Exciting updates from Tumar

Hi everyone! I’m writing to tell you some updates about Tumar. Not sure why I waited so long! It’s been an exciting 6-months and I’ve been lucky to have my products placed at NY Fashion Week, large international retailers, as well as many stores across North America. 

HARBISON (harbisoncollection.com).  HARBISON is a luxury fashion brand designed for “the woman who embraces her femininity…and her masculinity.” The designer and founder, Charles Harbison, launched the brand in 2013 and is based in New York. HARBISON has been featured in Vogue, InStyle, Elle, among other publications. Here are two untouched photos of the jackets created as part of the Fall 2015 collection. They were featured in HARBISON’s show at NY Fashion Week. The material I provided is a handmade blend of merino wool (from Kyrgyzstan) and Malmal cotton (from India).

National Geographic (nationalgeographic.com). I did a custom and exclusive nativity scene that will be featured in their online store this holiday season. National Geographic is very excited about this product and have already planned several associated promotions.

I also have products in stores across the country in Wyoming, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Montana, as well as Vancouver, Canada. And there’s more to come… I have been quick to respond to the market interest and the demand is in textiles and high-end interiors. Going forward, I plan to launch a separate business (wholesale / distribution, as opposed to retail) with these areas in focus and it’s where I will focus most of my attention.

On a personal note, we’re back in the U.S. and enjoying the hot summer in Chapel Hill. A big difference to the frigid winter we experienced in Astana. Here’s a throwback picture of Sienna in her full body snowsuit. She’s 7-months in this picture. In a few short weeks she’ll be 1-year!

Hand felted Angel Ornament… on uncommongoods.com

Hi everyone! It’s been a while since my last blog post. Life got busy, but it couldn’t be better. I am loving every minute of being Sienna’s mom.

I am writing to share that one of Tumar’s products – the hand-felted angel ornament – is now available at UncommonGoods! Here’s the link: Angel ornament This is the first major retailer to carry Tumar products. The artists in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan were thrilled when I shared the news with them and I am a big fan of UncommonGoods so I was also excited. Interest has picked up across several product categories and I am encouraged from the discussions I’m having with other large retailers.

Here’s the product description on UncommonGoods:

A Little Angel – Like a rosy-cheeked cherub straight out of a children’s book, this stuffed seraph will bless your home during the holidays and all year long. Each angelic ornament is hand-felted by skilled artisans in Kyrgyzstan and is depicted as a lovable little lady. Perfect as a stocking stuffer or a thoughtful gift, this winged messenger brings holiday cheer with her sweetly styled presence. Handmade in Kyrgyzstan.

Also, following our debut showing at NY NOW (premier home + lifestyle marketplace) in August, we’ll be showcasing our products again in late January / early February. More on this later!

With the holiday season coming up please keep Tumar Crafts in mind. The hand-crafted products are great gifts for family and friends!

Thawing out after a long Siberian winter with lots to celebrate

Living in Kazakhstan, and especially Astana, Travis and I are acutely aware of the remoteness of our location. Some argue that it’s one of the more isolated places in the world (particularly considering it’s a capital city) when you take into account proximity to major cities. The closest metropolitan cities (e.g., Moscow, Dubai, Beijing) are at least 3.5 hours away by plane.  We continue to travel often for work and pleasure throughout Europe, Asia and the US and our minimum flight time on our first leg of any trip is about five hours.

After a long and harsh winter and lots to celebrate – our one-year anniversary and a baby on the way – Travis and I sat down with a map to make special travel plans. Typical for us, we had less than a month to pull everything together when we were finally able to confirm a break in Travis’ work schedule. We had some “requirements” for this trip. We not only wanted very warm weather, but also warm water. We needed a break from minus 40-degree weather, layering and jackets. We also desired a new destination to explore and minimal flight time was important to me given all the travel we’ve already logged. Given that our trip was the end of April, finding a location with warm weather and water narrowed our focus to locations in the south. Easy. But then the travel times and in some cases health requirements (we didn’t have time to get required vaccinations for some destinations) made this exercise a bit more interesting.

After much consideration, we settled on the Maldives and boy, was that a good decision!  As I write this, it’s funny to me that the Maldives were the easiest location for us to access, but that’s what makes our experience in Kazakhstan so unique. The flight is doable (about eight hours in total) with a layover in Dubai where we stay for a night or two to spend time with family. Eight hours to paradise is a perk of living in Astana!

