On Friday, March 31st, the Mast Store in Asheville hosted a special event with Sherpa Adventure Gear, celebrating Nepalese food, culture, and the history of the Sherpa people.
Sherpa Adventure Gear was founded in May of 2003, by Tashi Sherpa, as a living memorial to the unsung heroes of Mt. Everest. For decades, climbers have always been grateful for having a Sherpa companion on the treacherous slopes of the Himalayas. It is the Sherpa who makes the route, carries the load, and sets the ropes to the top and back.
Pema Sherpa, one of Tashi’s three children, who help run the business, joined the celebration in the Asheville Store last week. We sat down and talked with her about the family business and her experiences in Nepal.
“I was born and raised in Seattle, WA, but my family spent nearly every summer of our childhood in the mountains of Nepal. My sister and I teasingly refer to ourselves as ‘City Sherpas.’ We’re so grateful to have been afforded the unique opportunity to dwell between the two worlds of Eastern and Western culture throughout our lives,” shares Pema.
“Sherpa are an ethnic group of Tibetan people living in the most mountainous region of Nepal on the southern slopes of the Himalayas,” Pema explains. “The Sherpa people have a strong sense of duty, not only to financially support their families, but they often put their lives in danger to protect and care for the climbers they lead through the punishing Himalayan Mountain terrain.”
Pema Sherpa’s father Tashi’s main goal since the company’s inception is to weave together support for the people of Nepal by creating “small brands that can change the world.” Their brand values - work, not charity [for the people of Nepal], support Nepal, be environmentally conscious, and invest in youth programs - seamlessly support this goal.
Did you know that Nepal has the highest number of artisans per capita in the world? Sherpa Adventure Gear capitalizes on this national asset by offering handcrafted goods made by highly-skilled Nepalese women. Sherpa’s handcrafted sweaters usually take more than seven days to make. Additionally, the Johla shoulder bags are created in the same style that Nepalese women use when they go to market. As of 2016, Sherpa is employing more than 700 Nepalese citizens and implements Fair Trade practices for every member of their team.
Education is also a foundational piece of the Sherpa company’s passions. Tashi Sherpa’s parents and grandparents were both Sherpas and never had the opportunity to attend school. [Tashi’s father eventually went on to run and own a mercantile like Mast General Store!] His predecessors lack of access to education inspired him to create the Sherpa Adventure Gear Fund, which supports Nepalese children all the way from grade school through college. Twenty-five cents of every Sherpa garment sold goes directly to the Sherpa Fund.
We talked with Pema about her experiences in Nepal and things Westerners may be surprised by her family’s home country. “There’s a huge variance of landscapes, weather, and animals in Nepal,” says Pema. “It’s not all just snow and mountains. We have lush forests, too. Mountain biking is quickly becoming the runner up to mountain climbing as the most popular sport in the nation. Visitors from all over the world are also flocking to Nepal for stunning safaris where you can see rhinos, tigers, and monkeys in their natural habitats.”
“During my travels in the southeastern United States, I’ve found that people here are open, authentic, and kind. They remind me a lot of the hospitality and friendliness I experience in Nepal. I often hear from people who first went to the Himalayas to climb, that their main draw to return to Nepal isn’t for a second climb. People from all over the world come back to our beautiful country to re-experience the food, culture, and people. Nepal is a very special, welcoming nation.”
Pema’s favorite Sherpa items are the Johla shoulder bag and Rimjhim Handwarmers. Pema raves, “The colors and textures of these handicraft pieces are handmade in Nepal and remind me of the Nepalese people that I love so much.” [Take a peek at our current offerings by clicking HERE.]
Quite appropriately, the Sherpa logo is the endless knot. This enduring symbol represents, as Pema says, “All things, in all ways, are tied together. We weave into every garment a rich heritage of time-honored beliefs and humility. It is an odyssey of the heart.”