Culture Baby is very proud to carry products from Central Asia Craftspring, a social organization bringing the handmade traditional crafts of Central Asia to market in the United States. Craftspring's mission is grounded in entrepreneurship and the belief that without an economically sustainable market, many of this fascinating region's handmade crafts and traditions would disappear.
Craftspring's founder, Anne Laure Py, an entrepreneur herself, spoke to Culture Baby about what led her to this region and to the beautiful products the area's artisans make.
Central Asia seems lie outside the border of most people's mental maps. What drew you there?
I’ve always been drawn to Central Asia – ever since I was a kid. I think that I was always intrigued by the idea that in Europe, where I’m from, we had this idea of Asia as being really far away, and not connected to our European culture – and yet, if you just put on some good walking shoes, you could walk from Paris to Beijing in a handful of months. I refused to believe that with such proximity there would be not exchange / overlap / similarities. It turns out that Central Asia was and is one of the main pivots where so many cultures – from both East and West - meet and interact. I was naturally drawn to the region and its rich history and present. After living in China for several years – I finally got the opportunity to do research in Central Asia, through a grant from my Alma Mater - Wellesley College. I was lucky because this grant enabled me to study crafts and craftspeople – and I found myself exploring craft-trades that were so central to local culture and also to cultural exchange. It’s been an amazing adventure.
Why did you start Craftspring?
Listening to the artisans’ stories, one of the key problems facing Central Asian craft entrepreneurs became clear. This was, and remains, the lack of steady, year-round sales opportunities and access to socially conscious consumers willing and ready to support master artisans. Indeed, without access to consumers committed to the slow and traditional creative processes of master craftsmen, vital ancient crafts and traditions are on the brink of disappearing.
We partner with workshops anchored in their communities, who source local materials, employ local men and women, and provide employees with fair wages and comfortable working conditions. Our design input also focuses on reviving traditional details, shapes, and methods of production.
Tell us more about the Kyrgyz wool used in the Craftspring products available at Culture Baby...
The felt we use at Craftspring is made of 100% sheep’s wool. The Kyrgyz were traditionally a nomadic people, whose economy was based on animal husbandry – and particularly the raising of sheep. Sheep and sheep’s wool were therefore central to the nomad’s life – and even their traditional home, the yurt was made of thick pressed wool (felt) coverings that were wrapped around a wooden frame. Within this traditional home (the yurt) were other traditional felted crafts – including Alakiiz (multi-colored felt carpets), and Shyrdak (the quilted/appliqué felt mosaic carpet used to decorate the walls). The knowledge of felt therefore is incredibly ancient in this part of the world – and is a skill that has been passed down from mother to daughter across the generations. It has a really sacred and ancient history, not only of a feminine craft passed down through the ages, but also the memory of when man used to live in close harmony with nature. This is part of the beauty we think is really reflected in our products.