The Maldives is one of the most unique countries in the world consisting of approximately 1,200 small coral islands grouped in a double chain of 26 atolls (a ring-shaped coral reef that encircles a lagoon partially or completely) spread over 90,000 square kilometers. Is it true that I’m slowly adjusting to what some may argue is the more logical metric system? Each resort is located on its own private island, complete with a secluded coral reef just steps away. We stayed at two different resorts while we were there to get a change of scenery and a different experience.

The trip was unforgettable! We had the best time snorkeling, swimming, eating fresh seafood, relaxing, discovering the islands by foot and bike and Travis got to scuba dive. Pregnancy and scuba diving don’t go well together, but according to Travis and supported by pictures, the snorkeling was just as great as the diving. Each time we snorkeled we encountered various shark species (white-tip and black-tip reef sharks and nurse sharks), turtles, tons of fish and vibrant corals. We also did some night snorkels that were exciting and allowed us to see different sea life. All in all, the trip was fantastic and we’ll definitely go back! I often daydream about this trip in particular – in part because of it’s purpose, but also how beautiful it was. I think about the colorful reefs and crystal blue water for as far as the eye can see. It was everything a post-Siberian winter and celebratory trip should be and much more!

Tumar Crafts Artisans video – check it out

A couple months back I wrote an entry, “Filming the Tumar Crafts artists in action.” Check out the final cut. I could not be more excited to share it with all of you!

My personal opinion is that there’s a nostalgia to return to a time where one knew where their products came from and had a sense of how they were made. This video helps to bridge this gap and importantly, helps potential customers better understand the Tumar Crafts story.  Admittedly, I struggled at times to properly articulate elements of this story. For example, there’s a wide spectrum of definitions for handmade. At Tumar Crafts it literally means no modern machinery is used in any part of the process. Every single step is done by hand from the time the sheep are shorn, to compressing the layers of wool fibers together to create felt, to hand-molding each slipper or sewing every detail on a toy and so on; not partially handmade using industrially produced materials, as was often the feedback I got in the US.

It’s taken some time to understand the production processes, end-markets, input costs etc., but I now feel that I have a better hold on things. With this video I plan to launch several initiatives with the hopes of growing the Tumar Crafts business and giving back to the artists. I’ve set some lofty goals that I am determined to achieve.

Please feel free to share this video with others and help me to get the word out!

Flamingos and saiga in Kazakhstan

Did you know there are flamingos in Kazakhstan? I also had my doubts, but it’s true! I saw them with my own eyes.

We decided to do some exploring this past weekend and settled on the Korgalzhyn State Nature Reserve, a UNESCO heritage site about 80 miles southwest of Astana. The nature reserve is composed of lakes, steppe and semi-desert. It was an off-road adventure navigating bumpy dirt roads or no roads at all, as we forged our own path.

Back to the flamingos… Every April, pink flamingos flock to the heart of Kazakhstan, settling in this nature reserve, where they stay until late fall. Kazakhstan’s flamingos form the world’s northernmost breeding colony. This place is rich in nature with more than 300 species of birds (eagles, swans, geese, stork, etc.), but it’s the flamingos that really make it a birdwatcher’s paradise! Simply the sheer number of them (as many as 60,000) and the sight of them taking flight (when the black and dark pink colors of their under wings are exposed) is really beautiful. We spent a couple hours navigating the vast steppe and lakes observing flocks of flamingos.

And then just when we were about to make our way to the “paved” road more than satisfied with our flamingo experience, Travis spotted a herd of saiga, a critically endangered antelope. The saiga has a body like a deer and a head like a camel. (For those of you that have seen Planet Earth – The Future series should be familiar with saiga. They were featured on the “Saving the Species” program). Sadly, the largest contributor to the decline in the population was the demand for saiga horns in Chinese medicine.

The last time Travis saw a saiga was 20 years ago and I certainly never expected to see them in my lifetime. We followed the herd in our car for a few miles or so and barely managed to snap the picture to the left while we were in motion (faster than I want to admit to). I’ve included this other picture (courtesy of National Geographic) so you can actually see them. They’re a very interesting looking animal!

All in all it was a great day! We’re going to try to squeeze in one more camping trip before I’ll need to put that on hold for a bit.

