Chandrika Pakhrin

Sustainable Fashion with Chandrika Tamang

This week, we met with Chandrika Pakhrin, the former banker turned fashion designer who is behind the CDK brand. CDK is a Bhutanese apparel brand that creates contemporary and modern designs using traditional and sustainable Bhutanese textiles. The result is quite unexpected in the most exquisite way and we could not be prouder to have some of her collection. We asked her about the origin of her passion for textiles, how she learned to weave and what is her vision for the brand,

How did you learn about clothes design?

“As a child, I always wanted to draw. I loved climbing trees, plucking flowers, leaves. It all started with that”

“Later, I spent countless hours on the internet learning the basics of fashion design and natural dyeing. I then travelled to India for a month of training in Basic Apparel and Tailoring. Soon after realising that my work could fill the gap in the market for Bhutanese contemporary clothing, I decided to turn my passion into a business.”

After earning her degree in Computer Science, Chandrika decided on a job in banking like most young Bhutanese of her generation. It took her around 6 years to go from dreamer to fashion designer.

How does CDK promote sustainability?

It’s no longer enough to reduce our impact on the planet. Our aim is to leave the environment and communities we touch better off through our conscious actions.

“Sustainability is at the heart of CDK. I explore ways to make my designs sustainable, including using natural materials, dyes, and recycled fabrics in my designs; hand-spinning, hand-weaving, and hand-stitching techniques, which limit the use of energy while also allowing each artisan to add their own personal touch; and promoting the use of traditional methods, which are labour-intensive but which allow each artisan to add their love and affection to the product,” says Chandrika.

How does CDK promote Bhutanese textiles while empowering women?

“As Bhutanese youths aspire to complete their education and find white-collar jobs in the cities, weaving has declined over the years. Even the older weavers (mostly uneducated women in rural areas) have quit since the demand for handwoven fabric for everyday use has declined due to competition from cheaper versions, imitating Bhutanese designs, flooding the market from India.” Chandrika explains.

Context: many traditional designs require the skill of an expert weaver who often must spend many hours producing elaborate and heavily-patterned textiles. These textiles are used to make clothing for special occasions. As a result, only expert weavers are hired to produce these traditional clothing, and thus lesser skilled weavers are left unemployed.

“CDK creates simple designs using traditional Bhutanese motifs, bringing contemporary patterns to Bhutan’s weaving industry, which had previously seen a decline. It employs amateur and low-skill women weavers who, with training from the company, can easily create simple designs, generating an income for themselves” she notes.

What are some of the challenges you face running an innovative brand?

“I have to collaborate with the weavers and act as a bridge between them and the customers, and while doing so,  it is  difficult to make the weavers understand what kind of designs are in demand.” 

In addition, she faces issues of infringement on her original designs. Intellectual property is new in the Bhutanese business community, and there have been numerous cases of design infringement in the textile industry.

“During the recent pandemic, CDK released one of its unique designs—a hand-woven raw-silk tego (national dress)—but soon after, copies appeared everywhere. This is frustrating because this type of behaviour discourages new ideas,”  she explains. “The recent global pandemic has also put a strain on CDK, like many other small companies. I now have only four permanent employees and eight home-based weavers, compared to 11 permanent employees and more than 40 home-based weavers before the pandemic hit.” 

“I believe life becomes boring without challenges.”

What is your greatest accomplishment?

“My greatest achievement is being able to do what I love the most: creating beautiful clothes while helping other women earn a living. The place not only makes me happy, but it also makes me more motivated and more equipped to execute my best work,” says Chandrika.

CDK designs - black-necked crane collections
Black-necked crane collection by CDK

Chandrika’s story is unique, as she started out of a complete passion for fashion and design, which grew into a career. Since then, she has gone on to win many awards. In 2017, Chandika was named National Woman Entrepreneur of the Year by the Department of Cottage and Small Industry (DCSI) under the Ministry of Economic Affairs. She has also represented Bhutan at a number of international fashion shows and policy discussions. Her efforts are contributing to the improvement of weavers conditions in Bhutan while helping to preserve Bhutanese textile, its traditions and techniques.

We, at Taste of Bhutan, take great pride in promoting and supporting women-owned businesses. Help us in supporting Chandrika by sharing her story and buying her products.

You can find her lovely goods for you and your loved ones from CDK here.

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