From Dordoi to global markets

10 June 2022
ITC News

Entrepreneur Irina Khegay from Kyrgyzstan started small with her fashion company at wholesale market Dordoi in Bishkek. Despite the challenges of setting up a company while juggling family and business, she is proud to now reach an international audience with her children’s clothing line, thanks to ITC support and training.

Irina Khegay has turned her childhood passion of sewing dresses for dolls into a profitable business. Irina is the founder and CEO of garment company Irish.ko, a Kyrgyz company specialized in children’s fashion. In the ten years since its creation, her business has grown from being a local small-batch clothing manufacturer to an exporting firm that participates in major international exhibitions and design competitions.

“The GTEX project has helped me transform my company's operational capacity. A small company initially selling its products at the local Dordoy market is now exporting to different countries. Thanks to the International Trade Centre, this is our reality today,” says the 38-year-old entrepreneur and beneficiary of the International Trade Centre’s Swiss-funded GTEX project.

Despite facing challenges in aligning her leadership role as a company owner with family responsibilities, Irina pushed through. Luckily, the founder had the support from her close ones, who believed and invested in her projects. As with other small clothing businesses, she set off to produce every clothing item by herself, from designing to sewing and selling.

To grow her business, Irina set her eyes on attending trade fairs to reach out to bigger buyers. However, she did not know how to prepare such an attendance.

"Our first independent attempt to enter the export market of Russia was a complete failure. We attended a fashion exhibition in Moscow without any planning,” remembers Irina. “We paid for a six-square-meter exhibition area, which ended up being a huge disappointment. We lost time and money without getting any results.”

After this sobering experience, Irina looked for other alternatives to growth. With the support of Legprom, a business support organization and one of GTEX’s partners in the country, the company owner joined the ITC project. Irina then had the opportunity to attend numerous trainings, including design and quality management, social standards, and e-commerce. With the knowledge acquired, she could introduce changes in her company that resulted in more efficient production, increased sales and trade fair participation.

In addition to providing training and business development opportunities, the GTEX project created a platform for members of the Legprom association to network with other garment enterprises and industry experts. Being new to the export market, it is crucial to connect with and exchange information with more experienced players in the market. With a small but highly specialized team, Irina understood that she did not need a large factory to export and secure contracts. On the opposite, keeping it small allows her to maintain her passion for fashion design while outsourcing the production to partner sewing factories.

Two years after the first trade fair experience in Moscow, Irish.ko attended the Child and Junior Fashion international exhibition with the support of ITC. "I still had only six square meters to present my products; however, this time, the experience was completely different,” Irina explains. “I had the needed resources. Thanks to the GTEX project, I had a new vision of doing business, knew how to interact with retailers and present my collection in a professional manner. Since then, my company has participated in the exhibition four times.”

Thanks to her participation in trade fairs, the company’s production turnover increased by 150% and the customer base expanded from 70 to 350 clients. And this is not all.

“I initially had eight employees. Now I provide jobs to more than 40 people, mostly women. Having an income helps them improve their lives and support their families," says Irina.

Soon, Irina would like to open her own shop in Bishkek to celebrate the company's 10th anniversary and is excited to prepare a solid business plan. Irina is confident that her company is on the right track.