Solution 10:20 22 Dec 2020

Babushkamade: how a Kyiv resident helps retirees to earn a living

The most pleasant fact is that everyone can help them through this project!

Doctors say that walking in the fresh air during a cold season helps prevent several diseases; it strengthens the immune system and fortifies the body, especially in coronavirus times. For a walk or trip to work not to turn into a cold or hypothermia, you need to equip yourself properly. Our limbs freeze in the cold most, and no matter how good the factory products are, they can never match the warm woolen socks, gloves, or mittens knitted by hand.

We have many women in our country who we affectionately call "grannies." They can knit and want to earn a living. Especially now, when living on one pension has become almost impossible. These women have a thirst for work, experience, and skills. The only thing they lack is the opportunity to reach a large audience with their products.

Kyiv resident Anna Sukhetska has figured out how to combine the experience of the older generation and young people's resources and energy so that those who love grandmother's knitting can not only get warm things but also financially support Ukrainian grannies, help them pay for goods and medicines, or goodies for themselves and their grandchildren.

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Four years ago, Anna founded the "Babushkamade" social project, which aims to provide women of retirement age with a stable part-time job, and everyone with beautiful and soft knitted accessories giving warmth, comfort, and a positive mood.

Grannies wanted!

Anna Sukhetska was born in Hlukhiv, a small town in the Sumy region, took an active part in local social initiatives, planted trees, and organized charity sales. "It was a lot of fun," the initiator of the "Babushkamade" project recalls. "Everyone baked and made something, then people bought it at the fair. That's how the idea came up to knit warm clothes for fairs, and involve a socially vulnerable group, our retirees. Then I was interested in social entrepreneurship and accidentally saw an ad for a specialized forum in Odesa. I remember it was the end of summer, heat, why not go to the sea? I bought a ticket and went. There I learned more, got inspired, met the girls-founders of the "Laska" charity yarn shop. I explained my idea to them, and they supported me. In October, I actively undertook to carry out my plan."

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Anna Sukhetska

Finding grannies for the project turned out to be difficult. There was nobody interested among relatives and acquaintances. Anya went to look for her first employees at Kyiv flea markets, where many people sell their needlework.

"I thought I'd come there in my white coat and overjoy grannies, and they'd soon start knitting for our social project. However, it didn't work out as expected. I was searching for those who were already selling on the street. Many refused. They were afraid of fraud or of me being too meticulous about their work. Imagine an elderly woman standing and selling socks for 20 hryvnias and hearing people complain "it's not wool." And here I come and say: what wonderful socks, I only need gloves, and not for 20, and I'll give you 50 UAH and new threads… They get scared. I remember one woman agreed to try and knitted only one glove as a test. I came to her, had a look at her work, and said everything was fine. Then I paid for 1 glove and asked to knit more. Now we have a great relationship and she no longer sells on the street."

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Granny, Luidmyla Volodymyrivna

Anya looked closely at everyone who sold knitwear and won their trust with a kind word. That's how she found 77-year-old Liudmyla Volodymyrivna. It so happened that she wasn't just a grandmother, but a great-grandmother. She's knitted from a young age and worked at the flea market as a regular seller. She brings mittens and socks, sometimes makes various products, and even sews men's underwear. There, Anya found another employee, Nina Vasylivna. Since the project's beginning and until now, these two women are the support and backbone of "Babuskamade."

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Nina Vasylivna

How it works

The idea itself isn't new. Such organizations exist around the world. For example, in the UK, there's "Grandma's Corporation." The primary goal of the corporation is to preserve the traditions of hand knitting. Babushkamade combines two in one: for many participants, it's not just an extra benefit to the pension, but also an interesting and socially useful job.

The "staff" of the project is tiny, usually from 2 to 5 grandmothers. So far, Anya, who works as a screenwriter-editor, copes with the organizational part in her free time.

"Usually I go to my grannies to meet. It's extremely difficult for my elderly colleagues to move around the city," the girl says. 

The capital isn't suitable for elderly people, mothers with wheelchairs, individuals with disabilities. One winter we were invited for an interview and I took Liudmila Volodymyrivna with me. We walked 500 meters with her for half an hour, because we could see pits, slippery paths and stairs everywhere.

We work differently. I'm still testing various models. Now I ask them to knit socks for me, sometimes of certain sizes. Sometimes I suggest something with colors. But in general, everyone is free to express creativity and imagination. They aren't robots. Knitting the same thing is boring! Then I pick up finished products, and I immediately pay for them.

