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Damegul Abikhanova, Kazakhstan

Seamstress, entrepreneur, and client of IFC partner KazMicroFinance

To achieve happiness in life, they say you should turn your hobby into your job. And I did that by (opening) a tailoring shop that produces traditional Kazakh dresses and costumes.

Before becoming a businesswoman, I served as a medical worker in remote Zhetisay, Kazakhstan’s southernmost town. In 1997, after a 12-year career in medicine, I decided to quit my job and start producing traditional clothes. The decision was not easy, but my family needed to earn more in order to raise and educate four children.

Making traditional Kazakh clothes involves tailoring and a lot of embroidery. I inherited these skills from my mother who crafted traditional apparel professionally. Cutting and tailoring has been my passion since I was a kid.

The 2008 financial crisis hit Kazakhstan hard. Therefore, in 2009, my family went in search of a better life: we sold our property and moved to the country’s economic center – the city of Almaty. Here, I rented a small boutique to start her small business of tailoring and fitting clothes.

Three years later, I decided to expand her business and applied for a US$1,300 microloan from KazMicroFinance (KMF). I used the loan to introduce new materials and continue production of Kazakh ethnic garments. The business started growing quickly, so I was able to settle my first loan in just two months. To further develop the venture, I later took second and third loans equivalent to US$7,000 and US$5,400, respectively. Thanks to microfinance from KMF, I purchased more materials, fifteen sewing machines, and a vehicle. I also hired workers and significantly increased production and sales.

Traditional costumes are in very high demand in Kazakhstan. They are used in wedding rituals, celebrations of traditional holidays, official ceremonies, school events, and on many other occasions. I do not only sell the clothes, but also rent them out. The quality of our products is high and very much appreciated by customers. I do not spend money on advertising – I have many clients and new ones often come following recommendations from friends. Some of my client are famous Kazakh singers and popular ethnic dance and music bands from around the country.

I have ambitious plans to expand the business by adding a full range of services for my clients, starting from arranging the make-up, costumes, and photo services. Now I am no longer scared of the future, and look far ahead to making dresses and gifting beauty.

KMF microcredits helped me to grow my venture, but more importantly they helped me learn how to invest. When you borrow money and invest in business it is a good decision, because this investment returns. Unfortunately, people in our country usually take credits to organize weddings, buy a car, or renovate their houses. Then they have no idea how to settle the debt and may get bankrupt. Now that my business is growing, I am no longer scared of taking credits.

Photographs: Assel Choibekova, IFC