Crafts and Community
Scroll through Craftspring’s products and you’re like a kid in a candy store. Or, at least, a kid in an incredibly colorful miniature toy store. The brand sells small felt dolls, ornaments, and other gifts. Dinos and dragons, new moms, Nativity scenes, and Halloween are just a few of the whimsical and celebratory sets. Below, Brooklyn-based Craftspring founder Anne-Laure Py discusses the Kyrgyzstan craft culture (which makes all her products) and her children’s influence on the company.
Describe how you developed the relationships with the artisans in Kyrgyzstan and began the company.
Craftspring started with a crazy adventure disguised as a research fellowship. Several years after graduating from college, I received a fellowship from my alma mater, Wellesley College, to study craft entrepreneurs along the Silk Road through Western China (Xinjiang), Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Iran. This was a wild opportunity that took me to remote regions, capital cities, villages and towns – where I met with extraordinary people and was given an incredible peek into the life and history of Central Asian crafts. I wasn’t sure what to do with what I had learned during the fellowship, and I returned to Beijing where I worked in corporate PR.
However, some time later on a visit home to New York City, I was at a party on the Lower East Side and I met a woman who worked with Anthropologie. Right off the bat, the store placed a huge order for some of the ornaments I had found in Kyrgyzstan. At this point, I didn’t even have a company! I had no idea who made those particular products anymore, and I wasn’t sure that the artisans could make such large quantities. But I took a wild chance and accepted Anthropologie’s order. I ran to a lawyer friend’s office, opened a company, and then flew to Kyrgyzstan to figure out who had made those ornaments and see if we could fulfill the large order on time! I worked with some of the artisans that I had interviewed during my fellowship.
In order to fulfill that first order, I spent the summer working with three amazing artisans and their workshops in Kyrgyzstan. I became very close with the artisans and was involved in the entire process: helping to make and dye the wool, cut and sew the ornaments, and embroider some of the details. The night before the due date, we stayed up all night to tag, pack, and ship.
From those three initial studios, I was able to build close relationships with several more workshops. Today, from our studio in Brooklyn, NY, we work with 12 different workshops. We return each year to work on new collections, connect with our partners, and develop our work. Together, we design and hand-make gifts and ornaments that we hope can inspire adventure everywhere they land.
You can glimpse some of the beauty of Kyrgyzstan and our amazing partners in this video: https://vimeo.com/172054578
What’s unique about the Kyrgyzstan craft culture?
Our work together is also about preserving traditional crafts and cultivating the skills once passed on from mother to daughter as a way to support local communities. All of our products are made from wool felt. Felt is an ancient textile, closely linked to the nomads of Central Asia (and Kyrgyzstan in particular).
The Kyrgyz were traditionally a nomadic people whose economy was based on animal husbandry – particularly raising sheep. Sheep and sheep’s wool were central to their nomadic lifestyle, and even their traditional home, the yurt, was made of thick pressed wool-felt coverings.
Today, as our craft comes from a heritage of nomadic culture and yurt living, so do our materials. We source all of our sheep’s wool directly from the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, then use the generations-old technique of wet felting in the creation of every handmade piece.
Wet felting, which was once used by women to make their yurts, creates a textile that is strong and incredibly soft to the touch. We employ it, in part, because a resurgence in felting has created a path for women’s entrepreneurship and provided a source of economic and social empowerment. You can watch a video about the magic of felt here: https://vimeo.com/172053372
From the raw wool we source to the recycled packaging in which we ship our final products, we live by the principle that the materials we use and the products we make should contribute to the world, not drain it. We believe that business choices can be regenerative, and that we can positively impact the environment and global communities, not detract from them.
We believe that a more connected world is made by hand. With wool. And water. And play. And we hope that our products translate all of the adventure, joy, collaboration and fun that go into our work.
Check out all of the love and magic that goes into making an ornament here: https://vimeo.com/172053369
You’ve spent a lot of time living abroad! How did those experiences contribute to your work with Craftspring?
I’ve had the privilege of working and living in many countries. Everywhere I went, I had the opportunity to explore and have some wonderful (sometimes crazy) adventures and build close relationships with amazing people. I was able to take the time to learn languages and to deeply respect cultures different from mine. These experiences have infused my life with a deep well of optimism and joy and a sense of the magic and beauty in the world.
It is this curiosity, respect for other cultures, and unabashed joy that I try to bring to Craftspring every day. Giving a gift is never a small act. It preserves ancient traditions and cultivates new traditions. It connects communities and empowers women around the world. For us, giving a gift means embracing play, adventure, and a sense of wonder.
Describe some of the markets and fairs across the city and beyond where you participate. What can we expect at your booth?
Our pop-ups throughout NYC during the autumn and holiday season are one of our favorite ways to connect to our customers. We are part of the Grand Central Station Holiday Market, the Union Square Holiday Market, and the Columbus Circle Holiday Market. We use our booths in the markets to spread the magic of our products and tell our story.
This year, we are also going to be part of a beautiful new co-retailing space opening in October in Soho: http://goodgoods.market/. We’ll be sharing the space with other hand-made and socially responsible brands.
We will be bringing all of our latest collections of ornaments, tree toppers and garlands. This year, we have over 160 new ornaments. We are also working on a new collection of masks which we will be launching this September.
You have two kids. Ever use them or their friends to test out Craftspring products? Have their interests influenced the crafts you want to create?
My two daughters are at the center of Craftspring. They inspire so much of the design and direction of our business.
They are the reason why I built Craftspring. Though I started Craftspring before they were born, I considered them when I decided to leap from corporate success into the rough waters of a small business. I hoped to have a more creative and flexible work life that was somehow engaged in wild exploration and service. Craftspring is (sometimes) some of that!
With the birth of my first daughter, I also saw all of our designs brighten and become more colorful. We dove into more whimsical creations—creating a whole Make Believe and Waldorf-Inspired collection. We also have a new Fatherhood and Motherhood collection. The new dad holding a baby in the sling is one of my favorites!
My three-year-old loves to come to the office and choose a whole basket of ornaments to play and tell stories with. Each time she comes in we get ideas for new designs. She wanted crabs and lobsters and whales, so we designed a beautiful ocean collection for her this year and also started a dinosaur collection.
Often, the books we read together will inspire new ornaments like this: https://www.craftspring.com/collections/waldorf-inspired/products/little-pelle-and-his-lamb. But perhaps it is their sense of wonder and endless desire to tell stories that inspires me the most. We love playing with the ornaments and creating magic worlds for each character.