Now that the dust has settled from the Afghanistan/ USA Carpet Conference and the buyers are waiting for shipment of the orders that they placed, I can look back at the event and consider what was accomplished and ponder what the future holds for Afghanistan’s carpet traders. I did that a year ago in the blog post Afghanistan: A Glimpse into the Future, which followed our September 2011 events, and I find it interesting to compare my impressions a year later. As we all live and learn, new information has given me a clearer view.
Many people from within and outside of the carpet trade ask me whether the business is viable. Having been there, working with and now enjoying a friendship with so many wonderful Afghans, I must have faith that they will find ways to revive their businesses. But, beyond this passion for the people of Afghanistan, I can build a solid case for the chances that they will prosper.
Making rugs is a thousands of years old enterprise. It has always been and still is a family based system. As long as there have been Afghans, they have been weaving rugs. In the darkest days of the Russian occupation and throughout the Taliban’s oppression there were rugs being woven and shipped abroad to customers with a passion for Afghan rugs. (See an earlier blog post entitled Evolving Traditions of Afghan Rugs.)
Many of the Afghans who fled to Pakistan learned how to export rugs and Pakistan became the world supplier of rugs made by Afghans. Now that Afghan rug makers have moved back to their ancestral villages, we have learned that they are committed to making rugs for themselves again. The challenge is that principal Afghan rug makers are still dependent and connected to Pakistan for wool yarn, finishing and shipping logistics.
Afghans already control 60% of the value in a rug’s cost. Afghan traders have proven that they can handle the job of selling and customer relations, so we believe that number can increase. Over the coming years and with some help from Sheep to Shop they will take over more and more of the functions now controlled by Pakistani partners and eventually own the business themselves.
But, many people that I talk to about such a prospect are skeptical because of a worsening security situation in Afghanistan. No one can say with certainty what the post-2014 political environment will be, but I can tell you what I see today—the inertia for Afghanistan to slowly take the business back from Pakistan is unstoppable.
And, to support the case of that momentum it is helpful to look at the opportunity for hand knotted rugs on the world market and the competitors for this business. I will try to approach that in upcoming blog posts.