In Her Words / A Letter from Zhanyl Sharshenbieva to Ibu Allies

Dear Ibu Allies, 

My name is Zhanyl, and my sisters and I founded an organization to preserve and elevate the traditional felting techniques of our ancestors in Kyrgyzstan. Our story begins from childhood, where we grew up in a creative family. Our father is an artist, a master Kyrgyz saddlemaker, an ethnographer, and a researcher of the evolution of the Kyrgyz yurt. Our mother taught embroidery at a local art school. Growing up, my sisters and I were entwined in their work and helped them in all areas of their crafts. In addition, we spent the holidays with my grandmother, who was a craftswoman of traditional felt carpets, called shyrdak. Cleaning, whipping, and combing the wool by hand was the grandchildren's responsibility. We watched as our grandmother and other women made the carpets, each intended for a specific event and carrying its own meaning, ornament, and message.

As adults, this creative spirit persisted and in time we felt the pull to leave our respective jobs and work together. Two older sisters, Farzana and Kadyrkul, began to make panels, ala-kiyiz carpets, and scarves, and soon everyone else fell in love with this occupation. Our family business was born. In 1998, we saw an interest in felting and folk art renewed, and saw an opportunity to breathe new life into this ancient craft.

We began to submit our work to global exhibitions and competitions, and in 2011 we were invited to the Santa Fe market, where our work was a huge success. The admiration of American buyers inspired us even more, and we began to look at our traditional craft with fresh eyes. Ideas swirling, we pushed our work to new levels of creativity. It was in Santa Fe that we met Susan. She was delighted with our products, and from that moment Ibu has been our regular customer, which is a tremendous support. 

In our organization, in addition to the seven sisters, we also employed 13 women, providing a constant income. Since 2020, with the arrival of the pandemic, the volume of work has drastically reduced as the domestic market and tourism have been paralyzed--our sales have fallen by 80%. We were forced to furlough some of the women and others were able to work at home. We could not pay the rent for the workshops. Many of us were seriously ill and in despair, desperate to find means to support our business. Ibu and Ibu Foundation helped us through this difficult period. We received orders for new products, and financial support through the Foundation, which allowed us to pay our workshop rent for six months and provide work to several women who were struggling. 

My sisters and I express our deep gratitude for the outstretched helping hand, because during this difficult period we have not yet received any help from the state. Currently, Ibu is our main customer and the volume of orders allows us to keep our craft afloat, buy raw materials, and employ several women. Your faith in us, and the fact that you appreciate our work, gives us confidence that our art will endure.