For some reason, a lot of people believe we work on a "custom" basis. I'd like to try this model in the future, but it takes a lot of time and money.

We sell finished products on the Internet and previously took part in fairs. But they have quite an expensive participation fee. You need a lot of products to reimburse. Well, now it's a pandemic. So it's not an option."

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Anna tried to sell the brand's products through stores, but then you have to add +30% to the prices. "I have a block about that," Anya says, "I want our products to be affordable. Especially since the high price requires high quality. And I can't say that everything is super-perfect in this respect. In general, standards are my painful topic. I had an experience with one woman. I'd paid her quite a lot for very poor work for two years. Meanwhile, she didn't deliberately flake on, no. She just didn't deliver well, and she still wanted to earn money sitting at home. Eventually, we stopped working, and I got tougher. I also needed to learn something. Now I've accepted that every grandmother has her own technique and style, and I try to work with what I have. We came to the formula that it would be better for me to pay them less, but also to demand less than try retraining them.

Low-quality products don't reach the buyer. At home, I sort everything, and if I find a defect, I send it to a special box. And then, I may give products to someone for free, or we knit them out and start fresh."

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They don't need a special tool to work. At the very beginning, Anya bought knitting needles of different sizes and gave them to the grannies, and they've been using them for several years now.

The "director" encourages her employees to use old threads or knit out sweaters for socks: "There's a lot of yarn in the world. I'm hands down for upcycling. But if needed, I buy threads in a warehouse in Odesa. They have good prices, friendly to our organization. My favorite Turkish manufacturers use 35% recycled wool in their threads, so we also support recycling a bit."

Anna's mother sews branded red labels on. A simple logo is a red heart, immediately giving the products more seriousness. The products are packed in individual fabric bags. You can store knitwear in them in the summer, or wash and use them to store something else. One of our masters who tied the socks always signs each pair.

Products are inexpensive, for example, autumn prices for socks and mittens were 100 UAH per pair and each next pair at a discount.

Hundreds of socks, mittens, gloves, hats, and sweaters have been knitted over the project's years. Grannies' work gets a lot of positive feedback and repeat orders. Anya is proud of her employees: "I read reviews to grannies, I thank them. They are very pleased. I'm pleased that their work is needed. They always thank me for doing this and support me."

"Babushkamade" sometimes has small corporate parties and outings, for example, a joint trip to a theater play.

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Ambitions & plans, wisdom & learning

Next year, Anya Sukhetska plans to open an online store and sell socks, including abroad. First, because it's more profitable.

Expanding the team and hiring someone to help. Involving as many grannies as possible, knitting not only gloves and socks but also scarves, hats, since demand is there. In social media, people positively react to their project, since it's been just out there. Each of us is constantly buying things in the mass market, made in China. But we could get a special item, handmade for the same money, and support our own country's economy.

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"So far, for me, "Babushamade" is more of a hobby than a full-fledged business," the project's initiator reckons, "However, it's not because the business isn't promising. It's only because of my attitude and blocks. I dream that the project will grow with me and bring a profit sponsoring my other ideas. For example, I wish to come up with a pension after retirement for grannies being no longer able to knit, but needing extra support. But I stopped getting at myself. I work on a project when I have time. I expect little from it. Both from myself and from my grandmothers.

I honestly started playing "rescuer" from the beginning. I wanted to be a kind of superwoman solving social problems. The savior complex quickly broke down to reality, but I'm glad that I continue to do it.

The project taught me a lot. For instance, I got rid of the fear of old age. When I started doing it, I wasn't even thirty. When you talk to energetic and happy women over 70, it's strange to complain about your thirties.

I'd like to broadcast this idea in the future as well. And also, I learned that you need to forgive. Bear no grudge in your heart, especially against loved ones. Don't cling to your own images. If you don't learn to do it at thirty, then at 70, you may end up alone."

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If you don't have a grandmother who would knit you warm socks or gloves, Anna Sukhetska, and her project will help you solve this problem. "Babushkamade" is a small Ukrainian brand of knitted accessories with one peculiarity: all things are knitted by retired grandmothers. Your participation in the project will help them earn extra money from their favorite business, and will provide you with fun and warm socks and gloves made in Ukraine.

Also, read, how a Ukrainian woman weaves and full things from her dogs' hair.


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