Fabric and Fashion : The man behind Nepali boutique business

June 20, 2016 , by Jerusha Rai, Leave your thoughts
Rajesh Dhakhwa has been capturing the imagination of fashion lovers in Nepal since 1997 when he established the famous RD Chaahat Boutique and won Best Designer of the Year at the Kathmandu Fashion Parade. After acting as official designer for Miss World Nepal (1997/2000), the 8th SAF Games (1999), designing for music videos and movies, Dhakhwa has featured inter-nationally in fashion shows in Tokyo, various parts of Europe and recently at New York Fashion Week, 2016.


 Colorful Childhood
Raised in Kathmandu, Dhakhwa is the grandson of Sanu Kaji Dhakhwa, a businessman from Patan who is famous for dealing fabric from Lhasa, Tibet. Dhakhwa’s parents continued the fab-ric business and expected him to take over in his time.

Instead of becoming overpowered by his forefather’s legacy or simply settling for an inheritance, Dhakhwa had his own mission in life. He did make the best of his family background; his current designs seem to reflect the knowledge of a vast variety of fabrics and traditional patterns that he absorbed from his upbringing in such an environment.

Dhakhwa started getting interested in fashion when he was in high school at Bijay Memorial, Kathmandu. It was during this time that he read the autobiography of the famous Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace, whose legacy and lifestyle impressed the young Rajesh, and set him on an irreversible decision to become a fashion designer himself.
 Vogue Visions

With a strong resolve and tenacity, Dhakhwa then pursued a Diploma in fashion design from Kathmandu Polytechnic after which he went to Singapore and completed an advanced course in color combination and pattern-making from Selegia Institute of Art and Design in 1996.

It was quite surprising then that the ambitious designer returned to his homeland to launch his fashion career. When asked why he did not try his chances abroad, Dhakhwa shared a vision that was well beyond the pursuit of his own success. Dhakhwa envisioned a leap in the history of the Nepali fashion industry itself and made it his mission to address the lack of quality, high-fashion boutiques in Kathmandu.

Hence in 1997, Dhakhwa with his younger sister Samina Dhakhwa Bajracharya started their own boutique, RD Chaahat, in Kupondole. Though Kupondole is now widely known as the high fash-ion street of Kathmandu, Dhakhwa’s boutique was the first one in the area.

 Untapped resources and disappointments

As one of the pioneers in the business, Dhakhwa was met with many challenges such as the lack of skilled manpower and raw materials. Embroidery workers and other skilled personnel had to be recruited from India and it was disappointing not to be able to give jobs to his own country-men. Raw materials had to be purchased from India, China and Thailand which increased costs and took a lot of time. It is a great loss that Nepali industries still have not capitalized on the ris-ing demands of the fashion industry for resources and skills that can very well be developed in the country itself.

 High demands for High Fashion

From as far back as 1997, the demand for high fashion made it possible for Dhakhwa’s boutique to flourish. Despite the initial challenges, once word got around about his designs, there was no turning back for RD Chaahat boutique. For the last 7 years, the boutique has relocated to Dur-barmarg, the most posh and up-market city centre of Kathmandu and is one of the most sought after names for its long legacy of traditional but trendy couture.

Dhakhwa describes his aesthetics as “a fusion of Eastern and Western style with a focus on hand embroidery”. Though he produces purely ethnic clothing, as well as thoroughly Western style casual and evening wears, he was one of the first designers to adopt the “East-meets-West” con-cept that has now become a well known trend among Kathmandu’s urban fashionistas. Dhakhwa is a good example of the fountain of creativity that can be found when one turns to own culture and own times for inspiration.

Above and beyond the busy lifestyle of a fashion designer, Dhakhwa holds various positions in several social organizations. Barely in his mid 30s, he is the General Secretary at Durbarmarg Development Board, Fashion Editor at F.M. Publications as well as Vice President at the Hima-layan Disabled Welfare Society. Dhakhwa espouses good time management as a great virtue and divides his life equally between his fashion career and social work, spending every weekend with his family.

 Nepal on the global fashion map

Having travelled widely in Japan, the US and Europe, Dhakhwa can’t help but compare the Ne-pali fashion scene to the international fashion industries. “Nepali designers are just as talented as their international counterparts, but we still lack the platform. Nevertheless, Prabal Gurung, who needs no introduction, has already shown what a Nepali fashion designer can achieve. His exam-ple can be an inspiration to all newcomers in fashion. With the effort of young designers, Nepali fashion industry can definitely put itself on the fashion map globally,” says Dhakhwa.

Dhakhwa was recently featured in the 20th International Runway Fashion show at New York Fashion Week, 2016. He shares his experience of one of the “Big 4” major fashion weeks in the world, “There was a tremendous response and appreciation from the lovely American audience and a great experience for my fashion career. My East-meets-West designs sparked a lot of inter-est among the press and media; I gave five different television interviews, was featured in six different fashion magazines and as well as blogs,” he says with his enthusiasm soaring. Dhakhwa has been invited for the next New York fashion week session in September 2016.

It is among the many upcoming shows for the talented Nepali designer. He will be featured in the NAC Runway Fashion Show in California this July. Next year, he is scheduled to participate in fashion shows in Paris and Sydney. The ambitious designer shares his long-term plan of expand-ing his online store to a physical boutique in New York.

Dhakhwa shows no sign of stopping and is optimistic about the prospects of up and coming young Nepali designers. With an increasingly fashion conscious customer base in various parts of Nepal, young Nepali designers have a good foundation to build upon and keep up to date with international trends through the internet. It will also take an increased appreciation of fashion design as an art form and viable business among the general public for the Nepali fashion indus-try to move forward.

Words by Jerusha Rai.
Follow Jerusha on Twitter @rjrusha
Read more from Jerusha here.
Photo courtesy: Rajesh Dhakhwa & www.alexmthomasphoto.com
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