We recommend to listen the audio installation in the headphones
Any craftswoman makes her products in large quantities or in small quantities, but there are no sales and this is a major problem in Kyrgyzstan. Because we have a lot of craftspeople. Every Kyrgyz woman is a craftswoman. My mother was a craftswoman, she made shyrdaks and other products. She was renowned, and maybe now she would be called a designer, but at that time she was called an "oimochu"
As a "Saima" group, we started production in 2004. At first, of course, it was very difficult.
Because there was no wool there were times when my sister and I used to tear up blankets
that our mother made for us, and used the wool to make felt paintings. Later, we learned that
we could buy wool in Tokmok. At the time, the worsted integrated plant was still in operation,
and it was possible to buy it from their shops. We were looking for ways to move forward and
at first, of course, we did not have such massive production. We went to local markets, participated in exhibitions. At that time, there were not many craft exhibitions. Afterwards we started going to Almaty. The people in Kazakhstan were very interested, they liked our products. Mainly big canvases, creative works of my sister. My sister is a professional artist-designer, an artist of applied art and her works were presented at exhibitions in many countries of the world.
The "Seal of Excellence" from UNESCO
Then we started doing more than just big artwork. We realized that we had to do something
related, so we started making felt hats. And in 2006, we received the "Seal of Excellence"
certificate from UNESCO. We are very pleased that we have been recognized in the international market. Every two years, a commission is held to award UNESCO "Seal of Excellence"
certificates in the Pacific and Central Asian region. We applied for it with our handicraft
products – several models of our headwear and felt products for home – pillows. There was
a traditional Kyrgyz embroidery – "basma saima". And we also used ala kiyiz technique in
the new styling. Then we received several more certificates of the "Seal of Excellence". One
of them was for the Happy Childhood collection consisting of a pillow, cushion, saddle and
ala kiyiz mat. In 2016, we applied with souvenirs.

This was our dream to expand into the international market. For a long time, we were trying
to make sure that we received orders, because we understood that if we only sat around with
artwork and small sales there wouldn't be much growth of our production. Later, we were
found by our importer, an American woman who was buying felt souvenirs in Kyrgyzstan. For
the first few years, we did not even realize that we were exporters. Not really understanding
this term, we began exporting in 2006-2007.
Because there was no wool there were times when my sister and I used to tear up blankets that our mother made for us, and used the wool to make felt paintings
Light industry for export
In 2013, we were included in the program funded by the Swiss government to promote trade
in Kyrgyzstan. It involves many garment manufacturers, light industry, and one of the branches is craftsmanship. We have been trained in marketing, and there were trainings on how to
develop a new collection, how to sell products, what would be in demand, for example, in
the European countries or America. They took us to the international wholesale exhibition
"Ambinte" in Frankfurt. Then we saw who the importers were, how they are placing orders.
Some of them were interested, for example, in a minimum batch of two thousand pieces of
each item or one item of felt toys in different colors.

After that, we understood what exactly we should make for the European market, what colors
they prefer, what toys. For the first few years it was very difficult for me to enter this market,
because I did not know much – about marketing, about exporting, how to deal with customs
services. It is impossible to go to Europe just like that – you need to know their requirements
for documents, quality requirements for products and dyes. We used to use whatever we
have bought, and now we work with certified German dyes. The products that we export to
Europe are tested in the largest European laboratory «Dax», because in Kyrgyzstan we don't
have such a laboratory that conducts testing and gives an international certificate. It was
very painful for us, I was nervous, but during that time the export of our souvenirs increased
by 80%.

We have limited products for retail trade. There are seasonal products, such as Christmas,
Easter, St. Valentine's Day products. And there are also souvenirs that are not seasonal and
are sold all year round. All our souvenir production is export-oriented. We already know
what to prepare and for whom. And if we get new clients, we research, we ask them, we
communicate with them.

