The traditional home of the nomads belongs in modern times, says Dameli Kaliyeva. That is why she founded YOURTA – a company that crafts premium quality yurts and delivers them worldwide. Dameli identifies herself as a 'neo-nomad' seeking to expand the understanding of how we can live with care through what she calls “a new yurt experience.”
She told QazMonitor how her creations end up installed in Europe and the US, why western clients buy yurts, and how to craft a modern product with respect to Kazakh traditions.
Where did your business idea come from?
We founded YOURTA with my sister in 2020. It was the year I decided to take a leave of absence from my university in Boston (I'm now graduating with a degree in marketing). It was the year the pandemic hit and everyone was at home with nowhere to go. My sister and I were sitting and reminiscing about our childhood when we had a yurt literally a few steps away from our home. We used to gather there to play, drink tea, and invite friends over.
So, my sister decided to order a yurt for her house in Europe. She was looking for a quality product that could be used as a gazebo. There was no product like that at the time and so the idea for YOURTA was born. We started the whole business right away from scratch.
Who makes the yurts?
We needed to find quality producers and craftsmen first. I went to the village of Kyzyltu by Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan. People there have been building yurts for centuries. They carve each uyk and kerege out of wood, treating it with fire to shape the pieces. Just like how yurts were made hundreds of years ago.
We knew we wanted to work with a Kazakh designer, Assel Nusipkozhanova. She created the design for us, which took about six months to finalize. It is traditional, truly Kazakh, and very minimalistic.
Our initial market was Europe and Western countries, so our yurts look calm and don't have flashy colors; we wanted the design to reflect the tastes of Europeans. If you have seen a typical Kazakh or Kyrgyz yurt, you know it is very bright and has many patterns. It is quite difficult to stay in such a place for a long time, so we wanted to find something more easy on the eye, yet of high quality.
How long does it take to produce one yurt?
It takes two to three months to make one, and another month to deliver it to Europe or America. We pack and send them either by land or by plane.
Who is a typical customer of YOURTA?
Usually, it's a homeowner interested in craftsmanship, design, or nomadic culture. Someone who has a house, but wants an annex – a gazebo where they can spend time, organize retreats, or do yoga.
Central Asian culture is less represented than Chinese or Japanese culture, for example. Few people know what yurts are or what Central Asia is like, so a lot of people are interested in our products.
And speaking of clients – you can see our yurts in Spain, Portugal, the U.S., and France.
It must be really expensive to deliver a yurt from Kyrgyzstan?
Yurts are really heavy and have big dimensions, hence, the high delivery costs. The price varies because we always use different modes of transportation. Sometimes a truck can take ten yurts at once, which is cheaper than sending one yurt by plane. Still, it is a great expense that may take tens of thousands of dollars just to cover the cost of fast delivery.
We have a price list for three yurt designs in different sizes: from 6 to 10 meters in diameter. Delivery and installation are included in the price. We take responsibility for all steps of the production process and installation.
Do you offer a yurt installation guide for the customer?
When buying our yurt the client knows that at least two people from our team will come and take care of the installation process, which is included in the price.
They are the people who, actually, installed our very first yurt. They quickly learned how to do it, even though they had never done it before. Our Kyrgyz craftsmen instructed the team through a video call.
After that, we had the process up and running. We fly out two people, then we find a few more people at the installation site. In just 8 hours, a yurt is assembled under the supervision of experienced professionals.
The problem we encountered was the humidity – since felt is a capricious material – especially in Europe where there are heavy rains. In such conditions, a cover is indispensable. In the first year, we didn't have it, but we offer it now. It doesn't damage the felt and keeps it pristine.
What feedback do you get from your customers?
They often say they are amazed by the quality of the wood. And because they buy a yurt not as a place to live but as a place to spend time in, our customers really enjoy inviting their friends over and hosting celebrations and even musical concerts.
Are you going to expand your business?
I’m graduating and returning to Kazakhstan in a few weeks. Then, we’re planning to expand our operations there. We want to make the yurt more accessible to more people. We are also going to launch interior decor products, such as YOURTA-designed carpets and cushions. The plan is to create an online store and promote our project in Kazakhstan and around the world.