Interview with Sheker Akiniyazova, Fashion Designer from Turkmenistan by Munira Chudoba, Ethnomusicologist/Educationist, Vienna
13 April, 2023
From 3 to 7 May 2023, KultEurasia would like to welcome our music and art lovers to an introduction of Silk Road Culture as part of Vienna’s 2023 Tajikistan Festival.
This year, we are pleased to highlight some traditional Central Asian outfits (also featured in a film) by the Turkmen fashion designer Sheker Akiniyazova. Unfortunately, Sheker will not be able to be in Vienna herself this time, but she would like you to see her famous collection called “Margian Goddess.”
We wanted to give you a bit of background on Sheker and her work. Therefore, we asked her to tell us a little bit about herself and the collection.
Sheker, could you please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your career and your background:
My name is Sheker Akiniyazova. I am an architect. I live in Turkmenistan. Being an architect allowed me to work and explore various areas of design, such as interior design; fashion and accessories; as well as painting and photography.
I worked as an architect for a long time and became a member of the Union of Architects of Turkmenistan. Some time later, I created a small interior design group together with three other women architects. Simultaneously, I was teaching landscape design at the Business School of the Union of Entrepreneurs of Turkmenistan.
In 2017, I created my own art studio Keshde, which means embroidery. Slowly, I started participating in local, regional, and international exhibitions. One of those was “Salt and Spice” in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. I brought eight dresses made from traditional silk scarfs produced in Turkmenistan and presented them to the audience. To my surprise, there was a businesswoman from St. Petersburg who bought all of them right after the exhibition. To be honest with you, I was quite pleased. Apart from Uzbekistan, I participated in a festival of Folk Art in Muscat in Oman, where all republics of Central Asia were invited.
Tell us about the “Margian Goddess” collection.
The Margian Goddess collection is inspired by archeologists findings of little figurines (8 to 10cm high) with a tall headdress. The excavations were conducted in a region previously known as Margush (later known as Merv), which was an important crossing through Turkmenistan along the Silk Road as far back as five thousand years ago. It was later conquered by Alexander the Great and therefore also known as Alexander’s Margian. The entire collection consists of Turkmen cotton and velvet, embroidered with silk threads. You will see that one of the key elements of the costumes is a headdress. I personally participated in developing the design and making of the headpieces. They were assembled and made from Turkmen embroideries and antique Turkmen jewelry. You will see dressing gowns, velvet trousers, vests decorated with embroidery and silver bracelets made by Turkmen women artisans. This video was shot in a place called Keliy, a mountainous area. We used our traditional musical instruments and made a traditional fusion piece for this video, which I really like as it fits well with the collection of costumes.
The Margian Goddess collection brought a lot of attention to my work and introduced me to my new partners who started inviting me to their venues and festivals. I was invited to many different places and I started with Tajikistan, then Stockholm, Milan, and Singapore.
Did you have fashion designers in your family?
There were no fashion designers in my family per se but plenty of creative individuals. Among them were my parents. My father Muhammed was a self-taught painter. I saved some of his work. He wanted to be an architect, but there was no such subject offered at the university at the time. So, he ended up graduating with a degree in construction engineering. My mother Gozel was a librarian. She loved applied arts. She made a broad variety of items from straw or hay and Gobelin (wall carpets with woven patterns).
My father watched me draw as a child and he knew I liked drawing. Therefore, when I grew a bit older, he suggested I study architecture. It is always tricky for parents to suggest something to their child that may or may not be his/her thing in life, isn’t it? I suppose he was right. I consider myself fortunate that I paid attention to him. I was very lucky with my course, my teachers, and mentors. In the end it brought me to where I am now.
Perhaps, I owe my current profession to my grandmother Ogulbeg, who lived to the age of 90. I remember, from a very young age, I watched her weave carpets. My mother helped her and then we younger kids in the family learned the techniques too. I think my fingers remember the process firsthand and I still remember all the basics. Ogulbeg taught us how to weave: carpets, keche (felt carpets), and special embroidery. My mother like her mother was a very skillful needlewoman. I am very grateful to my grandmother for her role in my life. She used to say: “Eurende eghren”, which translates to “first you learn, then leave it, your hands would know what to do with it”.
Your first memories in fashion design and are you a fashion designer?
I remember myself adding my own signature to anything my parents bought for me from the shops. I had to turn it into my own “original” style whether it was dresses or shoes. I don’t know how my parents could tolerate their child’s ideas of individual design. As soon as I reached middle school, my friend and I started making our own dresses, which was liberating. As a result, later, we two made our own wedding dresses, which was great.
I see myself more as a designer than as a seamstress. There is a difference. My line of work is to develop basic concepts for the entire collection. I develop sketches, designs, and come up with the scripts. I participate in the overall development of an advertising line. Then, we work with seamstresses on executing and developing ideas. I can cut, I did a sewing course, but I am not a professional seamstress who designs new silhouettes. To be a designer means you have to be creative about everything, driven by an artistic spirit throughout. Every little thing has to fit and be coordinated. So, you can see that everything is interconnected.
Do you have a dream?
I might have had many dreams. I am interested in everything. I also like working on accessories. These days, there is a new trend called upcycling. We have a lot of Turkmen kurtes (dresses) embroidered by hand, clothes that already outlived their time and are no longer in fashion. It is impossible to throw them away, so we give them a second life, and even produce customized pieces. In fact, in May we will have an Upcycling Fashion Show where young local designers will be able to show their masterpieces themselves. My dream is to show young designers that they are capable of choosing any profession they’d like but creativity will always remain a harbor for meditation or re-gaining energy.
What is the main focus of your studio?
The main focus of our studio is neo-folklore. This is where the traditional Turkmen elements of national clothes are presented in a modern interpretation. We adapt to the modern rhythm of life, because it is always fresh, unique and colorful. I always say that my autograph is a Turkmen ornament. Everything that I create I create using Turkmen embroidery ornaments. Turkmen embroidery inspires me. It carries the history of my people and traditions, which, by the way, have never been interrupted like it happened with some nations. The development of our clothing has taken different turns but the process has never been interrupted.
Where does the fabric come from?
I use fabrics that are produced in my country, because I am for environmental friendliness. It is the main component of all the products that I create. Being eco-friendly, eco-conscious consumption means a lot. Turkmenistan is rich with cotton and our craftswomen produce one of the best silk ketones manually as well as on machines using natural and on rare occasions industrial dyes.
Thank you for giving us this interview. Would you like to say a few words to conclude?
I believe that age should never be an obstacle. Follow your true dream. You can open your own business or do what you really love as long as you have a passion. For me, the founder of the magazine Anne Burda (1949) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burda_Style , who first dedicated herself to her children and her home, has always been an example. Her children grew up, by then she was already over 40, she dared to dream and follow her creative path and open her own business. When your true desire awakens the hidden creativity and you realize creativity is exactly what you want to do all your life, take it, enjoy it and make your own way.