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How a Trip Abroad Changed Lives: Fair Trade in Kyrgyzstan

An Interview with Silk Road Bazaar 

Silk Road Bazaar Fair trade

Unique World Inspirations is proudly partnered with Silk Road Bazaar! For almost a decade, they having been uplifting spirits of women and families in the most remote regions of Kyrgyzstan. Providing a resource through Fair Trade, Silk Road Bazaar has positively impacted the lives of women, including widows and those unable to find a sustainable means of income to provide for their families. We are inspired how traveling abroad impacted the founder so deeply, it lead him to help impoverished families by offering jobs and fair wages they wouldn't have otherwise had access to.

This impact has not only benefited community, it has given artisans a sense of pride and dignity in the culture and greatly benefited their livelihoods. Silk Road Bazaar uses natural fibers and eco-friendly resources to create unique, beautiful, handcrafted, felt products. 

We interviewed founder Andrew Kuschner to learn more:

 

What inspired you to start Silk Road Bazaar?

After studying in South Korea in 2009 and graduating college, I joined the Peace Corps. My experiences traveling in Asia had shown me how the materialistic and superficial elements of Western culture had come to dominate everything. The Peace Corps gave me the opportunity to experience something more grounded and raw. When I was assigned to Kyrgyzstan I didn't know what to expect, but it certainly fed my appetite for raw adventure. What I discovered was an isolated, beautiful, mountainous country full of friendly people who are warm and welcoming.

I grew up in the United States where people possess this preconceived notion that if you work hard, you’ll be able to support yourself. But after traveling Asia while I was in the Peace Corps, I saw that that ideal just doesn’t hold up everywhere you go. Sometimes the opportunity just isn’t there. In Kyrgyzstan, impoverished people are often unable to find jobs due to a corrupt system of bribery that they must go through in order to be hired. That is why Silk Road Bazaar searches for talented but economically marginalized artisans in Karakol and provides them with professional training so that their products can compete in the global market.

Our mission is to improve socioeconomic access for people far away from capital resources and job opportunities.

Fair trade in Kyrgyzstan

What would you like people to know about Fair Trade products?

Global sales and an increased income help artisans escape poverty. We work with artisan groups to build sustainable livelihoods for craftspeople in marginalized areas.

How have your artisans benefited from Fair Trade?

We have been able to provide fair opportunities to these artisans that they didn't have before. When I first go to Kyrgyzstan I was working side by side with the artisans and they told me things like "This is the first job I’ve ever had that didn’t require me to bribe the supervisor or let him withhold my first paycheck." These women have also gained a stronger sense of pride and dignity.

What community impact has Silk Road Bazaar made?

The biggest impact is the opportunities for women. Women in the country were often discouraged from working. A lot of our artists in our collective are widowed or face extreme financial difficulties and providing them with a stable job allows them to gain some independence and fills them with dignity. While our artisans are mainly women, some of the husbands have stepped in to help too, so now you have women providing for their families and teaching new skills to their husbands.

Handmade crafts Kyrgyzstan

What is unique about your crafts and artisans?

The artisans, who are predominately women, create their products using felt, which is historically and culturally important to the Kyrgyz people: their clothing, rugs, and sometimes even houses are all made from the same wool felt that is used for creating their products. 

In 2012 Silk Road Bazaar partnered with Kork to bring Kyrgyz crafts and design to a global audience. Kork was incorporated in 1996 by artist Gulnara Kyrdyrmyshova who provided local artists with an outlet to sell their work at a time when many artists faced unemployment, severe poverty, and economic depression. By working together we are helping these artists maintain stable jobs and giving them access to American markets which keep this part of Krgyz culture alive.


How a Trip Abroad Changed Lives: Fair Trade in Kyrgyzstan

Why should people who love traveling be especially interested in Silk Road Bazaar?

It is such a beautiful place, from the scenery to the people. If you are seeking adventure and enjoy new cultures with a deep history, this is a place you will enjoy.

Is there anything else you would like us to know?

The Silk Road Bazaar leaves a minimal footprint. Felt is a sustainable, eco-friendly, recyclable material.

We here at Unique World Inspirations would like to thank Andrew Kuschner for sharing his story with us, it is inspiring to know the background of a company that has helped so many. Being partners, we share in our purpose, to positively impact society through humanitarian business practices and Fair Trade. We proudly feature the handcrafted works of Silk Road Bazaar at Unique World Inspirations are happy to support the artists of Kyrgyzstan. Together, we are making a difference!   

We welcome to browse their handmade crafts here.

 

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1 comment

  • James: October 16, 2018

    Great inspiring story! It is so welcoming to know the background and drive of the founder to help these beautiful people and to bring their art to the World, definitely bringing some of that Love into my home! Thank you, James

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