I have been in and around the rug industry since 1971. That’s 43 years! During those years, I traveled widely and have seen carpet making all over the world. But about a week ago in a remote village of about 500 people in Rajasthan India, after all these years, it finally all made sense to me.
During a tour of the weaving facilities of Saraswati Global Pvt. Limited with a group of 12 Afghan members of the Afghan Carpet center of Excellence, plus 4 Americans and 5 or 6 company managers, we visited the village of Mazipur. We were quite a crowd! The village Saraswati uses about 15 looms spread among the 75 or so families that live there. Other big Indian rug producers also have looms in the village and they compete with each other for the weaving skills of the residents.
When we got close to the village, the road narrowed and our bus was too big to make it through the trees and we had to walk about a mile to reach where the people lived. That’s not too far really, but was 110 degrees. When we got there we were led to a home with a 12’ wide loom beside the house. Women were weaving a wool and silk rug for Saraswati and the Afghan weavers with us were impressed with the set-up and quality. I noticed that there were women weaving, which seemed unusual in India where most of the weavers are men. Asking the manager from Saraswati, who was guiding us that morning, I learned that there are more and more women entering the ranks of Indian weaving as the men depart for better paying jobs, mainly in the construction business.
We moved on to another home that had two looms. A similar rug was being made with the same tight, straight set-up. They were weaving carpets that would make good quality rugs. By now our large group had created quite a stir in the small village and all the children and younger men were coming from all directions to see what all the commotion was. At our second stop I noticed something else, the women were dressed very nicely considering the job they were doing. One of the ladies stopped tying knots for a few moments to talk on her cell phone. It was a more modern picture than I recalled in my earlier loom visits.
Moving again, by now we were near the village center and there was a covered structure that had six or eight looms placed in two rows and there were women weaving on all of them. I walked around them taking in the scene of the weavers, all the children and young men milling about.
The children were pulling me this way and that and showing me particular weavers. Their mothers, their older sisters, their aunts? I don’t know, but there was a pride that I’d never imagined seeing. The young men stood respectfully beside the looms. There was respect for what the women were doing; they were weaving a hand knotted rug. Further, it again stuck me that the ladies were wearing very nice Saree dresses. Perhaps their nicest, since I assume they knew from the managers that a large group was visiting the village today. The kids and men had respect for these weavers because they had such respect for themselves. A few of the ladies, stopped to show us their work with an obvious sense of pride.
That’s when I had my epiphany!
In all my years in the business I have always had trouble answering the question, “…..how can you sell that rug for so much money when you know that the weaver is paid so little?” Now I can answer this question more firmly:
I have been there, I have seen the skill and how it is valued by the weavers and all the members of the village where it was made. It is a respected skill, prized by the villagers and competed for by the companies that employ them. On a relative basis, it is an extremely valuable input to family incomes. This really was a personal revelation to me and underscored, later that day, when I paid an Indian taxi driver $5.07 for what would have compared in distance to a trip from a New York airport to downtown.
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