Roza Makashova, head of production, Tumar Art Group
I'm a graduate of Department of Energy at Polytechnic University. Chynara Makashova (head of Tumar Art Group) and I started the company together at Kyial years ago. Back then, my job was in a metal-ware shop (we used to make trays), and she was a sales-person in the store. When "Perestroika" broke forth, the world around started falling apart… leaving us neither with any factories nor jobs. Everyone was running around doing petty trade. We had to survive somehow. At that point, Chynara started seeing and understanding what the market wanted and thus came to an idea of producing felt and felt products. That was how it all began. Around the same time, I went jobless and started helping her with setting-up the felt business. There were no wet-felted slippers on the market at all back then, and those you could find were sewn. Down the line, the moment came when many products started being produced in wet-felting technology. This was where we thought, "Wow, why don't we try to make wet-felted slippers, those that don't have seams at all?" There were no such designs around at that time.
We mostly worked for the local market. I live in the village nearby Tokmok, 45 kilometers away from Bishkek. And there we started our operation, produced 15 to 20 pairs a week only, as the job was consuming. We had a long way to go. Every step in the whole production process was handled by ourselves. We carded wool, washed and dyed. We could do no more than 10-15 kilos of wool, which was enough to make 27 to 40 pairs of slippers. The first pair of slippers was made in 2001; it was in the fall, either in September or October. They were made of simple felt, seamless and very comfortable. I gave them to my friend, and she said, "When I wear these, my feet feel like landed in the nest. That is how warm and comfortable they are!" Later we began making slippers on molds. Firstly, we walked around the markets and looked for molds. We did not understand that molds could be so different, i.e. molds for classical shoes, high-boots, high and low-raise models, orthopedic or non-orthopedic ones. We were taking any molds we could find. Feeling happy for buying at least something, we usually proceeded to work. Perhaps, we were first on the market with such products.
These days, before a pair of slippers is made and ready, a large team puts efforts together. Let us say we need five colors. Or the next year such and such colors will be trending. We consult internally on what the customer expectations are, be that slippers with flower applications or spot patterns, or soles made of rubber or leather. After brainstorming, our designers create slippers design which is later manufactured at production. We have a dyeing master as well. For all these processes, we developed technological maps and dying recipes. Those materials enable craftsmen to understand how much and in which way wool must be processed in making felt, with a particular emphasis on weight, structure and quality. Knowing dye recipes is crucial not only for dyes used in existing products, but also for creating new hues.
Besides, we maintain visual inspection at every production stage. Those inspections are a job for not one, but several people. Speaking of slippers, the monthly production output is 1000 or more pairs, so quality assurance is done comprehensively. It involves the work by production manager as much as the assistants.
None of us has a specialized technical background in making wet-felted slippers. No one was actually trained on to roll slippers, spread or untangle wool. When people join the team, we simply provide hands-on internship and they learn as they go. Those who get things right and are inspirational about the work, as a rule, stay. Of course, there are some workers whom we seek and attract from outside too. I come to the production and address to people, "We need a person with such and such qualities. Let us look for decent people, the people whom we can trust. This is vital for keeping our team in a great spirit, as one scabby sheep will mar the flock.