Caspian Region

Kyrgyz Eco-activist's 'Trashion' Tackles a Burning Problem

Alamanova and her team of more than 80 women use the Kyrgyz traditional patchwork sewing technique, kurak, in order to recycle the textile waste, usually burned in landfills, into colourful blankets, clothes and accessories. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev

BISHKEK (Reuters) - A Kyrgyz environmental activist has found a way to combat toxic fumes choking her city by literally turning trash into treasure, sewing clothes out of waste that would otherwise be burnt in a landfill or someone's stove.


Garments are a major industry in the Central Asian nation of 7 million, but manufacturers often discard scrap material in landfills outside the capital, Bishkek, to be burned or scavenged to heat people's homes.


Those fumes make the air even more toxic in Bishkek, which is already one of the world's most polluted cities, thanks to its widespread use of coal.


A man searches for recyclable materials as smoke billows from burning garbage at a landfill in the outskirts of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan March 31, 2023. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev

But artist Cholpon Alamanova came up with a solution that makes use of a traditional patchwork sewing technique called kurak to recycle the textile waste into colourful blankets, clothes and accessories.


In doing so, her workshop has become part of a global "trashion" trend promoting the use of recycled, used, thrown-out and repurposed elements to create garments, jewellery and art.


The task engenders a warming feeling that motivates her to keep doing it, says Alamanova, while helping to keep alive the tradition.


Kyrgyz artist and environmental activist Cholpon Alamanova poses for a picture in her workshop in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan March 30, 2023.

"Every single item that we make with students imparts a very pleasant feeling that at least for a tiny bit, we have made Kyrgyzstan cleaner, and helped maintain the purity of its air, water and land," she added.


Her team, which has grown to more than 80 women aged between 25 and 79, has processed 300 kg (661 pounds) of fabric within a few months, winning public acclaim for fighting pollution while popularising kurak.


Works by Alamanova and her students, displayed at an art show in neighbouring Kazakhstan last month, have inspired Kazakh women to follow suit, with one of her Kazakh students vowing to start a similar project there.