Marketing Kyrgyz heritage through e-commerce

28 April 2022
ITC News

Over 30 women artisans living in remote villages in Kyrgyzstan are connecting to international markets thanks to ITC trainings.

Kilemchi and Alay Uuz are two women-led cooperatives of artisans working in remote villages in the Kyrgyz Republic. They specialize in exclusive Kyrgyz traditional handicrafts. Over 30 women from these cooperatives benefited from training and advisory services in e-commerce offered by the International Trade Centre (ITC).

Kilemchi is a group of artisans united by a shared passion in creating handmade rugs. The skill of weaving carpets has been passed down from generation to generation for several centuries. 

Most artisans live in Margun village in the Batken region, which is well-known for its traditional handicraft production.

“We make carpets using environmentally friendly raw materials and dyes. Our women, aged from 25 to 65, have been engaged in carpet weaving all their lives and each are renowned for their unique ornaments and dyeing methods," says Paridahan Baetova, head of Kilemchi.

The second cooperative, Alay Uuz, located in Sopu-Korgon village in the region of Osh, has been making natural merino wool products for 12 years. Alay Uuz specializes in Kyrgyz shyrdaks – hand-made, colourfully stitched felt rugs.

“Our felt carpets are handmade, using ecologically clean materials and sustainable techniques. To produce one carpet, it may take up to six months,” says Nurgul Kalmurzaeva, the development manager of Alay Uuz.

As part of the Ready4Trade Central Asia project funded by the European Union, the ecomConnect programme at ITC launched its enterprise training and advisory services to over 200 small businesses in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan in 2021.

Artisanal businesses make up a significant share of beneficiaries that have no experience in product digitization and e-commerce. Since the start of their involvement in the project, both cooperatives were assigned ITC-trained coaches. They supported the artisans with tailored sessions in e-commerce to advance their digital skills on how to sell online, target international customers, and expand their businesses globally.

Kilemchi Cooperative: A success story

Nurzhigit Eraliev, one of 16 ITC e-commerce coaches in Kyrgyzstan, has been supporting Kilemchi cooperative in their online journey since 2021.

“The Ready4Trade project advanced my knowledge of cross-border e-commerce and demonstrated a wide range of free ITC tools in support of entrepreneurs, such as the ITC market analysis tools and e-commerce tools.

This helped me to identify the international trade opportunities for the assigned business as well as calculating costs and assessing online channels. Supporting small businesses that have limited digital skills requires tremendous dedication and commitment,” he says.

He adds: “We started with e-commerce fundamentals: product content and digitization. To achieve our ambitious plan to export across borders, we started onboarding Kilemchi on social media channels. Further steps will include website creation and exploring international marketplaces.”.

The project supported the Kilemchi cooperatives to launch their first ever online accounts on Instagram and Facebook and provided training on how to create e-commerce content and digitize products for online promotion. They were also able to create their first B2B listing, which led to their first online sale.

Alay Uuz Cooperative: A success story

Fariza Chilmergenova, an ITC e-commerce coach working with Alay Uuz, shares her thoughts:

“The programme provides a comprehensive overview of the e-commerce journey and helps to plan digital trade, starting from the basic online channels for less digitally advanced artisans and gradually moving to more complex platforms. Together with Alai Uuz, we analyzed customers’ profiles, estimated e-commerce costs, and assessed the suitability of existing products for e-commerce.”

Nurgul Kalmurzeva adds: “Throughout the training, we concluded that it would be beneficial to launch new competitive products with less production and shipping costs than the traditional felt rugs. Alai Uuz produced its first felted yoga carpet, which we promoted on the recently created Instagram and Facebook accounts. We learned how to create e-commerce content and digitize our products with the lightbox gifted by the project.”

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.