Sonam Gyaltsen

GANGTOK: Sonam Tashi Gyaltsen, a product designer with La, a mountain product brand in Sikkim, has won the Balipara Foundation’s Naturenomics Award at the 9th Eastern Himalayan Naturenomics Forum 2021.

Gyaltsen is an alumnus of the National Institute of Design, who works as a conservationist in a true sense: from heritage to environment. He founded La in 2016, as Echostream’s own product/social enterprise focused on developing a mountain product brand. In 2016, it started building capacities in the bamboo and cane sector through product development workshops with selected master artisans from 23 villages in Sikkim. And now it has started Sikkim’s first large-scale apparel garment manufacturing unit in Barphok, West Sikkim.

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He is also the founder of a Zero waste tea brand called T and a hospitality brand Work From the Himalayas, a co-working, co-living and co-creation enterprise focused on reviving the economy hit by COVID.

In a conversation with EastMojo, Gyaltsen said he feels “recognised as part of people working with nature, building an economic model around nature.”

“We give employment in rural areas, particularly in the forest range areas. Conservation is the development module, not the battle between conservationists and developers. The Himalayas is one place with an abundance of wealth but we have not been able to scale up and grow. It is an attempt that we don’t have to be against nature nor go against development,” Gyaltsen said.

“My experience as a professional has been based on mountain-based development concerns. Our enterprise is based on setting up creative industries not just for handicrafts, handlooms, or music, design or architecture. We wake up with aesthetics in the Himalayas, greenery around, clean air and water. Our quality comes naturally, hence we started a mountain product brand.

It is not just handicrafts and handlooms, Gyaltsen added. “We have also designed health apps, mobility devices all in the mountainous regions. La comes from problems we want to solve,” he said.

One subject that has been close to Gyaltsen is the importance of biodegradable khadaks and prayer flags.

La is coming up with biodegradable khadaks: traditional scarfs used in Buddhism. “In 2018, we had gone with World Wildlife Fund to Lachung to see the Resource Recovery Centre. We were shocked to see non-biodegradable waste was prayer flags and Khadaks. Buddhism is all about impermanence, but these are permanent. In consultation with Dzumsa there, they were also keen on producing biodegradable khadaks and prayer flags. But they didn’t have infrastructural know-how, so they didn’t take it forward. We decided as entrepreneurs that we will take it out, starting with Sikkim and Buddhist landscapes in the Indian Himalayas. Buddhist are the biggest polluters in the Himalayas. Hence, khadaks are being introduced at the same cost, as the polyester khadaks,” he told this correspondent.

The company has also tied up with Zero Waste Himalayas, we are introducing cotton bags as part of their initiative ‘carry your own bag’. “There is a project in Barfok, West Sikkim as part of a government unit. The bags will be made by 90 villagers there in Barfok, it solves the waste issue as well as generate employment. They will be priced at Rs. 50-60 for different groceries, rice bags,” he added.

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