The main countries we supply are America, Sweden, Italy, Russia, Kazakhstan and many
other countries, where we send small batches. In Germany, there are several cities, where
three large buyers are located; they work according to the fair trade system. It is very important for them how much I spent on all stages of work and on labor – I send them all the
calculations, how the price is formed, what materials I used.
A series of leading consumer goods trade fairs dedicated to design, tableware, gifts and home decoration, which offers unique marketing and sales opportunities for all markets in Europe and Asia. https://ambiente.messefrankfurt.com/frankfurt/en/facts-figures/worldwide.html
In 2004-2005, when we started, there wasn't much work, but little by little we started producing and then attracting other women who knew how to embroider – they worked from home. We prepared the material for them. They sat in their yard, embroidered small paintings and canvases. Other women who went out into the yard asked who it was for. That's how they came to us – there were up to fifty people in the group. And as we had a customer-importer, we did not have time to make such a big volume and began to purposefully recruit craftswomen. We took two felters, a few embroiderers, began to make headwear, and then we needed sewers.

Craftswomen, when they first come, they don't know how to do a lot of things, and in order to
meet the quality requirements of our customers, we have to train them. The first question we
ask when they visit our studio is what the woman did before to understand what her skills are.
When we teach, we look at her abilities and what she can do. Some people go through a
week of training, make efforts and quickly start to fit in, and some have never held a needle
in their lives, but they have a desire, so we also teach them. After training, we bring them to
excellence. They begin to make one toy step by step, then the second and gradually each
toy gets its own peculiarities, character – donkey's eyes are like that, another animal's eyes
are like that, a little tail, horns. Most craftswomen specialize in certain products, for example,
some make lambs, others make camels. We are very strict about the quality of the products,
because we sell it on the international market. If we develop a sample and there should be a
thousand of them, it means that every one of them should be similar to this sample.

At the moment, we have about 30 craftswomen, 5-6 of whom work in the studio, the rest
work from home. Some women have been working for 12-15 years, and they know exactly
what they have to do. For example, we tell them which deer to make, and they pick out all
the materials themselves. There is a cutter, she cuts all the patterns, and we give the rest of
the workers the finished patterns. We did not get there right away. At first, we gave away the
entire canvas, and low-quality products came out. Every person cut it as she saw fit, haphazardly, and, naturally, a deer turned out to be not a deer at all.
... and gradually each toy gets its own peculiarities, character – donkey's eyes are like that, another animal's eyes are like that, a little tail, horns.
- How long does it take to make one toy?

We buy felt, lay it out, shape it – it takes one to one and a half days to make a canvas. Then
we dry it for one day, if necessary – we paint it. Then we cut it, two craftswomen sit and constantly cut the details, after that we hand it out for sewing. Three days is spent on the preparation and then also on sewing. Everybody has their own speed – some sew 100 pieces in a week, others sew 10 pieces in a week.

- Do you update the models of toys?

Yes, each product has its own lifetime. The Aigul doll, for example, is always in demand.
Animals are always in demand too, and other toys are sold well for one year, two, three
years, then they cease to exist – the end of their cycle – then they have to be updated.
The salary for work in the studio is fixed, and outworkers get piecework payments. Each
product has its own price calculation – how much to pay to the craftswoman, how much for
raw materials, how much to spend on taxes, lighting and transportation. We also make cases
for phones and glasses, accessories, handbags. For embroidery and small parts, we pay
separately – the smaller the work, the more expensive it is.

There is a staff turnover. Of course, we spend a lot of time to train, and for the craftswoman to
stay with us for a long time, but, for various reasons, someone leaves, someone moves, someone gets a better paid job. And that's when we can't keep them. But there are those who come
back after a while. Mainly they work for us to earn extra money. About 60% of craftswomen
(out of 30 people) work in different institutions – at state institutions, they are doctors, nurses
who work shifts, there are those who stay at home with children. Mainly the employees are
women, there are no men. Although, it is interesting to note that all craftswomen at home have
husbands who help them. Sometimes they cut or merge, and they do good. When newcomers
come, we always tell them to ask their husbands what they can do, and then they get into it.
Social enterprise
Every craftswoman has some special cases when they need help. In such cases, we give them a financial reward or help somehow, so that they can solve their small problem. Maybe we cannot solve the whole problem, but we take part in it.

We pay for lunch ourselves, in the morning we pay for tea. At first everybody brought their own food in cans and containers, and when we saw that someone was ashamed to take out their own food, it is not a proper lunch. And we decided that we will provide it ourselves, because everyone has different opportunities, so that one could just come and work.

We are a social group, i.e. we work with women with disabilities or they may have children with special needs. Out of the whole staff, about 15%. There are craftswomen from the community of deaf-mute people. And it is important for us to work with them, to help them. They can earn money with their work, it is little money, but they earn it. There are single women with many children, they cannot work full time, and here they sew souvenirs and get money for it. There are girls who joined us from the 9th grade, from the school age.

