SAINT PETERSBURG (AFP) – Elderly women across Russia are often seen selling their hand-knitted wares on pavement corners for a few rubles to supplement meagre pensions.
Now a new Instagram project aims to change the public perception of their homely skills by promoting “granny chic” and help the women sell their knitted mittens, socks and other items online.
Grandmother and participant Nina Lozhkova said she’d long wanted to sell her knits.
“But it’s a bit humiliating to sell things by the metro. Here, I feel like I am a creator and not a poor person,” the 58-year-old said of the Instagram initiative, Granny’s.
Lozhkova, who has a six-year-old grandson, is one of around 40 retirees to have so far joined Granny’s, which is based in the northwestern city of Saint Petersburg.
More than 5,000 people follow the project’s Instagram account, @russiangrannies, which displays a sleek selection of stylish photos of adults and children in knitted clothing.
“By buying our wares you are supporting someone’s grandmother,” it says, revealing, too, some heart-warming details about the knitters themselves, their lives, families and past careers.
Aged between 55 and 87, its enterprising pensioners can earn between USD450 and USD1,000 a month. An average monthly pension in Russia is about USD200.
Behind the Instagram account is Yulia Aliyeva, a 27-year-old who recently quit a job working for the city administration to launch Granny’s.
“Of course, the fact that grandmothers can make money online smashes stereotypes,” said Aliyeva, whose 85-year-old grandmother is one of the knitters.
“All of them say that if it was not for the project, they would not be able to do this by themselves,” she told AFP.
Many Russians have to work past the state pension age to afford living costs, or rely on financial help from their children.
Last year, President Vladimir Putin sparked a huge outburst of public anger by opting to gradually raise the state pension age by five years, to 60 for women and 65 for men.
Yelena Tretyakova, the first pensioner to join Granny’s, is already retired so the state pension age changes will not affect her. But she said that the knitting project was still crucial to keeping her afloat.
“If you are retired it is nearly impossible to find a job,” said the 56-year-old, who helps her daughter raise a 14-year-old disabled son.
“And my situation is even more complicated – I can only work from home,” said Tretyakova, whose monthly pension is around EUR150 euros.
With the help of Instagram, she said she earns up to RUB70,000 (USD1,005) a month, a “huge” amount for her, by knitting jumpers and other often expensive items.
As word spreads, new women have joined the project from regions as far away as the Urals and northern Russia.
The site offers a range of clothing and accessories, some priced as little as a few dollars, while other more luxurious items sell for up to around USD180.
The most expensive are usually made of merino or Peruvian wool.
Sometimes the women use the online site to directly sell the knitwear they have already created, charging a price they themselves have set.
Others knit the specific orders placed by customers, in which case Aliyeva sets the price, buys the necessary wool and takes 10 per cent commission.
Besides helping the elderly women, Aliyeva said she wanted to draw public attention to the “sacred role of the Russian grandmother.”
“Traditionally in Russia, grandmothers play an important role – they babysit grandchildren, make tasty food and knit socks,” she said.
“But their pensions are small, their post-work social life is pretty much over and it is very hard for them to find a job.”