How Kyrgyz women sell traditional felt around the world
In a remote northern region of Kyrgyzstan, a community of women founded UZ-ANAR, devoted to craftsmanship and tourism around the art of traditional felt products. But to sell their products beyond their region, they had to learn to navigate e-commerce.
Burul Jakypova learned needlework as a child, at her aunt’s side, learning the patterns that have passed through generations of Kyrgyz women.
‘Patterns are the heritage of our ancestors, which are passed down from generation to generation,’ she said. ‘Each pattern has a meaning. They symbolize natural phenomena and the animal world.’
As she grew up, with her aunt’s guidance, she mastered knitting and her hobby became her career.
With experience, she saw how other women could turn their skills into an income. So 15 years ago, she started Uz-Anar to teach felt-making techniques while improving their quality and production.
‘We buy wool from local farmers, manually clean, process and dye it, and then we produce felt, shyrdak, ala-kiyiz,’ she said.
‘Our women take the dyed felt home, and make patterns, working with a flexible schedule.’
Shyrdak and ala-kiyiz are typically Kyrgyz carpets and wall hangings, with patterns that can recur on the ottomans, poufs and cushions that Uz-Anar also makes.
‘I believe they carry the energy of ancient times,’ Burul said. ‘They keep us warm and give us strength. We try to correctly interpret these symbols in products for our customers.’
Today, the community provides job opportunities and financial support to young mothers and retirees in rural areas, empowers them with required technical skills, and offers comfortable working conditions and fair wages.
'We provide an opportunity for women and mothers of large families to work from home with a flexible schedule and receive income,' Burul said.
To grow their business, Uz-Anar needed to reach more customers. In 2021, they joined the e-commerce programme at the International Trade Centre and worked with the ecomConnect team to up their skills and knowledge.
‘Thanks to ITC, we not only increased our technical skills but what is more important, raised our confidence in business procedures. I am sure we can expand to international markets, as we had our first international sales via eBay while participating in the training,’ said Burul.
With access to new markets, Uz-Anar will continue supporting the local community of women and promoting the Kyrgyz culture and traditions worldwide.
About the project
The Ready4Trade Central Asia project is a joint initiative of the European Union and the International Trade Centre. It aims to contribute to the overall sustainable and inclusive economic development of Central Asia by boosting intra-regional and international trade in the region. Beneficiaries of the Ready4Trade Central Asia project include governments, small and medium-sized enterprises, in particular women-led enterprises, and business support organizations.
Discover Uz-Anar, a community of Kyrgyz women who create traditional felt handicrafts such as shyrdak, ottomans, poufs and cushions. For 15 years, the community has improved the manufacturing process and the product quality, while teaching women craft techniques that have opened new jobs and promoted opportunities at home and abroad.
Uz-Anar is one of over 200 small businesses and artisans in Central Asia supported by the EU-funded Ready4Trade project.