As you start working with people, you take some responsibility for them, because there is a mother of a sick child and she needs to buy medicine or food for her children. Of course, we have children of our own, whom we bring up, and they live in this environment and grow up in this environment. Children of all our relatives, brothers and sisters, are also coming, it is very interesting for them.

It is good when there are people who can preserve traditional methods, traditions, clothes and food. I think that we are a part of this as well, because many people come to see, learn and work with felt. This is how we live.
We thank the heads of the "Saima" enterprise Svetlana Sheisheeva and Farizesh Sheisheeva for this conversation.
I like to explain, to sew. We had a factory group at the technical college. We were supposed to graduate and go to the factories, but when I graduated, all the factories fell apart and we had to work at ateliers. Later, private factories emerged, at first, they didn't work with technologists, because they worked in groups of 5-6 people and sewed everything by themselves
Sewing seamstress
My name is Aidana, I've been working at this factory for more than 10 years, basically from
the first days. I graduated from the Frunze Polytechnic Institute as an architect and worked
in the State Registration Service. Then I was downsized, my mother was sick at the time and
I needed to earn money. At that time this shop worked in Tunguch in a one-room apartment,
I lived there and came using connections. In 2002, I learned how to sew and now I am an
operator of the 5th category.

- And what does it mean?

It means that I am a good seamstress and I know everything. At first, four people worked there, there were virtually no conditions, then 10, 20 and now there are about 100. The way we used to work, if you think about it now, is funny. We used to cut several layers at once by ourselves, we made darts manually, we heated the iron using gas. Later, she (the owner of the workshop) rented a bigger room, then the cutting room was separated, sewing room was separated. We have been working for about 5-6 years, I guess, when this building was built. We moved here two years ago. The factory became the second home. In other places, when the season changes, they remain without work for a while. But here, if they say that today we are dispatching, we try to finish everything, so the work is constant, there is not a single day without work, we are a close-knit team. The payment is made on a
piece-by-piece basis, on Saturday we get money for whatever we have sewed during the week. I have a little time left until my retirement, so I will continue working here until then.

Cutters sit on the first floor, next to them are designers who make patterns, and the second and the third are sewing floors, packaging is separated. On our second floor the majority of seamstresses have been working here for 5-6 years. Usually we finish sewing everything by the evening, ironers iron it, and the technical control department counts how many cuttings each seamstress has taken, then checks and sends it to packaging. If something is not of high quality, we fix it, we would be nowhere without the quality control department.

- Is it difficult to work as a seamstress?

It used to be easier, now it's difficult, because the quality control of products is stricter, the styles change often, and if they don't change, then the season is different and the fabrics are too – thick, thin, medium – you have to get the knack of it. But if you have will, you can work. For example, a new style came today, they give us a cut and on the same day by the evening we have to finish the line. And before that, the customer comes to work with a designer. They make it out themselves, they sew one sample, and then technologist explains it to us – how to do this and that, and we start sewing right away. We sew everything by ourselves, from beginning to end. It's good, because you are responsible for the whole product, not operationally, when you depend on others – a person could be ill or could go to a funeral, and then it all stops. And everybody's speed is different, some of us sew slowly, some of us are highspeed. One, for example, finishes, and sits waiting, everything is different for every person. In my opinion, it is good, you do not look up to anyone, you are independent, and you sew as much as you can.

