nesting dolls illustrate an article about the Russian craft market

Did you know that Craft Industry Alliance corporate members receive an exclusive monthly newsletter? It’s called Craft Industry Insider and it looks at the bigger picture: How the creative industries fit in the global economy, and how economic trends play out in the craft world.

Today, we’re sharing this excerpt from the February issue.

It’s been nearly two years since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” triggered more than 8 million people to flee Ukraine, and another 8 million are displaced within the country.

Russia, on the other hand, has always kept the West and its capitalist ways at arm’s length, and that distance has only gotten greater in the past two years. After the invasion of Ukraine, the United States and European Union slapped sanctions on Russia and close ally Belarus, and cut Russian banks off from SWIFT, a crucial tool in international trade. Mastercard, Visa, American Express and PayPal blocked transactions with Russian banks that spring.

Many Western companies have chosen simply to not do business with Russians anymore, even if their products aren’t subject to sanctions. Etsy blocked users in Russia and Belarus from participating in the marketplace in April 2022. There was a notable drop in needlework pattern sellers, Slate noted. A local Etsy alternative,, founded in 2006, now has 200,000 sellers, 2.5 million items for sale and 8 million buyers. And services such as BXB by Boxberry work as intermediaries for Russian sellers, taking a 10% cut of sales for helping locals set up shop on Etsy or Amazon.

Russia is the sixth-largest economy as measured by GDP (PPP), just slightly smaller than Germany’s, and has 146 million residents, more than any individual country in Europe. A craft industry leader in Germany mentioned to me recently that the general consensus in Europe is that sanctions against Russia have hurt E.U. manufacturers more than they’ve hurt Russia. Big-picture, Russia’s trade with China, Turkey, India and Brazil has increased as the West has closed more doors.

Considering that Europe is a very important manufacturer of art and craft materials, I dug into the U.N. Comtrade database to find out if the numbers back up this theory. Comtrade is a global repository of import and export statistics where you can get specific data on broad categories or the most specific HS commodity codes.

I found that exports of certain art and craft supplies from European countries to Russia have indeed decreased in the past two years, with China the primary winner in picking up the slack.

In 2012, Czechia was the biggest exporter of pencils and crayons to Russia. But China picked up speed as Czechia and Latvia throttled exports in 2014 (perhaps a reaction to the Crimean annexation), and while Germany’s imports grew until 2021, they also declined sharply after the invasion of Ukraine. (Click on these charts to see an interactive version with detailed figures.)

Russia was the single biggest international market for France’s fountain pen manufacturers in 2012 and 2013, reaching $9.5 million annually. Imports of fountain pens from France and Germany dropped precipitously in 2022, with China and Poland making up some of the difference but nowhere near the peak volume.

Czechia was the biggest supplier of glass beads in Russia up until 2022, when Czechia exported just $375,699 in glass beads to Russia, down from nearly $2 million in 2021 and over $6 million in 2013 and 2014.

Germany was by far the biggest provider of drawing ink to Russia for many years — except for a collapse in the market in 2017 (if you know what happened there, let me know). While the bottom has fallen out of the Russian market for Germany, Finland, the Netherlands and the U.K., Estonia, China and Italy have been gaining market share.

Despite Russia’s fiscal isolation, European art and craft supplies do seem to still be available for sale. Leonardo is the country’s largest craft retailer, with 142 stores in Russia, four in Belarus and three in Kazakhstan. Each hypermarket carries 60,000 to 90,000 SKUs, and Leonardo still advertises European brands including Faber-Castell, DMC, KOH-I-NOOR Hardtmuth and Prym.

And it seems arts and crafts are in the midst of a revival in Russia. The financial newspaper Izvestia reported that Russians have increasingly dealt with hard times by turning to art. Sales in the creative and hobby sections of Wildberries is the second-largest e-commerce shop in Russia, rose by 90% in 2022 and by 132% in the first quarter of 2023. Certain craft categories have experienced massive increases in sales: molds (+376% year-over-year) and wax (+323%) for making candles, accessories for soft toys (+300%), rhinestones (+227%) and beads (+200%).

The online art supply store Etudesite told Izvestia that products had risen in price by about 6% in 2023 from 2022. High-quality paper was most in demand, with Estonian, British and French papers at the top of the list. Despite the war, the representative said, “product suppliers have not changed; Italy and Holland still deliver goods from abroad.”

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Grace Dobush

Grace Dobush


Grace Dobush is an American-born freelance journalist based in BerlinShe is the editor of ADP ReThink Quarterly, a global business publication for payroll and finance executives, and has written for publications including Fortune, Handelsblatt, Wired and QuartzIn her crafty history, Grace wrote the Crafty Superstar business guides for part-time crafters, and co-founded the Crafty Supermarket craft show in Cincinnati and the Midwest Craft Con craft business conference in Columbus.