A young Kazakh, steeped in Italian fashion, starts her own business in Almaty19 march 2015, 15:02
When Ainura Yerimbet was growing up in Almaty, she loved dolls.
Not just playing with them, but dressing them in the choicest of finery.
It wasn’t easy after the break-up of the Soviet Union. “We didn’t have beautiful Barbies,” she said. “But I was determined that my dolls would be the best-dressed there was. So I made their clothes with my own hands.”
In addition to dolls, she loved drawing.
When she asked her mother at 7 what she should be when she grew up, Mom didn’t hesitate. “I think you should be a fashion designer.” That career would combine Ainura’s love of creating clothes with the sketching that’s a key part of the design process.
Ainura’s realization that Mom was right led to her going to an excellent fashion university in the country that is synonymous with fashion – Italy – and to starting her own fashion business in Kazakhstan.
Fashion designer Ainura Yerimbet looking chic at her desk in Florence. Photo courtesy of Ainura Yerimbet.
Her custom-made clothing business, which uses only Italian textiles, is successful enough that Ainura has to pinch herself sometimes. “I’m doing something I love – art,” the 23-year-old said.
She’s been surprised that the social-media application Instagram has generated most of her non-word-of-mouth business.
She didn’t start posting on Instagram with the sole idea of promoting her business. But people loved the photos of her creations and her vignettes about her work and life – and began contacting her about orders.
She now has a whopping 9,800 Instagram followers. You can check out her postings at Primo_Studio_tessuti_Italia.
The stroke of fortune that allowed Ainura to pursue her dream career was winning a Bolashak Scholarship.
Kazakhstan has earned worldwide praise for the Bolashak program, under which its top students study abroad, then return home to help shape their country’s future.
Most people think the program is limited to science and humanities degrees, but it covers arts degrees as well.
Still, the Bolashak selection committee wants to know that the country will benefit when it sends a student abroad. So it asked Ainura how earning a fashion degree would help Kazakhstan.
She nailed the answer. “Fifty to 60 percent of Italy’s economy is based on fashion,” she said. “I’d like to help start a fashion industry in Kazakhstan that would help our economy.”
A few months later, in the late summer of 2009, she was on her way to the Polimoda International Institute of Fashion Design and Marketing in Florence.
Ainura doing a mock-up on a mannequin in Florence. Photo courtesy of Ainura Yerimbet.
Ainura was surprised at how quickly the instructors began teaching students the basics of fashion.
“Kazakh universities teach general courses,” she said. “Our courses were very practical.”
Her coursework started with instruction about textiles – their properties, what they could best be used for, and so on.
“After just one month we actually began working with textiles, cutting and sewing,” Ainura said.
The instruction continued to be practical, with students helping fashion houses with shows and doing post-graduation internships with clothing companies.
Originally, Ainura had hoped to be in a larger city -- Rome or Milan.
But fashion universities there taught only in Italian, and she didn’t have time between her high school graduation and the start of university to learn a new language.
The Polimoda institute taught first-year courses in English. That gave international students a year to pick up the Italian they needed for their final two years of instruction.
Ainura ended up being glad she was in Florence.
Ainura enjoys a sweeping view of Florence, a city she fell in love with. Photo courtesy of Ainura Yerimbet.
She could feel inspiration in the air because the city was where Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and other Renaissance masters lived and worked.
With the splendid architecture, statues, galleries and other cultural trappings, “everything in the city was a piece of art,” Ainura enthused.
Sketching clothes is a key to fashion success, so it was one of the skills Polimoda emphasized.
Ainura remembers doing as many as 100 sketches a day.
“Our instructors told us the sketches didn’t have to be perfect art,” she said. “What they wanted were drawings that showed our creations were from deep inside, from our heart.”
One of Ainura’s contemporary fashion designs. Photo courtesy of Ainura Yerimbet.