P.S. There was a glitch in the email notification from my last post, “Horsemeat anyone?” Many of you received multiple notifications and others none at all. Sorry about that. In any case, if you didn’t see it checkout the post from May 6th.

Horsemeat anyone?

Several months ago my friends invited me over for a cooking class. I was excited to learn how to prepare traditional Kazakh dishes!

Since moving from New York I cook and bake often. I really enjoy it! I’ve honed my skills, as food preparation in Kazakhstan for anything other than a local dish tests one’s creativity and ability to improvise. Many ingredients are often not available.

For my cooking class we prepared traditional Kazakh foods so the shopping was easy and lucky for me, I didn’t have to do any of it. I also had no input on the menu, which adds to the experience, but can be a bit risky. And it happened… it was just my luck that two out of the three dishes we made consisted of a freshly delivered horse. Yay! When it comes to meat consumption, Kazakhs only take what they need and waste nothing. They consume everything. It’s something I respect and fundamentally believe in, but horsemeat and horse organs just don’t go down easy for me.

We prepared a horse liver salad, manti (мәнті in Kazakh), and cake (торт in Russian). Manti are steamed dumplings, usually consisting of a meat mixture filling, and topped with herbs and sautéed onions. In our case the filling was horsemeat, onions, herbs and spices. The salad was boiled liver, onions and pickles. The cake was milk and cheese based.

The salad and cake were definitely one-timers. And while preparing manti is a tedious and time consuming process starting with the dough preparation, I’ll definitely make them again. I mastered how to fold them, making individual mini sealed packages so they don’t fall apart when steamed. One thing is for sure though – I’m changing up the filling to vegetables (probably pumpkin), herbs and spices!

This entry was posted in CultureFood by mykzadventure.


Filming the Tumar Crafts artists in action

I recently took a road trip from Almaty southwest to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan where I worked with Zachary Shields to film the artists of Tumar in action. The goal was to capture the artistic process from beginning to end, illustrating the handcraft techniques employed at each step. I want the end consumer to know how their products were made, as well as who made their products. We captured a lot of footage and the short film is currently in production. It should be ready in the coming weeks. I’ll share it here and post it at tumarcrafts.com, among other places. I’m really excited about it! Below is a collection of behind-the-scenes shots of Zach filming.

It was a fantastic trip! I’ve made many trips to Bishkek to work with the artists and it continues to get better. We talk about business efficiency, design, end markets, financials, process, production and more. The people are kind and welcoming. Together we aim to learn from each other and increase sales to better their quality of life.

A highlight during this last visit was the banquet they hosted for us. We played games, sang songs (challenging, as I don’t know Kyrgyz) and ate traditional food. They make really delicious plov (think Central Asian rice pilaf). Here’s an eight-second clip I managed to capture on my iPhone of everyone singing. It doesn’t do it justice, but you’ll get the idea. Banquet sing-along

EXPO 2017 at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi

Many have asked what I do as an international strategic advisor for EXPO 2017. I do many things, but this was a project I was focused on from October until January when the summit took place. I was responsible for everything related to EXPO 2017 / Kazakhstan’s booth at the exhibition. This included the concept, structural design, contractors, interactive content, installation and construction, etc. I was the only one dedicated to this project from the National Company. I’ve never done anything like this before. I got to tap into my creative side a little bit on a professional level. It was trial by fire, but all around a great learning experience.

The EXPO 2017 Astana booth provided an exploratory introduction of the key Future Energy concepts of EXPO 2017. We wanted to create a lively and sensory experience through installations and representations that helped visitors understand the Future Energy theme of the EXPO 2017, as well as Astana’s contribution and path towards a green economy. The goal was to get visitors familiar with EXPO 2017 and entice them to want to visit.

This was an event of great importance for EXPO 2017 and Kazakhstan because it was EXPO’s first international event, and the summit goes hand-in-hand with the theme. The highest levels of government were involved and I had to present my ideas to the Ministry.

The pavilion was an overwhelming success! Out of all the pavilions (hundreds), I honestly believe that it was one of the best looking in the entire exhibition complex. (I’m not biased or anything). The atmosphere was fresh, vibrant and light and the organic bar was a hit!

