot of layering has been included in the skirt to provide some volume and movement to the skirt. This is the first time Sabah is working with an A-line silhouette. 

The cut and the make of this dress are typically western, but the fabric design and materials used add a traditionally Nepali touch to the dress.  It features a Dhaka design all over with some hand woven silk used to add design elements. Sabah Nepal is particularly firm on not using any synthetic fabrics in their apparel as far as possible. 

To ensure that the Dhaka design does not overwhelm the dress, the dress also features a pin-tuck detailing in the bodice of the dress with bright pink hand-woven silk. There is more paneling work done with the silk in the shoulders to add some more design variation.  

Since this dress is from their winter collection, it contains a lot of dark tones. Each of the dress in this collection shows some variation of the traditional Dhaka cloth and it can be seen in this dress too. 

With their collection of trendy, modern dresses, Sabah is hoping to attract a younger clientele who are currently buying a lot of branded items. “Instead of investing money on branded items which will ultimately benefit foreign businesses, we want to encourage youngsters to invest in traditional garments that will help uplift their own countrymen”, says Rashmi Tandukar of Sabah Nepal.  Which is why, they are putting a lot of effort into creating wearable apparel that would appeal to the younger masses. 

“Currently, there are a lot of Indian and Chinese apparel in the market that cost more than Rs 2000 per meter, which people are readily paying. But people come here hoping to find something different but resist paying Rs 1500 for a meter of Dhaka. They don’t seem to realize that Dhaka is hand woven. Some designs require an entire day to weave 10 inch. By resisting paying for Dhaka we are de-motivating our traditional craftsmanship. We are trying to transform Dhaka into glamorous attire, but people need to accept it as well.” Adds Bini.

Dress 2 

This blue Dhaka dress features two kinds of Dhaka design, a woven Dhaka design and a plain blue Dhaka cloth. The designs of the Dhaka in this dress move vertically to give it an illusion of length. To ensure that the Dhaka design would not overwhelm the dress, Rashmi has added some plain blue Dhaka to the sides. And to balance that patch of plain Dhaka, a border made from more plain blue Dhaka has been added to the bottom of the dress.  

Rashmi has played with the sleeves in this dress as well. There is a slight puff in the upper portion of the sleeves and the sleeves also contain some gathering to give it a slightly playful element. 

This dress also features a princess seam in the bodice which are tailored to follow a women’s shape closely. The seam starts at the arm hole and follows down the bodice of the dress. To add some uniformity to the collection, each dress in this current collection features a princess seam. 

Since Dhaka is a traditional design, modest designs seem to suit the fabric the best. Though this dress is a modern design, too much of skin, cleavage or a backless design does not really go with the look of Dhaka. That is why Rashmi has made sure that this dress is modest yet elegant. 

Following the designing process of this dress, it usually starts with the silhouette. First, the designer chose the right silhouette for the dress. Then, she chose the Dhaka design that will be used with the dress. After that, she started choosing the right colors and fabrics that complement the Dhaka design of the dress.

Dress 3 

This black number also features a patchwork of woven Dhaka design as well as plain black Dhaka. The black plain Dhaka was chosen instead of other colors to allow the woven Dhaka design to shine through in the dress. 

This dress also features a lot of dark shades since it is part of the winter collection from Sabah. Again, a bright dupian silk was used in cord piping the dress to add some brightness to the otherwise dark colors of the dress. Dupian silk was used because it is a handloom silk. Sabah focuses on using hand woven textiles in their apparel as much as possible. You will rarely find any synthetic or machine woven fabrics in any of their collections.  

This dress also contains a princess seam that flows down the bodice of the dress, giving it a figure flattering shape. The bodice features a patchwork of Dhaka design prominently displayed on the black background of the dress.  The neckline of the dress is rather normal and rounded. But to add some twist to the neckline, Rashmi has added a slit in the back of the neck, which is not something you see very often.  

The hemline of the dress is uneven to give it a slightly trendy finish. The hemline at the back is curved while the front hemline is uneven with one side longer than the other to go along with the tilted patchwork of Dhaka that runs down the bottom of the dress. The tilted Dhaka patchwork also ensures that your eyes flow down the dress instead of across. For this reason, this dress is particularly suited for pear-shaped women with a wider hipline as it drags the attention away from the width of the hips, giving it a slimming effect. 

Dress 4

This maroon creation also prominently features both a woven Dhaka design as well as plain maroon Dhaka to complement the woven design.  This dress also contains a lot of dark tones as it is from the winter collection. But to ensure that the dark colors does not underwhelm the dress, some cord piping of bright dupian silk has been added to the borders of the Dhaka design to add some brightness to the dress. 

The Dhaka in this dress has been added slightly differently to other dress. It features a patch work of Dhaka design over plain Dhaka separated into two different blocks at the top and at the bottom. 

This dress also features a princess seam, similar to all the dresses in this collection. Rashmi has played with the sleeves in this dress as well. She has included a slight variation of a raglan sleeve to this dress with a single pleat added to add some playfulness to the design.

Instead of continuous Dhaka design, the torso and the bottom of this dress have been separated with a break in the Dhaka design. You might find a similar theme in many of the dresses in this collection. The slit of the dress is also at the front of the dress instead of the back or the sides which is what you normally find in dresses. 

 The neckline of this dress is also slightly different with a pointed design. Rashmi added a pointed neckline to this dress to convey a certain sharpness and boldness in any woman who would wear this dress – a woman who can do anything she sets her mind to.