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At-risk Nepal workers help Scandinavian firms to create product line

What do Nepali girls forced into prostitution have in common with Scandinavian minimalist design? Changed lives.

Four years ago, Copenhagen-based Menu studio gathered designers from four Scandinavian firms to train at-risk workers in Nepal. The results of their labor –– the Nepal Projects line –– is now in stores with its "soft minimalist" look.

Soft minimalism? The products "are extremely simple, but have enough character, detail and quality to make them stand out as design icons," said Menu's creative director, Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen.

Denmark's Ministry of Foreign Affairs oversaw the effort to employ Nepali girls forced or tricked into prostitution as a way to rescue or save them from that fate. Many of the girls land in India, separated from and even disowned by their families.

The line's standout is a 10-inch-high woolen teddy ($60), with muted facial features –– a kind of prototype comfort object.

The movable bear comes in toasty tones of brown, sand and tan, as well as earthy shades: moss and stone gray — and a hue called Petrol, a muted cerulean. Sweden-based Afteroom designs the teddy, made by hand mixing wool, soap and water and then molding and sewing the material.

The bears are a hit among adults, said Rose Apodaca, co-owner of A+R on La Brea Avenue, which sells the Nepal Projects line. (Huset, at 1316 1/2 Abbot Kinney Blvd., does as well.)

"I can remember only one being sold for a child." She terms the teddies a "chic throwback to childhood."

Other products in the line: hand-printed scarves ($200), bedcovers ($625) and a knot bag ($75), designed by A Hint of Neon, Denmark; a canvas laundry bag ($150) designed by Norm Architects, Denmark; a set of house-shaped storage boxes covered in textiles ($80), and cashmere and Merino wool pillows ($150), designed by Note Design Studio, Sweden.

Menu cites nongovernmental organization findings that estimate "10,000 to 15,000 Nepali women and girls are trafficked to India annually, while 7,500 children are trafficked domestically for commercial sexual exploitation." Many of the women employed by Nepal Projects already possess proficient weaving and tailoring skills. They work at three existing Katmandu Valley facilities sourced by Menu to turn out the Scandinavian designs, some of which are influenced by Nepali culture.

Traditional block printing, for example, inspired the cashmere scarf design, Bjerre-Poulsen said, adding that "knowledge sharing" between the Scandinavian designers and Nepali employees has been key to the project's success.

home@latimes.com

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on January 16, 2016, in the Features section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Designed to save lives" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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