We are excited to present to you our new partner from Karakol, Kyrgyzstan, Silk Road Bazaar. Since 2012, Silk Road Bazaar has been fighting poverty and corruption with fair wage artisan careers in traditional felt work.
Kyrgyzstan was a member of the Soviet Union for more than half a century, between 1936 and 1991. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan, like many former Soviet countries, has struggled to find economic and government stability. With over one-third of Kyrgyz living at or below the poverty line, Kyrgyzstan is the second-poorest former Soviet country, and the second-poorest country in Central Asia.
Government corruption, including election fraud, has plagued the country and has created an atmosphere of distrust. Because they go largely unsupervised, people and groups in power–the police, the courts, and even hospitals–are able to easily get away with bribery, and will often ignore or work against those who do not pay them under the table. Employers are also guilty of turning away potential employees who do not offer bribes, which leaves many already impoverished citizens jobless.
Silk Road Bazaar sought to offer alternative job opportunities to those struggle to support themselves. In 2012, Silk Road Bazaar partnered with Kork Fiber Art Group in order to bring Kyrgyz artisans and their products to the global market. The group hires and trains mostly women, who typically earn less than men working the same jobs, and who are increasingly discouraged from working outside the home due to a rising religiously conservative culture.
Kyrgyz artisans are masters in felting. This practice has been used for centuries, and pre-20th century, wool felt was the most widely available textile in the region. Clothes, shoes, toys, and even houses (yurts) were all created from Kyrgyz felt. Today, Silk Road Bazaar artisans use this textile to make a range of products that can compete in the global market, including felt soaps, Christmas tree ornaments, and children’s slippers. The production and materials of these items are all environmentally-friendly. Silk Road Bazaar sends volunteers to the city’s college to train students in design and sewing. The organization has also partnered with the Peace Corps to educated artisans in healthcare, and to offer them free yoga and dance classes to stay healthy. Currently, over 35 artisans work at Silk Road Bazaar, and the organization hopes that continued exposure on the global market will allow them to expand and hire more and more artisans.
Global Goods Partners has teamed up with Silk Road Bazaar to sell animal-themed baby booties, all handmade with natural materials. Two designs are currently available with more on the way. Visit our website to browse these products and to learn more about Silk Road Bazaar and Kyrgyzstan.