I was also tasked to give tours to dignitaries including the Secretary-General of the International Energy Agency and the Chair of the World Energy Council. There was press recording our every move and I headlined the Kazakh national news! I thought this was so funny. In the news clip, I was giving a tour to the Secretary General of the IEA (former Minster of Science & Education, then the Minister of Economics of the Netherlands).

While in the UAE we also toured Masdar City, a sustainable community that serves as a model of green urban development. Below is a picture of me in driverless electric car! It was as if we traveled to the future for a day.

I survived a Siberian winter

Hello, it’s been a while! The holidays came and went and then life got busy. The good news is that I now have a backlog of posts to publish. First up is the oh so lovely Astana winter weather.

There’s no question that it’s been a brutal winter in the US with many locations seeing its coldest temperatures in 20 years. I mostly sympathize with those getting the brunt of the ice storms. New York City hit lows of 4 degrees Fahrenheit (or -16 degrees Celsius) at the beginning of January. That’s really cold, but let me tell you, we consistently see weather in the negative 30′s and saw more than our fair share of days greater than negative 40. To the left is a snapshot of the forecast from a few weeks ago. That’s right. With the wind chill it felt like -53 degrees!

I’ve learned that around -35 it all feels the same. The key indicator that you’re in absurdly cold weather is that the inside of your nose immediately freezes when you take a breath outside. It’s a strange sensation that I have never experienced before.

Given the extent of the cold temperatures in Astana it’s not surprising that there’s also low humidity. This helps tremendously. Despite the extreme temperatures I’ve never really felt that feeling of being chilled to the bone that I felt in New York. On the other hand, the kicker that makes you want to hibernate is the wind. We have these storms called burans (it’s a Kazakh word). There’s really no direct translation in English, but it’s basically a snow-wind-ice storm in the bitter cold with gusts up to 40 mph. There’s no protection here, as we’re surrounded by steppe, and visibility is often times near zero.  Snow and cold weather are common occurrences here, but burans are what cause road, school and work closings. We’ve been in a few of those and it’s when we limit our time outside. Murphy has been lifted off the ground and I have found myself walking in place despite exerting enough effort to be at a running speed. (Check out this video of a buran in Astana. It gets good at around 1:00 minute. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYynF3I8Exk)

I often get asked how we manage in such bitter cold. Many of you also express concern for Murphy. The key is that Travis, Murphy and I each have a standard “uniform” that we wear outside and we never deviate. It’s been tried and tested and it works. I’m not one to plug products, but there are a few that have comfortably gotten us through the worst of it and are worth mentioning. They are Canada Goose jackets (worth the hype), Kombi mittens and Ruff Wear products for dogs. For dogs, the biggest areas of concern are the pads on their paws and stomachs. Murph has boots, a fleece base layer and a puff. He’s golden! He loves playing in the snow and chasing rabbits in the fields.

I’m happy to have made it through the worst of my first Astana winter and am now anxiously awaiting warmer weather. The winter season typically runs from October to April, which is way too long for me. Enough already! Bring on the heat.

Next up are two work posts: My global EXPO 2017 exhibition in Abu Dhabi and a trip to Bishkek to film the Tumar Crafts artists in action. I’m happy to be back posting!

Drum roll… Introducing TUMAR CRAFTS!!

Five months ago I announced that I had begun my first business venture. Today, I am happy to announce that Tumar Crafts is open for business!  The online store can be found at tumarcrafts.com. I have over 60 items across five product categories.

Tumar Crafts is an online boutique that aims to offer every family, child and friend unique handmade products of the highest quality that are both natural and beautiful, while preserving and celebrating cultural heritage. All products sold on Tumar Crafts are handmade by local artisans in Central Asia.

I am proud of this small business. Key to the brand I am building (and I am certain there is an audience who will appreciate it) is quality craftsmanship, all natural materials, and socially responsible practices.  And on this side of the world, I am helping to support the local economy and independent artists.

I am in the process of designing new products for the western market and will add new items as I see fit, so keep coming back to check them out. I am also very encouraged by the discussions I’ve had with other retailers around the country and their keen interest to carry my products. And I am targeting initiatives from very large retailers that put funds towards artisans, craftsmanship, small business, socially responsible, etc.

Tumar Crafts already has a presence on the major social media platforms and in the coming weeks I will setup my messaging.

I hope you really love it!

P.S. Holiday season is right around the corner and these are really fantastic gifts ;)