How Traditional Mongolian Craft Influences Current Design Practices

The nature and types of graphic arts found in Mongolia were influenced by the nomadic heritage of the steppes. We look at how nomadic visual culture influences the present design 


Before the 20th century, most works of the fine arts in Mongolia had a religious function, and therefore Mongolian fine arts were heavily influenced by religious texts. Thangkas were usually painted or made in applique technique.

Silk applique’ thangka depicting Arhat Nandimitra. Mongolia 19th c.


Under the Mongolian People’s Republic, socialist realism was the dominant painting style.


Feeding Lambs” —This poster attempts to demonstrate solidarity with ethnic minorities in China. 

Does culture and language affect Typography?

Khalkha Mongolian is the official language and is spoken by 90 percent of the people. Minor languages include Kazakh, Russian, and Chinese. Khalka Mongolian is part of the diverse Uralic-Altaic language family, which spread with the ancient Mongol Empire and also contains Korean, Manchu, Turkish, Finnish, and Hungarian. Each of these languages features a highly inflected grammar. Khalkha Mongolian may be written in traditional Uighur (vertical) or Cyrillic script.

Here’s an interview Tengis Type on his work and practice:


What language do Mongolians type in?

在蒙古国、中国、俄罗斯还有蒙古历史路线上的国家里都有持同一语言、书写却 不同的蒙古人。中国和蒙古国有过苏联化的时期,即是将母语的字母换为基里 尔字母的运动。但在中国的蒙古族仍然使用传统字母至今。

There are many different Mongolian people around the world, like in Russia and Mongolia, after the Soviet era they started to use Cyrillic Alphabet, but in Inner Mongolia of China, we still use traditional Mongolian Alphabet. (It reads vertically, not horizontally).

What do you get taught at university in Mongolia? Is it conceptual or purely technical?


My own major in university is Oil Painting. and after graduating, I taught some visual classes in university here in Hohhot for a while. It is more technical.

How long have you been running for?


What influences your design?


The current design environment and most importantly, my nature and character of being a Mongolian.

What attracted you to typography / graphic design?

其实并没有很新颖或者很特别的原因,我觉得被视觉表达所吸引的原因还是它 本身的语言特征。

Actually, there is no particular reason, I think, the linguistic feature is the main reason of me being attracted to expressing through visual elements。

Are the type designs you create purely for craft purposes and decoration or did they have any other deeper meanings? 

文字很特别,即是工艺(工具)又是表达视觉概念的素材,所以两种情况都会接 受。

Type is very unique, it is a tool or an instrument, it expresses meanings, but at the same time type itself is a visual element too. So I care about these two features simultaneously.

What are the main building blocks of Mongolian history and culture that have lead to contemporary typography in Mongolia today? 

文字都是伴随政治与宗教来强化自身,蒙古文也是。例如书写「国书」蒙古秘史 的政治需求以及后来兴起的佛教、基督教典籍的排印需求都改变了蒙古文。 

All typography is strengthened by super powers like politics and religion and so it is with Mongolian Typography. Politics need to find someone to write their History books like The Secret History of the Mongols. And later on, the typesetting requirements of buddhist scriptures and bibles are the influencing factor of contemporary typography in Mongolia today。

Are current designers now influenced by western design as well as traditional Mongolian design? 

会受到西方设计的影响,与此同时,蒙古人的情感驱使他们不得不去反思自己, 反思自身的传统历史文化和现代生活的转变、反思自身独有的情感与视觉之间 的关系。

Yes, designers are all more or less influenced by western design, but as the same time being a Mongolian people they all reflect on their own feelings, reflect on their history ,unique culture,and modern life, reflect on the relationship between their unique feelings and visual elements.


How does traditional Mongolian folk art influence your practice?

