Our number one project killer at the moment is the shortage of woollen yarn. One pair of traditional Pamir socks takes around 450g of yarn, we were aiming at 20 pairs, meaning 9kg of wool. For our seminar we were left with around 1,4kg. The shortage of wool and the simultaneously rising demand for woollen Pamir socks has already forced De Pamiri to accept socks from synthetic yarn again – even if this is against their philosophy.
De Pamiri is rightly proud of the fact that their support of woollen products has notably raised the price for raw wool and has led artisans to start producing their own yarn again. So how come that woollen yarn is now so difficult to find?
The better part of Pamiri artisans knows how to spin yarn themselves, but they do so in very small amounts and mainly from wool they get of their own sheep. Most artisans then use this wool to further produce hats or socks; they hardly ever deal with woollen yarn as a product. In contrast to synthetic yarns woollen yarn can therefore not be found on bazaars. In addition, the process of washing, carding and spinning raw wool is extremely time-consuming. Especially in summer during harvest, there is not enough time for spinning. Early fall therefore turned out to be the worst time to start looking for woollen yarn, as all stock from the previous year is running short whereas new yarn has not been spun yet. Finally, spinning yarn has proven to be unprofitable. An agile artisan can manage to produce 1kg of wool in 40 hours. With a price of 45 Somoni per kilogram of woollen yarn, this results in a monthly income of around 160 Somoni, whereas De Pamiri is trying to ensure a monthly income of around 400 Somoni for their artisans. Dealing with wool is therefore only profitable if artisans process it to ready products with higher value. Besides the shortage of woollen yarn, another problem is the fluctuating quality. The thickness is greatly varying and some yarns are not properly twisted or tear easily. In most cases the wool has not been properly washed before spinning which means that pieces of plants and earth can still be found spun into the yarn.
De Pamiri has already identified these problems and started some interventions in order to improve the situation.
The NGO buys woollen yarn from artisans and resells it profit-free in order to distribute the material and to offer woollen yarn to artisans who do not have sheep of their own. De Pamiri has also purchased around 500kg of raw wool, and only recently established a spinning workshop equipped with electrical spinning machines and a hand -carding machine in order to produce their own yarn. This workshop is meant to insure not only a constant supply of woollen yarn, but also a constant quality, as well as to detect the actual time spent on spinning one kilogram of yarn. Unfortunately, the workshop has presented some specific project killers of its own. While De Pamiri calculated to offer only 30 Somoni per kilogram of yarn instead of 45, due to expenses for machines and electricity, employees argue that they could work even faster from home with their hand machines and that on some days their travel expenses exceed their earnings. This and the general shortage of qualified workers have made it very difficult for De Pamiri to find suitable personnel.
So should De Pamiri act as a producer or networker?
The NGO shows little confidence in their artisans when it comes to ordering material or lending machines to artisans so that they could work from home. A certain control of the work is seen to be necessary. “They are always ill or need to take care of their children. They just don’t deliver in time.” On the other hand, however, a well-established network could be just the right tool for handicrafts, which is, by nature, widely distributed rather than centralized. So maybe, rather than trying to make a centralized workshop function properly, De Pamiri could concentrate on methods, such as contracts or regular visits, to ensure constant quality and constant supply of woollen yarn in a widely distributed system.