A long contemplated travel destination, we finally made it to the 'Stans' this year. Those in the know of Meet the Stans, the BBC travel documentary, will ask 'Which of the five?', others might still wonder what the hell I'm talking about. It's Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Uzbekistan is most likely the best known among the three. The desert towns Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva once formed the lifeblood of the caravan trading route between China and the Mediterranean. Today, the giant towers and blue domes of the madrasas (study centers), mosques and mausoleums and the impressive marketplaces speak of that old glory.
To be honest, we weren't all too excited about the silk road sights.
The handicraft situation was disappointing as we had come to Uzbekistan with high expectations for carpets, embroidery and ikat silk. Although all of this was there, the touristic nature of the silk road with all too similar products at high prices made us wonder whether we'd bring anything home at all.
Surprisingly, this changed when we went to Tashkent.
Uzbekistan's capital surely isn't famous for its handicraft tradition. The 2.3 million moloch can compare to the silk road in one thing only: it can get unbearably hot. Already in May, temperatures were scratching the 40 degree celsius mark.
In Tashkent we met Muhayo from Bibi Hanum, one of Folkdays' producers. The visit was definitely worth the taxi ride with a driver who didn't speak a word of English.
Once arrived at the inviting space Bibi Hanum office and production facility, Muhayo served us the obligatory cup of delicious tea before she gave us a quick tour of the facilities and introduced us to her all-female staff.
We marvelled at the loom and beautiful ikat silk and were surprised to learn something new about ikat production. First, many ikat makers nowadays use scotch tape to tie the silk threads during colouring instead of hand-tying the threads. The initial frown at this unconventional practice gave way to a smile when Muhayo challenged us to think about the meaning of innovation and whether or not it was 'allowed' to occur also in traditional crafts.
About 10 women work with Muhayo, on her beautiful designs and this job is much more for them than just a way to earn a living. Bibi Hanum partners with an NGO that supports trafficked women. All of the women in the room had gone through horrendous experiences and their work was much more than a job but rather their chance to start a new life. It was great to see them happy and valued in their handloom uniforms as they produced these beautiful products.
Next time you visit the Stans, make sure you stop by Bibi Hanum's store in Tashkent on Chorsu Maydoni 3A, Former Turkuaz Building.
Text and photos by Romy Kraemer
Romy is the program coordinator of the DO School, a global educational platform dedicated to innovation, entrepreneurship, and good business. Through her work she supports social entrepreneurs from around the world in starting their own business and shaping their home countries in many positive ways. Romy is a friend of the FOLKDAYS family and visited our artisan Bibi Hanum on her last trip.