We supply our products to Russia, Kazakhstan, they order on a regular basis. We sew for a week or two, then we ship 30 tons, for example, mostly women's dresses and sports suits. We used to ship a lot of pants with rhinestones to Tajikistan and national products to Osh market, 2-3 years ago it was fashionable to use velvet – embroidery, ornament. Patterns were ordered elsewhere, and we sewed products, mainly children's, women's t-shirts and socks. It was beautiful, did you see pictures at the entrance?
I have been working as a technologist at the «Barkhat» enterprise for four years now. As soon as I got here, we got along. I am a professional sewing technologist, I graduated from a technological college. My job is to explain and help seamstresses to sew different models, where to start and how to finish. Every day our conveyors change, our models change, so every day there is something new for the seamstress and I have to explain everything in the morning – I show it behind the machine and explain verbally, show technical drawings, then samples to make it convenient and easy for them. If there are nuances for some parts, I have to warn the seamstress how to do it. We don't work for just one customer, but for several, all models are different, so every day is different, but after a while the models are repeated. We sew dresses, sometimes sport style, but it's already easy for us, because the logic, the processing is the same. We got used to it, but of course, it has become more difficult compared to previous years, because the market is more demanding. Nobody wears simple clothes anymore, they want it to be exclusive, unusual. This is what we work with.
The process of work is as follows: they give us a model, we, the technologists, sew a sample, then we discuss it with the customers. If they like it, they buy and bring us a roll. If they bring it today, it means that it will be cut tomorrow morning, and the day after tomorrow in the morning the sewing will start and by the evening we will have to finish with one or two lines
- Is it hard to master a new model?

It's hard because models change and you don't always keep up. Customers bring a roll today and ask for the goods tomorrow. A maximum task is set in the shortest possible time. They want products right away, and in order for the products to be beautiful, of high quality and on time, it is necessary to invest a lot of work.

The process of work is as follows: they give us a model, we, the technologists, sew a sample, then we discuss it with the customers. If they like it, they buy and bring us a roll. If they bring it today, it means that it will be cut tomorrow morning, and the day after tomorrow in the morning the sewing will start and by the evening we will have to finish with one or two lines.

It is necessary to master a new style quickly and to explain it to everyone individually. Sometimes I gather several seamstresses, show, then check if they understood or not, so there is no hour or half an hour for analysis, we start immediately to be able to complete the order in time. I work with seamstresses on the go, we start with little things, so while I'm working on the details of the product, they make preparations – pockets or grinds, they cut rubber bands for trousers, make waistbands, and after that they switch to the main thing. That's the deadline. Two or three days. The rest of the batch is on the third day. The batch is about 200-300 pieces, at least 140. There are smaller batches, but it is rare, sometimes a customer asks for a model to be repeated, and we sew about 100 pieces. We sew large batches of 500, 600, 1000, 1300 pieces for a Russian online shop. Now every big factory works with technologists, because it is difficult, styles change and become complicated, but I have not met professional technologists yet. I am the only one with education in this factory.

- Do you like your work?

I like it. I like to explain, to sew. We had a factory group at the technical college. We were supposed to graduate and go to the factories, but when I graduated, all the factories fell apart and we had to work at ateliers. Later, private factories emerged, at first, they didn't work with technologists, because they worked in groups of 5-6 people and sewed everything by themselves.

There is a staff turnover in every factory. Girls run from one to another, seeking for easier models to sew, for a comfortable place that is near their homes, and those, who like it here, still work. When seamstresses come, I tell them: "Do you like it here, girls? If you do, then stay and try to work for a week. If you don't, then you can leave, no one will tie you down with a rope here". Everybody in Kyrgyzstan are used to being free now, there is no employment history records, no system, they do what they like. We hire seamstresses, those, who like it, stay with us, and those, who leave, continue to look for a place to work at. Sometimes they call us and say: "Can I come back to you?". I say: "Yes, of course, you can". This is the way we hire.
Factory administration
My name is Choro Kunasov, I am the brother of Nurzhan Kunasova, owner of this enterprise. Our factory is working for about 15 years now, we sew women's clothes. Mainly we sew for Kazakhstan and Russia. I have been working here for about seven years, I am a professional banker. I lost my job after the revolution in 2010 and came here to help my sister with accounting.

We ship to Russia and Kazakhstan, I can't tell you exactly which cities, but I think they are Moscow, Shymkent and Almaty, maybe other cities too. Products are in demand, because we work without stopping, all year round. We sew for Dordoi, and from there they already take it for export, 95% goes through Dordoi. Our customers sew a sample model and show it to their customers, or we sew a small batch for them. If the model turned out well, they continue to sew it in our factory.

The sewing sector has a big turnover, as there are a lot of factories in Bishkek and fewer staff. As you can see, the factory is only 70-60% full. At the same time, there are people who have been working for us for 5-10 years, there are about 20% of such people, the remaining 80% are constantly changing. A year, a month, someone would work for two days and leave. Sewing seamstresses go where they are paid more, i.e. our seamstresses dictate everything. They know that there are a lot of factories and jobs everywhere, it is not a problem, and if a small misunderstanding occurs, they leave immediately. We give year-round advertising on television, we advertise on the internet. That's how we recruit.

