Manufacturing that Puts Determination and Patience to the Test

The Mongolian Economy constantly searches for engaging subjects and themes to bring to your attention, and we are pleased to introduce to you for the third edition of our magazine a new section titled “Made in Mongolia.” We hope it will, like our “Innovation and Business” section, become a cornerstone of our future editions. 
After reviewing many new interesting manufacturers as potential subjects to inaugurate the new section, our editorial team, after long discussions, believes to have found a rather appealing business venture in the person of Mr B.Davaajantsan.

Pleasant and cooling car seat covers

Worried that a car seat cover made of knucklebones will feel “coarse” when sitting behind the wheel? Well actually, 800 knucklebones – approximately the number necessary to make up for one car seat cover – can act as a surprisingly southing massage when orderly arranged and joined together. Mr B.Davaajantsan has been in the knucklebones car seat cover business for about five years now, and this year he has already made three such car seat covers.
Due to “the love of Mongolians for meat,” knucklebones are produced in large quantities, he admits. Unfortunately, “Despite the fact Mongolia has more than 40 million heads of livestock, knucklebones are rare to obtain,” he added. According to him, it is hard to find knucklebones because Mongolians cherish them. “It is rare for them to sell knucklebones as they [Mongolians] collect them to play horse racing or frog making games during Lunar Year celebrations,” he said. However, he still manages to continue making knucklebone seat covers by travelling around the countryside, and befriending meat salesmen.

To manufacture knucklebones seats, Mr B.Davaajantsan needs 7 to 8kg of knucklebones whose price per kilo varies from 500 to 1,000 togrogs. Davaajantsan has then to select the right knucklebones. Not all the knucklebones presented to him are selected for the design of a car seat cover, as only those matching the client’s specific request are collected.
Knucklebones have four sides on which they can land on when thrown, each of which corresponding to one of the animals traditionally herded in Mongolia: horse, sheep, camel and goat. In case of an order for a seat cover where knucklebones are required to all be assembled with their horse side up, issues arise on the way the horse side will face. Seat covers with horse sides of the knucklebones facing only to the right or only to the left are very difficult to make and, fortunately, these kinds of orders rarely occur. People usually order seat covers with either the sheep or goat sides of the knucklebone, as these are considered more comfortable for the body.  

Naturally colored knucklebones

After knucklebones collection and receipt of orders, the manufacturing process can start. Knucklebones are first thoroughly bathed in boiling water three times to drain them out of any traces of oil which could stain once assembled into a cover seat. Each time they boil for 5 to 7 hours before to be chilled and the oil wiped off. Then, the second and most interesting part of the manufacturing process, the coloration of the knucklebones, takes place.

Most of the time, Davaajantsan colors the majority of his knucklebones in brown, red, yellow or green, for which no use of chemicals is required. The red and brown colors are obtained by boiling the bark and wood of larch trees together with the knucklebones. On the other hand, to get a yellow color, Davaajantsan boils the knucklebones with flowers, and with grass to obtain a green color. Basically, in order to create a certain color, Davaajantsan simply boils his knucklebones with woods and plants of that color. As well as acquiring the color, the knucklebone also loses its natural odor to acquire the scent of what it was boiled with. “Please, sniff it,” Mr Davaajantsan said, constantly bringing to my attention the different scents of his knucklebones as he put them under my nose.
Before to be used as a car seat cover, each knucklebone has to be thoroughly cleaned, this is the next processing stage. No technology is available to thoroughly clean a knucklebone, and it is by hand that each one has to be meticulously cleansed. According to the manufacturer, this is the most difficult stage of the process. Once the task is accomplished, Davaajantsan can drill the holes which will allow them to be attached one another.

With the aid of an electric drill, two holes are made in each knucklebone so a rope can be inserted to thread them together. The task of threading 800 knucklebones together is a long and arduous one which requires a minimum of patience. When ordered, a knucklebones seat cover is custom made according to the car actual seat and the client’s specific color and design requirements. This completes a manufacturing process which lasts 14 days. 

Due to the fact that car seat covers made from knucklebones are hand manufactured and require various complex processing stages, production is slow. Moreover, it is evident that such work requires patience and skills as well as time. This is mainly why only three sets of car seat covers have been manufactured so far. “Making car seat covers from knucklebones is a job for very patient and hard-working persons,” Davaajantsan explained repeatedly, before to prove his point. “I trained four people to the confection of knucklebones seat covers. One gave up during the beginning of the training, the other three managed to make one seat cover each. However, they decided not to continue the training afterwards.”
Previously, Mr Davaajantsan used to make cushions and souvenirs from knucklebones, with which he says it is possible to make 42 types of products all together. However, he started to undertake his car seat cover enterprise in 2006. At first people expressed doubts about seat covers made of knucklebones. They worried they would feel coarse and uncomfortable. However, after sitting on a seat cover, people rapidly change their mind and definitely place an order. Despite the labor intensive nature of the product its price is relatively affordable. One car seat cover sells at 100,000 togrogs. Moreover, the handmade product is provided with a ten year guarantee. If during this period the seat cover connecting knot disengages or becomes loose, Davaajantsan fixes it for free, creating a special bond and trust with his customers. 

Recently, foreigners living in Mongolia have displayed a lot of interest for seat covers made of knucklebones. As for locals, many use this product, starting from wrestling champion Mr P.Sukhbat. As well as original, knucklebone seat covers have the advantages of staying dry and of being even more comfortable during the summer by staying cool. 
Mr Davaajantsan has no intention of contenting himself with the current extent of his business and dreams of expanding it into a full production line flow. Although Davaajantsan currently lacks the labor force to assist him in the expansion of his knucklebones seat covers manufacturing business, the number of orders is steadily increasing and he has one goal only, to realize his dreams within this year.