Economic growth

Looking to expand its offering of household goods while making a social impact, Japanese retailer Muji turned to rural Kyrgyzstan.

Holiday gifts, filled with warmth and a hint of festive charm, were the starting point for Muji’s collaboration with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). After approaching JICA in search of products with a social impact, Muji was drawn to a selection of handmade felt products from rural Kyrgyzstan. Made in the Issyk-Kul region as part of JICA’s One Village One Product initiative, the products formed the basis of Muji’s line-up of Kyrgyzstan-made gifts. Launched in 2011, the collection now includes toy animals, cosy slippers and necklaces coloured with natural dyes.

The partnership between Muji and JICA has helped fast-track the development of the local handicrafts industry, providing technology and training, as well as insights into the global market. Communities have been strengthened and jobs have been created for local women. Now that the full production cycle is managed in Issyk-Kul, JICA is working on developing the business skills necessary for the project to be placed entirely in local hands.

In a rural region where a quarter of the population lives in poverty, the income gained through the emerging local economy is reshaping livelihoods. Members of the community co-operatives have been able to pay for their children’s education, cover health expenses and repair their homes. They are also starting to explore business ventures of their own, in areas including agriculture and crafts.


A commitment to empowering women and the next generation forms a key pillar of Japan’s approach to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For the women who make up the majority of the 360-strong production team in Kyrgyzstan, the project has helped them develop newfound confidence in their skillsets and provided a glimpse into the economic potential of their handmade wares to bring them financial security.