This does not affect the quality of products, because in any case, we have a technologist, quality control department, everything is checked. But it does affect the volume when there is an urgent order. It often happens so that there is an order, and there are no seamstresses, we have to constantly overcome such situations. For today we have about 50 seamstresses working.

Perhaps, it is not prestigious to work as a seamstress, that's why many people do not want to, and someone works and gets tired, finds another job in a completely different field. There are no problems with cutters, ironers, because there are a lot of them, we, for example, have four cutters. They have time to cut for the whole factory, mostly guys do this work. If ironers leave today, we can give an advertisement and find another person within a day. It is painless to change them, because one big factory can be serviced by several ironers and cutters, but we need a lot of seamstresses, it is more complicated, you see.

There are requirements for cutters, they must have work experience, a person with knowledge, and for ironers there is no such requirement, we can teach, but mainly guys with experience come. They learn within a week, there is nothing particularly hard. Even you can get up there and work tomorrow without any problems. There are no requirements for seamstresses either, as the situation does not allow. Sometimes newcomers who are just learning come, we try to teach them, and experienced people also come. We take everyone as long as they are willing to work. If a person does not know anything at all, but is willing to do so, then after a month and a half he or she starts sewing something. And someone needs six months or a year, it is all about individual capabilities. On average, in two or three months he or she starts sewing properly.

- Have you tried sewing yourself?

Two years ago I tried sewing for myself. I made a cover for the car, then a sweatshirt, so I learned a little.

- Is it hard?

I don't have the experience of working for months. I sewed for myself, it was interesting and not hard, I could sit from morning till evening, I wanted to learn, but doing it from one day to the other, perhaps, one would get bored from doing the same thing. If you work for months or years, I think it's hard to sit at the same place all the time. Some people easily do it, but some can't, there is no physical work here, but one needs perseverance.
For this conversation we thank seamstress and technologist at «Barkhat» (Velvet) enterprise, Choro Kunasov (financial administration of «Barkhat» sewing enterprise), as well as the head of the enterprise Nurzhan Kunasova for openness in cooperation and support in creation of this material.
Employment and economic development
The private sector is the backbone of economic growth and job creation. Supporting the efforts of the Kyrgyz authorities in improving the business climate, attracting investments and diversifying production for exports has been one of the main priorities of the Swiss Cooperation since the independence of the country. These efforts have contributed to significantly reduced costs of doing business for Kyrgyz SMEs. Access to business advisory services and to finance enabled companies to develop their commercial skills and hence, improve their performance; as a matter of fact, local textile and clothing SMEs became more competitive and maintained (some of them even increased) their export volumes despite the recent economic crisis in Russia and Kazakhstan. Yet, in spite of these achievements, in a context of increasing regional competition, further efforts are needed to ensure the successful integration of Kyrgyzstan in the global and regional economy by improved business climate in the country.

Switzerland will further support the sustainable and inclusive economic growth with a focus on more and better jobs. Support will be provided to deliver top notch advisory services and financial products for businesses, strengthen business/sector associations and SMEs and to increase performance of value chains with high potential for investments and exports: textile, tourism and agri-business sectors, in particular in remote areas.

Projects implemented in the economic sector in Kyrgyzstan :
  • Global Textile and Clothing Trade Promotion Programme in the Kyrgyz Republic;
  • Project on Investment and Economic Growth in Kyrgyzstan;
  • Environmental and Social Governance Program;
  • Azerbaijan-Central Asia Financial Infrastructure Program;
  • Azerbaijan and Central Asia Micro- and Responsible Finance project;
  • Kyrgyzstan Housing Microfinance TA project;
  • EBRD Programme: Small Business Development Initiative;
  • Small and Medium Enterprises Development in Alai and Chon Alai districts;
  • Promotion of Sustainable Economic Growth in Kyrgyzstan;
  • Kyrgyz Audit and Reporting Enhancement Project;
  • Trust Fund's Financial Sector Development Project;
  • Sustainable Winter Tourism in the KR Project;
  • Program on Access to Financial Services in Central Asia;
  • Mobile Money/Electronic and Digital Financial Services Project.
We recommend to listen the audio installation in the headphones