I am in Dubai this week, attending the Afghanistan/USA Carpet Conference. Twenty of the best Afghan carpet making companies and some of the top American rug importers and retailers—including Macy’s—will be there. As one of the main presenters at the conference, I have the honor of telling the audience about a project I’m intimately involved in and passionate about: Sheep to Shop.

Alex Zahir (left) and Rob Leahy traveling to Afghanistan in 2011

Sheep to Shop is an ambitious project, but the vision is rather simple. Led by the US Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration, the Sheep to Shop initiative aims to:

  • help Afghan carpet traders build a stable and sustainable future by exporting directly to US rug importers
  • analyze and improve the sheep’s wool, yarn making and dying supply chain to the carpet makers of Afghanistan
  • revitalize the carpet traders’ businesses through education, team-building and goal setting
  • help the Afghan exporters know the best type of rug to make and maintain consistency throughout the order, production and shipment process
  • educate carpet maker companies about the expectations of US rug importers, so they can fulfill their orders and build strong ongoing relationships

I am part of the Afghanistan Investment and Reconstruction Task Force and since mid-2011, I have been surveying and studying the rug business in Afghanistan. I, along Alex Zahir, an international businessman and expert in designing, manufacturing and importing handmade rugs and carpets, have traveled to Afghanistan and have met with more than 180 companies that span the supply chain—from sheep’s wool production to shipping companies.

The ultimate goal of Sheep to Shop is to bring together the buyers, the orders and producers. This effort is critical because Afghanistan is a major producer of beautiful hand knotted carpets and rugs and this trade is one of the largest sectors of the country’s economy. The International Trade Administration wants to help this industry remain viable. And I do, too.

When I return, I’ll share my thoughts about the conference and where we go from here.

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