A Turkmen Dream Travels Around the World

Speeches Shim

Thursday, July 7, 2022
Nazilya and her dolls
USAID

Nazilya Huseynova, a doll maker from Turkmenistan, used to help her grandmother sew clothes as a child. At the age of 10, she sat down at a sewing machine for the first time. Today she thinks fondly of those early days of mastering a new craft – and the doors it has opened for her.  At the age of 18, Nazilya became a professional seamstress. 

Nazilya is an accountant by training, but sewing became her vocation. She has successfully raised two children while working on her own terms as a seamstress, and always made time to study new techniques. 

“I dreamed of sewing an unforgettable wedding dress – and it came true!” says Nazilya. “But when the dream comes true, you start to lose your bearings. I learned almost everything about tailoring and developed my own cutting system. Then I asked myself: Where do I go next?” 

It was at this crossroads in her life that she heard from a friend about the Handmade Export 2021 program, organized by the local consultancy Orlan with support from USAID’s Future Growth Initiative. Participation in the project meant new training opportunities but Nazilya never imagined how much the training course would change her life and expand her career as an entrepreneur. 

The goal of the Handmade Export 2021 program was to list Turkmen handicrafts on the online sales platform eBay and in other international marketplaces to expand market access and increase international sales. Local business trainers and mentors led group and individual training sessions for participants and, with the help of Swiss expert Fabian Stächelin, 16 artisans from Turkmenistan opened an online store on eBay.

“Proper structuring of the program helped us develop step by step in our chosen direction, and the supportive attitude of the organizers helped and motivated us to confidently follow our own path,” says Nazilya.

Over a 10-month period from May 2021 to February 2022, 24 program participants attended 250 hours of intensive workshops and consultations with dozens of experts, including specialists in product design, online market research, high-quality product photography, product markets and digital promotion.

“Thanks to the Handmade Export 2021 program, I changed my direction from tailoring to designer dolls,” says Nazilya. “From polymer clay, I began to create  ‘little people’ with their own characters, emotions, and even dreams. The images were completed by national costumes, which I carefully thought out and sewed by hand for each ‘model.’”

In December 2021, 12 program participants had the opportunity to send a shared shipment of goods from Turkmenistan to the U.S.-based warehouse of Deliverr, a third party distribution service. Nazilya sent eight products, including six polymer clay dolls in national costumes. Two months later, ethnic Turkmen in the U.S. and Canada placed orders through eBay for four of Nazilya’s dolls, worth more than $300. 

“Opening a store on eBay, sending works to a transshipment warehouse in the United States, making the first sale, the delivery, and then receiving grateful feedback from the buyer - all this defined my new goal and dream: to show the Turkmen dress and unique embroidery to the world and to reunite ethnic Turkmen with their country of origin through my dolls in national costumes,” says Nazilya enthusiastically.

Through the project, Nazilya says she has met talented artisans, representatives of local online marketplaces Gerekli, Ynamdar and Akat, and organizers of local craft fairs and exhibitions. She began exhibiting her work on these platforms and successfully selling dolls in the local market.

Since the beginning of the project, Nazilya's sales have doubled, raising more than $4,000 in income. In March 2022, Nazilya opened a doll and home decor workshop in a shopping center in Ashgabat. In the final competitive stage of the Handmade Exports 2021 program, Nazilya was named winner for her “contribution to social entrepreneurship.” This was in recognition of the help that Nazilya provided to disabled women and retirees as she actively taught them how to sew dolls and other home décor items for further sale on the local and international online marketplaces to improve their financial stability.

Nazilya plans to send a new batch of dolls in national dresses, worth over $1,000, to a warehouse in the United States for future orders.

“It is very important for each of us to have a connection with the past and the history and culture of our native people, regardless of where they live,” reflects Nazilya. “This connection stretches from generation to generation, uniting us into a single nation.”

As a result of the Handmade Export 2021 program, 190 items were listed on the eBay platform with a total value of more than $24,000. Over two months, buyers from the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan purchased more than 30 items worth $3,000. The eBay store opening was the first international business operation for each of the 16 participating artisans from Turkmenistan, 14 of whom are women.

Last updated: August 26, 2022

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