If you’ve ever looked at one of the listings for a customizable art print in my shop, you’ve probably seen a collage similar to the one above. This grid of color shows a variety of Nepalese lokta papers that I print on. The grid on the shop listings is a little different, as there are a few Thai mulberry and banana leaf papers that I print on as well. But today, I want to talk about the lokta paper.
Lokta paper is made from the inner bark of the lokta bush, and is hand-made and air-dried in Nepal. It’s a long-standing artisan tradition in the Himalayas, and the centuries-old process uses no fossil fuels. The cool thing is that it’s a completely self-sustaining natural resource/economy for the Nepalese. When harvested, the lokta bush is cut off 8 inches above the base, and then it grows back and can be harvested again 4 years later. The inner bark is used for paper making. Then the Nepalese use the rest of the bush as fuel, so there is no waste in production.
Lokta bark is a very strong fiber, and makes for a slightly textured sheet (which was part of the appeal to me). The workers in Nepal dye it many different colors, which was also a plus. And since each sheet is individually hand-poured, each sheet is unique and distinctive. If that wasn’t enough, the fibers are naturally acid-free and resistant to insect damage. It’s pretty much the best paper ever. You can watch a video of it being made here.
The company that provides these papers (at least the ones I buy) is LamaLi. It’s a French company that works directly with cooperatives in Nepal. They work in other places for other rural handmade products as well, but for lokta paper it is Nepal. They are one of the few companies operating in Nepal that have been able to obtain a Fair Trade certification. They focus on the employment of marginalized workers, particularly women. LamaLi ensures that Nepalese workers receive a retirement plan, family medical coverage, and schooling for their children. A majority of the proceeds from the sale of LamaLi lokta paper returns directly to the cooperatives and workers that make the paper. In addition, ten percent of the net proceeds are put towards initiatives such as clean water, road construction, and other infrastructure projects in their communities.
Now, to say I knew all of this when I first started printing on lokta paper would be disingenuous. I didn’t. It was the color and texture that drew me, and then after some research I learned all of this above and was even more committed to using these beautiful papers. And any time someone purchases one of my art prints on lokta paper (which most of them are), they’re contributing – in however small a way – to the livelihood of workers in Nepal. All while getting a beautiful, unique print for their trouble. It’s a win-win, for all parties involved.
So, there you have it. The awesome story behind these awesome papers. I’m glad that, in this day and age of mechanized production and sweatshops, I can say that my paper prints are handmade from start to finish, with the help of some paper-making wizardesses in Nepal. 🙂
How do you support other handmade or rural artists?