Ts.Selenge: The value of Mongolian handicrafts is being trampled on by foreign goods


2020-06-11 16:36 GMT+8

- Crafts should not be forgotten as a national heritage -

We were greeted by a clean and tidy environment with a smell of fresh paint and a national style. The walls of the Mongolian ger, the wool, the patterns and the rugs are visible to the naked eye. The textile artwork on the walls retain their deep meaning and feature a rainbow of colours.

“Please sit down and have a cup of tea”,  said Ts. Selenge, head of the Mongolian Quilting Center at the Shine Zamnal NGO. In the small back room, four girls were busy crafting.

Our conversation began with an interesting story about a girl named Ts. Selenge who became interested in handicrafts, including textiles.

After graduating from the National University of Mongolia with a degree in law, she studied in Japan and the United States. It was while studying in the United States that she visited the home of an American friend and was first introduced to quilts. From that time on, the woman who used to make handbags and clothes from whatever materials she had at her disposal, became more interested in textiles than in her former career, and decided to open a textile art center in Mongolia.

Thus, with the support of kind women from Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, Turkey, and Australia, the Mongolian Quilting Center was established for the development and support of Mongolian women. The NGO's name "New Way of Life" was given by the poet P. Badarch.


-First of all, please introduce our readers  about the art of quilting. What are the steps?
-The quilting that we use has similarities to Mongolian national quilting, but what’s unique is that the silk remnants are designed and sewn in a delicate color combination. It is very time-consuming due to the delicate work. Each creation has its own characteristics, and therefore the construction process can be very different. Each creation consists of  12 or more stages and will be completed by 2-5 people. The first step in our product is the design. The designer will use a combination of research and her own imagination to create the first drawing. Then we will develop the methods and materials required to make our creations.  

After that, the girls sew by hand to produce the final product. It is made of silk remnants or embroidered materials of different colors, so each product is unique. It is also an important step to introduce those valuable works to others. Management, organization and planning are all integral to the product development All of these work together like the wheels of a cart, supporting each other to produce a complex creation.

-When did the Mongolian Quilting Center begin operating under the Shine Zamnal NGO? Briefly introduce your center to our readers? 
-Our center is in its 16th year of operation. The small craft center has been operating continuously for many years, and I think the best explanation for this is our team. I would like to thank all the artists who have worked alongside us at our center. We have lived through successes and failures together. Our center currently conducts textile handicraft training for more than 3,800 target groups of women in Ulaanbaatar and rural areas. The training was organized in cooperation with the capital city and rural labor departments and international organizations.

-Many businesses are frozen due to the pandemic. How does this situation affect your center?
-Our center is not alone in this, but most of our customers are tourists, and Mongolians who are going abroad. However, at a time when the state border is closed, the demand for handicrafts has declined sharply, which is a severe blow to the industry. We used to make more than 130 different designs of household and souvenir products, but our range is now reduced to only about 40 different products. In addition to the epidemic, our central heating system broke down and hot water damaged all of our products and furniture and they were not able to be reused. During this difficult time, many kind people, including TIKA International, have supported and encouraged us, and we have been able to resume operations and to plan for further work.

-How many people are currently working at your center?
-Due to the current situation, only about 20 people have permanent jobs. Others are waiting for work. Most of our employees are single mothers and women with disabilities. We strive to employ as many women as possible. However, this time is very difficult for us. That is why I want the Mongolian people to value our nationally produced goods, and to choose Mongolian products as festive gifts and thus support our employees in these difficult times. 

-What do you think is the reason that Mongolians do not choose their national handicrafts?
-First, it has to do with price. Handicrafts are often relatively expensive due to the large amount of labor, time, and effort required by many people. It also requires teamwork, not just one person. Second, people mistake Chinese-made products for Mongolian ones. There are thousands of cheap products imported from our southern neighbor which are labelled “Made in Mongolia”. The value of our genuine handicrafts is being undermined by cheap foreign goods with “Made in Mongolia” tags.

Our time-consuming and labor-intensive work is imitated in China, with products being made in large quantities and sold at the same price. It is extremely distressing to see this type of counterfeit product. Many types of handicrafts of Mongolian national heritage are being forgotten. This is the heritage which must be passed on to future generations.  In these difficult times, it is possible to support our artisans by purchasing unique works directly from their workshops and contributing to their sustainable operation.

-I heard you offer quilting training. Can you tell me more about this? 
-Our doors are open to anyone who is interested in crafts and who wants to learn something new. We teach everyone, whether they are retired, take care of their children at home, or have a disability. Working on craft utilizes your right and left brain and produces a kind of meditation and reduces stress. By learning to quilt, you can live in an environmentally friendly way, create small things, spend time creatively, and increase your household income.

-Have you participated in international art exhibitions?
-Yes, we have successfully participated in international handicraft exhibitions in the United States, Great Britain, Japan, Turkey and Vietnam. There are regular foreign and domestic customers who understand and  value our work. I hope to continue to participate in international exhibitions and gain experience. International textile exhibitions were organized in Mongolia in 2014 and 2019 in order to develop, introduce and promote Mongolia’s textile industry.

-Would you share with us your immediate goal?
-I didn't want to sit idly by because of the difficult situation caused by the coronavirus. In that sense, we are working hard to deliver new products of the “Ger” brand soon. 

We plan to open a coffee shop called Ger which will help to sustain the operations of the center. The coffee shop interior is decorated with a unique design that is steeped in Mongolian life. I think this will be the first coffee shop in Mongolia with such decor. In a comfortable environment that reflects the Mongolian way of life, you can see the unique works of art, see how they are created, drink coffee and tea, and learn the art of quilting.

-Do you want to appeal to society and all Mongolians? 
-I would like to call on you to support national production during the global epidemic. Purchasing the work of artisans will not only increase the income of their families, but will also make an important contribution to the preservation of national heritage, traditions and skills.

-Thank you.

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