GK Collective Knits for social change. We got the opportunity to interview its initiator Kifayat Talibzada.
How did this social enterprise begin?
A key word is social change in rural areas of Azerbaijan. The Project aims to do innovatively alter the culture within Azerbaijan and their relationship with society.
First, it is difficult to find work in rural areas of Azerbaijan. Employment for women in rural areas is essentially limited to public services in health and education. Second, like many countries, Azerbaijan is changing. Especially, in terms of becoming more commercial, business orientated and professional. However, the cost to this is that some of the cultural practices that formed community in the past are being replaced. I identified relational knitting via historical practices as a way for women to find meaningful work. In the past, knitting socks were passed down from mother to daughter. However, through time, a lot of young women under the age of 30 have missed this instruction.
I have come up with the idea to create jobs, to involve women in team work, to continue knitting carpet pattern socks tradition of Azerbaijan, creating bridge between producer and buyer. The people who buy the knitting are those who place value on human handcraft. That is important to them, who makes the product. Therefore, there is a lot of communication between the knitters and the customers in this regard. This is a two way benefit. One, the women can share Azerbaijan with the world. Two, the world enters Azerbaijan.
Tell us more about knitting tradition.
One of the essential elements of clothes of Azerbaijan national clothes is jorabs – knitted socks. Azerbaijani traditional shoes are thin and don’t protect your feet from injury. Therefore there was a need for thick socks that supplemented leather shoes. Socks knitting in Azerbaijan was a developed craft linked with the development of carpet-weaving. The countless ornaments used on the socks are taken from the Azerbaijan carpets which change depending on the regions like Karabakh, Gabala, Lerik, Shirvan, Shamakhi, Guba, Baku and etc.
The knitting socks tradition has been passing from grandmothers to new generations for a long time. We added a new perspective to continue this tradition by training.
How does the business work? How many women are involved in this business?
GK Collective Knits is currently selling socks and slippers made by 10 women of Azerbaijan. As you know as a social change enterprise our priority is hiring women from low-income families in rural areas.
They are passionate about different ways to knit new slippers and always like to learn new techniques in order to produce new products. The high-quality yarn is bought from Turkey as the ingredients might be 50% wool or 100% wool depending on the wholesale orders. But the socks slippers in the Etsy shop are 50% wool.
The organizing sales of socks slippers go through social media like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest. Thus the pages on these platforms are helpful to promote our social enterprise. After the products are ready we sell them to bulky sellers or via the online shop on etsy.com
Nowadays our goal is to increase the number of markets abroad, in order to reach more knitters in rural areas as we get a lot of proposals from other knitters.
What do you wish to change with GK Collective Knits?
First, the impact will be Gender Inequality in terms of women who become sustainably self-employed. The importance is so that women can be respected, appreciated, or heard. Raising the next generation of boys and girls to be more supportive of each other. The problem is that women are restricted and do not have freedom in their lives in rural areas of Azerbaijan especially the south part. (but not in the capital Baku, in the capital things are totally different)
The second impact is poverty. Traditionally, men have been the breadwinners, however, poverty, a lack of money and the inability of men to support their families make life difficult. Men are finding it difficult to support their own needs, let alone fully that of a wife and children. However, what is not seen is how the inability of women to work in rural areas of Azerbaijan, which has been the case for decades is disempowering. Azeri women are smart and hard-working but they are not given the opportunity due to cultural restrictions.
What women need is the ability to make money through work. This gives them money, which is important. If one woman could work, then so could two and then three and so on. Once families have the ability to afford food, health care and good education, then they can look to grow in other ways.
What are your future plans for GK Collective Knits?
The future plan is to increase the project of social change covered areas from the south part to all rural areas of Azerbaijan. There will be two target groups of women which the first group will be knitting only socks slippers (Jorabs) The following second group will be working on hand-knit machines which sweaters, baby clothes, hats, scarves will be produced.
Where we can find and buy these lovely slippers?
Here are the links to our social media and online shop:
They can buy products in our Etsy shop:
Thank you so much for your precious time Kifayat and the best of luck to you and your knitters.
For more Christmas gifts with impact check out this blogpost.