Traditional Kyrgyz Carpets Decorate Homes Around the World

Speeches Shim

Thursday, January 27, 2022
Local artisan
USAID’s Future Growth Initiative

Felted wool is deeply rooted in traditional Kyrgyz artistry. This product of nomadic lifestyles is closely linked to land and livestock in the Kyrgyz Republic. The Kyrgyz people have traditionally used natural felt to make numerous household items and in the construction of traditional yurts.

The most popular felt product has long been the warm, boldly-patterned rug known as shyrdak. Shyrdaks are produced using a complex and time-consuming technique that contributes to its durability – the rugs are said to have an average service life of 100 years. They are popular with tourists and a regular source of income for local artisans.

However, when the COVID-19 pandemic led to strict quarantine measures, the government halted international flights and the flow of tourists to the Kyrgyz Republic sharply declined. Many local artisans experienced sharp declines in incomes from handicraft sales.

Prior to the pandemic, Mansur Abylaev, director of Baibol Group of Companies, LLC, and his team enjoyed success in the tourism sector. In 2020, the Baibol Group decided to transform its business model to focus on the export of local handicrafts, particularly felt products. “The concept of our project is to actively promote handmade goods and souvenirs through various online platforms and provide a full package of services for payment and delivery anywhere in the world,” explains Mansur. And so the team’s website was born.

The new project also marked the launch of the ‘Kyrgyz Handmade’ brand, with the goal of selling shyrdaks all over the world. The company made its first sales in July 2020, and quickly looked for new ways to meet growing demand. “When we realized that the demand for shyrdaks was quite high, and that many clients wanted to order them according to individual sizes and designs, we had an idea, to launch our own production of felt products,” says Mansur. “This was made possible thanks to a partnership with USAID.”

In May 2021, Kyrgyz Handmade started production of its own line of shyrdaks. The company also expanded to include new products, including yoga mats, prayer rugs, and wall hangings. 

With USAID’s technical support, Baibol optimized its website to introduce automation in warehouse processes, increase marketing impact, and raise brand awareness. Moreover, thanks to the company’s participation in a regional online training on the eBay Central Asia Hub, Mansur created an eBay store in September 2021. By December 2021, the store had sold 34 products to U.S. customers, with 100% positive feedback from 14 buyers.

As in ancient times, it is women who are primarily engaged in felt crafts production. Baibol currently works with 50 craftswomen from across the country. Artisan Burul Kurmankulova, who has been making shyrdaks since the age of 16, believes the international attention will not only raise the profile of Kyrgyz artisans, but also lead to greater interest in traditional handicrafts locally.

A distinctive feature of the Kyrgyz Handmade brand is the ability to combine ancient manufacturing traditions with modern design. By taking an individualized approach to design and sizing, the Baibol Group can satisfy a wide range of client needs – a significant competitive advantage. 

Mansur is proud that the company supports economic opportunity for women and youth in the tourism sector. “We plan to further develop shyrdak production, as well as expand sales to new markets. One of our goals is to promote Kyrgyzstan, a country with high tourism potential, through the rich heritage of Kyrgyz handicrafts.”

Baibol Group of Companies, LLC, was chosen for the USAID Future Growth Initiative co-financing program. The aim of their project is to promote domestic handicrafts in both local and foreign markets through online marketplaces, which provide consumers with convenient payment and delivery methods. The project also aims to create jobs in the country’s rural regions, particularly for women, and mitigate the negative effects of the pandemic on the national handicrafts sector.

Baibol launched full-cycle production of shyrdaks and other felt products as part of its project, employing 50 craftswomen. The company successfully opened a warehouse in Minnesota to quickly deliver goods in the United States. It has created online stores on eBay and Etsy and updated and optimized its own website since its launch. In addition, the company has signed a contract with two local companies for the supply of felt.

Each step Mansur and his company take opens the door for future sales and exports, bringing Kyrgyz culture to the world and jobs and economic growth to the Kyrgyz Republic. Artisan Burul Kurmankulova sums it up, “Thanks to the Kyrgyz Handmade project, I can produce shyrdaks again and share the beauty of traditional Kyrgyz art to decorate people’s homes around the world. Even more women, and especially young people, will be interested in national art and traditions, so that the age-old traditions of our ancient people will continue to exist and contribute to the diversity of the world’s cultural heritage.”

Last updated: March 25, 2022

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