By Jason Fell
The online business Peter K Designs will feature designer belts and dog collars that are hand-stitched in Armenia’s northeast village of Noyemberyan.
The unusual partnership was conceived after Peter and his wife Stephanie returned from a two-year Peace Corps stint in Armenia.
It happened like this. While working with the villagers–husband and wife Peter and Stephanie Kwasniewski noticed that a number of women and girls were exceptionally skilled in the art of petit needlepoint and embroidery–which is similar to cross-stitching only the stitches are much smaller. The women would try to sell 6-by-11-inch embroidery designs–which took about 150 hours to make–to foreign merchants who occasionally traveled through the village looking for craft items. If the women were lucky–they’d get $4 for each item. Sometimes the merchants would just take the work–promising to pay later but would never return.
"There’s a lot of anger and frustration there," Stephanie said–"especially with the men. Many of the jobs available now–culturally–the men are not allowed to do. Men can’t run a shop or work in a restaurant. Many sit around the village all day or play backgammon. A number of men have moved out of the country–mainly to Russia or the United States–in hopes of finding work. The women are left trying to provide for their families."
Peter and Stephanie were impressed not only by the craftsmanship of Noyemberyan women but also their strong work ethic.
Even before they returned to the US–Peter and Stephanie began selling the embroidered rectangles to friends back home–who framed them as works of art. The couple soon discovered–however–that the market for these was limited. So they decided to develop a new business strategy. So they decided to put the embroidery put on belts.
Having maintained relationships with the villagers–Peter employs 85 women; he hopes to someday employ 200 to 300.
The belts and dog collars will be available exclusively online. They come in a variety of motifs–including cities of the world–golfing and sailing and can be monogrammed with up to three initials. According to Peter–the industry standard for embroidered belts is 17 stitches per inch–but his are 24 stitches per inch–or 576 stitches per square inch.
"These belts are finer than other belts available now," according to Peter "The detail is fabulous."
Although the Web site peterkdesigns.com is up and running–the belts and collars have not yet been finished. Peter hopes to be able to start filling orders within a couple weeks. He expects to sell each belt for $165 and each dog collar for $60.