不像学院派的学科品味,蒙古民间工艺艺术深植在每一个普通蒙古人的审美系 统里面,进而蒙古设计师也不例外。蒙古设计师们会充分利用蒙古民间工艺艺 术的大众化特性,发挥其价值。

Not like scientific knowledge or academism, Mongolian folk art to me is more like a built-in thing, and to other Mongolian designers. We are trying to make the most of the universality of Mongolian folk art, make it count. 

Tengis Type can be found hereherehere and here

Here’s one of Tengis’ editorial pieces on Nomadic Fashion


Because it is supremely well-adapted to the conditions of life on the steppe and the daily activities of nomads, Mongolian dress has changed little since the days of the empire. 

The applique technique as shown below are from Michel and Amazonka’s Spring / Summer 2016 collection. Thank you so much Tengis.

Now here’s a short interview with Fashion Designers Michelle and Amazonka:


What are the main building blocks of Mongolian history and culture that have lead to contemporary design today? 

Nomadic culture and its information is conveyed through mostly oral means. So the pattern designs had to have deeper meaning and strict rules. These rules and meanings were integrated into legend and folk tales. Today we are not fully aware of the extent of our cultural heritage as it was almost completely destroyed during the 30’s by killing every educated people who held the knowledge. Also the Buddhism played huge role in patterns usage.

How long have you been running for? 

2.5 years

What attracted you to design?

The sense of identity is very strong in Mongolia so it is something that we cannot neglect or leave behind.

What influences your design? 

The current trend in the fashion industry, our identity, customers, and muses; we always keep eyes on current trends and fashion shows to not make similar designs. Also we take elements from our traditional clothes.

What has influenced the beautiful patterns that can be found in the traditional textiles and prints; did any social order/way of life influence the designs? 

Unfortunately, we do not have written information about the creators of this culture as many times in our history foreign invaders made sure to destroy evidence. But lately, discoveries from old tombs revealed few of the clothing culture that was once trendy.


How was the cloth created?

The resources that Mongolians could find locally were cashmere, wool and felt as they were living a nomadic lifestyle where you cannot settle in one place to create factories and workshops. But their political power enabled them to bring silk and other delicate materials from all over Asia to create clothes. Also, they brought artisans from China, Korea and India to create fabric in Kharkhorin the ancient cultural and political centre of Mongolian Empire. But since the downfall of the empire such places disappeared and again we became dependent on import materials. From 1911, under Russian influence and the communist regime we created factories where cashmere, wool, leather and cotton materials were processed and manufactured. Today we do have these factories but are all under private company management and used for their exclusive designs. 

Were the designs purely for craft purposes and decoration or did they have any other deeper meanings? 

All patterns used in traditional clothing have respective meaning and used in different purposes. There specific patterns that are used for royal ceremonies, weddings, children, in accordance with ranks, regions and even funeral. 

Are current designers now influenced by western design as well as traditional Mongolian design? 

Mongolian designers always to use traditional designs in their creation. But most contemporary designers use European style as a base and decorate it with traditional patterns or use a part of it.  

Few of our models and celebrities become our muses for creating certain designs.

How does traditional Mongolian folk art influence your practice? 

We use patterns mostly with techniques such as printing, embroidery and beading. Our policy is to create designs for 2 different segments. One is traditional clothes for the local market and European style designs for a wider audience. The choice of pattern carefully selected considering cultural values of different ethnicities in the country.

What do you love about your job? Are most of your clients national or international? 

The sense of creating something new is really rewarding. It has many challenges but in the end you create something new that has wow effect, it can be rebellious, it can be revolutionary, it can be innovating and the satisfaction you get from it is unparalleled. We would say 90% are local clients and the rest are international clients.

Where have you exhibited? Have you been featured anywhere else? 

We’ve participated in several fashion show abroad. Usually organize 1-2 fashion shows annually in Mongolia and sell our products locally too. So far we’ve presented our collections in South KoreaChina, and Russia

Michel and Amazonka run their own shop at Zaluus Melmii, Building-17, Peace Ave-28, Ulaanbaatar 15172, Mongolia


For more amazing work, please visit: or their Facebook page.