Courses besides drawing included fashion design, computer graphics in fashion design, pattern-making, sewing, knitwear, how to do fashion photo shoots, the science of textiles, the history of fashion and the history of art.
Her classmates also inspired her. “I saw some great projects from Polimoda students,” Ainura said, adding that many students worked part-time or did internships at fashion giants such as Gucci.
Her own internship after she had finished her coursework was six months at a top-quality but small men’s knit-ware company 30 kilometers in the countryside outside Florence.
She had never done men’s fashion, and she had to get up at 6 a.m. to catch a bus to her workplace, but she loved the internship.
To start with, the setting was pure Tuscan beauty – right in the middle of olive trees.
Then there was the staff – “the kindest and most big-hearted people you can imagine,” Ainura said.
She picked up valuable skills in working with knit-ware and with men’s fashion, she said.
Men’s wear that Ainura designed. Photo courtesy of Ainura Yerimbet.
Before returning to Kazakhstan, Ainur decided to apply for a master’s degree in fashion writing at Polimoda.
She was one of 10 students out of 1,000 to win a fellowship that covered the cost of the degree.
The fellowship didn’t surprise her friends because Ainura had displayed writing talent when she was young.
In fact, she’d won a writing contest at the Kazakhstan edition of Cosmopolitan magazine when she was just 15.
Cosmo had invited its readers to write about a practical fashion problem they were having – with their hair, makeup, whatever.
Ainura wrote about the trials of trying to straighten her naturally curly hair.
The Cosmo judges adored her funny piece, and awarded her first prize.
When she showed up to get it, the Cosmo staff was stunned. “You’re just a kid,” one said.
Her writing was so sophisticated that they’d expected someone much older.
Ainura’s first job when she returned from Italy in 2013 was buyer’s assistant with Viled, the company that has the Saks Fifth Avenue franchise in Kazakhstan.
She was missing Italy, and she enjoyed the Viled work because part of it involved interacting with overseas clothing representatives.
But she was itching to get her own fashion business going. She opened a shop that specialized in custom-made clothes rather than mass-produced ready-to-wear items. She also sells Italian textiles to those who want to make their own creations.
The business was tough going at first, with her parents pitching in on the bills. But word got around that her creations were superb, so her list of clients grew.
Custom-made clothes require a customer to get fitted twice – when they place an order and when the clothes are finished, so adjustments can be made. That limits Ainura’s clothes business to Almaty residents and visitors.
Even with that limitation, her client list is far from 100 percent Kazakh. She has customers from Russia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Israel and the Middle East, for example.
A famous Russian horseback rider inspired this design, which was part of the collection Ainura produced to graduate from the Polimoda International Institute of Fashion Design and Marketing in Florence. Photo courtesy of Ainura Yerimbet.
She can sell textiles to customers living anywhere, of course – and has had orders from as far away as New York City.
At the moment Ainura wants to continue focusing her fashion business on custom-made wear.
In the back of her mind is the idea of helping Kazakhstan develop a fashion industry, however.
That would mean on-the-rack, ready-to-wear clothes – what the trade knows as pret-a-porter.
“As nomads, we moved around, so we couldn’t develop a clothing industry,” she said. But clothing is a major export generator for countries such as France, Italy and China. It would be nice if Kazakhstan could join this club, she said.
Some of Ainura’s designs are inspired by traditional Kazakh costumes. Photo courtesy of Ainura Yerimbet.
Her success generating business through Instagram has surprised Ainura.
She started by posting a couple of textile photos. She continues to post photos, but she also posts sketches and vignettes.
Her Instagram followers love the passion with which she writes about her creations and her life. They’ve become fans as well as would-be clients.
As much as she’s enjoying being back in Kazakhstan with family and friends, and starting a business in her homeland, Ainura misses Italy. The country and its people.
Her almost four years there gave her the knowledge and skills she needed to make her dream of a fashion career come true.
“Italy changed my life,” she said.