Today on the blog, we feature an interview with Kanat Anarbaev, general manager of Kyrgyzstan operations for June Cashmere. Kanat does a little bit of everything, but his main focus is working with families in the remote regions of Kyrgyzstan to teach them how to collect and grade cashmere, improve the quality of their fibers through breeding, and comb their goat's fiber.
How long have you known Sy?
I started working with Sy about 4 years ago. I met him through my cousin. At the time I had already begun traveling to the mountainous regions of Kyrgyzstan,teaching families how to comb the fiber off their cashmere goats. I was buying the fiber and then selling it for export to Chinese companies.
Do you have a background in textiles?
No, I have a degree in Micro-Electronic Engineering. We have a joke here in Kyrgyzstan that whatever you study is the field you won't work in. Before I started collecting and selling cashmere fiber, I worked with foreign geological companies to help them source new mining areas for silver and gold. There are more than 2,000 gold mines in Kyrgyzstan.
How did you start in the business of cashmere?
I'd heard that there were companies in China that were looking for cashmere to purchase, and I saw an opportunity!
Can you tell us more about the cycle of cashmere collection?
We travel to the villages and collect fiber from April to June. Then we do a massive sorting with about 10-15 people where we sort the fiber by quality, and we send only the highest quality fiber for processing. In August, we export the fiber to Europe to be processed and turned into June Cashmere yarn. Then from September to April we spend time going to villages to expand our education efforts, teaching farmers about breeding and raising goats for their fiber.
What sort of impact do you see in these villages where you've been collecting fiber for several years?
The positive impact is what keeps me going through all the challenges. We're working in remote villages that are 3,000 meters in elevation. You can't grow fruit in these arid conditions. Most families live off the land, raising animals and growing some potatoes and wheat. When we go to the villages in the spring each year and we're paying them for the cashmere fiber, we see their faces light up. In a rural area where there just isn't much cash flow, they are able to go to the market to bring home something for their children, pay off some debts, and buy the seeds they need to plant potatoes and wheat for the fall.
When I first started working with Sy, we had a long conversation about how we would help the communities we work in, and that's been a very important aspect of our business from the very beginning. We've been able to make a lasting impact in many communities, and that makes it all worthwhile for us.
Can you tell us more about your social projects?
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a lot of the infrastructure has decayed, and hasn't been repaired or updated. In these small, remote regions the local governments often just don't have the funding they need. We've been able to put heating systems in multiple schools, and even a village government building. In these mountainous villages, winter is 6 months long and very cold, so having a heating system means that children are able to go to school and continue their education in winter.
There is another small village that we work in with just 100 homes that doesn't have clean water. Currently they walk to the local river to collect water. We've been working with local officials to help fund the repair of piping to bring fresh, clean water to these homes. We're hoping to complete the project in 2017.
What are your hopes for the future of June Cashmere, and the cashmere industry in Kyrgyzstan?
That's a hard question, I'm not even sure what will happen tomorrow!
Of course, every business has a plan for the future. Just two years ago we only worked in Chong Ali, and now we've added two more regions and we're working in 37 villages. Our plan is to continue to grow. We want to work in more regions, more villages, and with more families.
Our goal is to grow the cashmere industry as a whole in Kyrgyzstan. Around the world, people know Mongolian Cashmere - it has its own brand. We're hoping that we can grow Kyrgyzstan's reputation as the home of great quality cashmere. We have so much potential here, I hope to also see the processing of the fiber to come here too, to bring more jobs and economic security to our country.
Kanat was kind enough to join us on Skype to talk to us for this blog post. Thanks so much to Amy Lewis who facilitated with translation. In our next post, we'll continue with more stories about the people behind June Cashmere.