In an era of increasing globalization, in which everything happens quickly and the world can change in a few seconds, more and more people turn their gaze towards the authentic and immutable, in search of traditions that have remained unchanged through the centuries.
Art, folklore, crafts and fashion are assets that have shaped entire nations and made their members bearers of unique identities, with ancient symbols that even today, in the digital age, serve as inspiration for the whole world.
This is the case of the Komi people, a small nation that belongs to a branch of the Finno-Ugric peoples and lives mainly in the Komi Republic, which is located in the northeast region of European Russia.
This ancient nation, which shares a few signs of identity with the Finns, has known how to enhance their national symbolism, which they are now offering to consumers in the Nordic countries in the form of art, consumer goods, clothing and souvenirs.
These are artisan products, inspired in the traditional motifs of the Komi Republic, hand made by local artists with high quality materials such as leather, timber, metal, fur, fabric and wool, in the same way they were produced hundreds of years ago.
The woman as a symbol
What can these products tell us about the Komi people?
Svetlana Burmistrova, Executive Director of the Non-profit Partnership for the Development of Komi Folk and Crafts, explains that, above all, these products tell us about "the life and mentality of the inhabitants of this small republic located in the heart of the Russian Federation, their ethnic characteristics and national symbolism."
For example, they speak to us of symbols that also carry a lot of weight in other Nordic nations: the importance of nature, respect for animals and, above all, women as a symbol of protection and fertility.
The women in the Komi Republic are - just as in Finland or in Sweden - strong and capable. They maintain the stability of the family, the home and ultimately the whole society, in which they assume leading tasks. That is why traditionally they had to be protected from the evil eye and other misfortunes.
These strong, determined and protective women play a fundamental role, for example, in the fashion and calendars that carry the Komi Republic brand.
Forests and nature are also very important, as they provide food and delicacies for people. For example, the same berries that every year thousands of Finns pick from the forests (blueberries, lingonberries, raspberries, wild strawberries ...) are also very important in the symbols and the cuisine of the Komi Republic.
Then there are the animals, from fish and reindeer to birds, which in Komi art represent the three levels of the world. And of course there is the bear - once again, like in Finland -, which is the master of the lower world.
Birds, especially ducks, play also a central role in the spiritual life of the Komi people. That is why they are represented in homes, for example in cabinets, hangers, kitchen utensils and also in women's jewelry (mainly in the form of earrings and pendants).
Looking for new markets
The art and handicrafts of the Komi Republic have traditionally been highly appreciated in Russia. For this reason, in 2008 they decided to establish a non-profit organization, with the intention of bringing together the work of artists and promoting it in foreign markets.
They have succeeded in attracting a dozen of highly experienced craftsmen to the project. They all work now under the same roof in a factory called 'Golden Mark', which is located in the so-called House of Friendship of Nations in the city of Syktyvkar, the capital of the Komi Republic.
Burmistrova says that the original idea was to promote national arts. But, little by little, they have also managed to open new markets for their products, at first exporting them to the Moscow and St. Petersburg regions, where the Komi Republic has established representative offices.
Tourists mainly from Finland, but also from other Nordic countries who have visited these offices have shown great interest in acquiring their goods and souvenirs, which often remind them of the symbolism of their own nations. For example, Finnish customers say they find many similarities between the symbols of the Komi People and those depicted in the Kalevala, their great national epic poem.
Socks, gloves, sweaters, dresses, wallets, bags, toiletry bags, passport covers, household items and calendars are some examples of the products most purchased by Nordic tourists.
Where to buy?
Svetlana Burmistrova says this business initiative has proven to have a lot of potential. Therefore, now their next goal is to enter the markets of the Nordic countries directly with their products. In other words, they not only expect tourists visiting Russia to buy them, but they want them to be present, for example, in Finnish ethnic shops or in shopping centers in the border region.
In this sense, Burmistrova explains that the target client is twofold: on the one hand, they believe that there are many immigrants from the Russian Federation living in Finland, Sweden and Norway that would love to acquire small pieces of art from their country of origin. On the other hand, she also thinks that many Europeans will appreciate the quality of the handmade products that tell about the history of one of the small nations that make up the Russian Federation.
At this stage, they are working to establish a distribution chain in Finland.
Meanwhile, they are selling their products mainly through the Internet, with an Instagram account. They can also be purchased at the Representation of the Komi Republic in Saint Petersburg.
"Soon, - says Svetlana - we will also launch a large online store with the support of the Komi Republic government."
*All pictures shown in this article provided by the Representation of the Komi Republic in the northwest region of Russia.