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Fair trade Oriental Rug Event includes stories of rug makers

Through the Ten Thousand Villages fair-trade program of the Mennonite Central Committee, Spokane’s fair-trade shop, Kizuri, is hosting an Oriental Rug Event May 19 to 22 at the Community Building, 35 W. Main. 

Kim Harmson - Kizuri
Kim Harmson of Kizuri plans oriental rug sale.

There will be more than 300 rugs on display—featuring rugs from two-by-three-feet to 10-by-14-feet, plus hallway runners.

It is a sale, exhibit and educational seminar on how the traditional craft of hand-knotted oriental rug making has enabled about 850 Pakistani families in 125 villages to make 54 types of rugs to support their families.

Kim Harmson, owner and manager of Kizuri, seeks volunteers to help load and unload the rugs and to assist sales people.

“Education is part of our mission at Kizuri,” she said.  “It will be a cultural and educational experience with a public seminar on how rugs are made and on the traditions of the rug makers.”

Pakistani families have made rugs for centuries, at least since the time of Alexander the Great.

 “It takes a year for a family of four traditional rug makers, working five to six hours a day, to knot a nine-by-12- rug with 500 knots per square inch.  Previously, the rug makers took their rugs to  Lahore to sell,” said Yousef Chaman, director of Bunyaad.

Before Bunyaad, a fair-trade foundation producing the rugs for Ten Thousand Villages, they had to go shop to shop to sell their rugs.  Sometimes they returned without selling the rug, or they had to sell it for less than its value.  They could not afford to go back to the city again, he said.

Ten Thousand Villages, which was started in 1946, has carried the rugs for more than 20 years.

Pakistani families knot rugs in their homes seven months a year, and seasonally also farm and make bricks.  They are able to be with their families while they make the rugs, supporting their children to go to school, Yousef said.

Families tend doumba sheep, which have an extra fat pack so there’s more lanolin in the wool, increasing the life of the rug.

Artisans use natural dyes from plants and trees.  They enjoy eating pomegranates and then use the peels for dye.  They also use bark, orange peels, walnut shells and onion skins for dyes.

As the artisans farm, they work with the environment, knowing when to plow so migrating birds follow as they dig the ground, eating insects so there is no need for pesticides, Yousef said.

Dede Leister, rug event coordinator with Ten Thousand Villages, added that since flooding in Pakistan in August 2010, families have used income from the rugs to help rebuild their homes and lives.

Two months of flooding affected 200 of 800 rug-making families. Sixty needed help to rebuild their homes, replace their looms and resupply materials.

Families suffering from the flood had jobs right away in temporary facilities in three villages in the Dera Ghazi Khan region of Pakistan.  They had help to rebuild homes and reinstall their looms.

“Proceeds from sales are rebuilding lives,” Yousef said, “providing a steady income and basic needs for families so they can continue to live in the villages and care for the environment.”

He said the rugs have created income for Pakistanis since the program started in the 1960s. As a Baptist pastor, Yousef’s father, who came up with the idea, was one of the first two members of the community to be educated.

When he was in seminary, he met people who agreed to help the artisans receive a good price.  He set up the program with mission organizations in Pakistan.

Even after he became a pastor, he and his family also made rugs to earn an income, so he would not have to take money from the church.

He helped 10 village families realize they could make new designs if they earned enough to maintain their homes, have three meals a day, educate their children and themselves, replace their equipment and contribute to village development.

Rather than trying to sell their one-of-a-kind rugs independently at nearby markets, the artisans are assured a fair wage and have peace of mind to focus on creativity and quality, rather than speed and expense, he said.

Because working in five- to 90-percent humidity stresses looms, rug makers need enough income to replace tools and looms every five to 10 years, so it’s economically feasible to do the work.

The idea of fair-trade sales of the rugs started in Dajrran Wala, a village three miles from the northeast border of India and Pakistan.  Because of the threat of war, there were no factories or infrastructure, so there were few other opportunities, said Yousef.

Through this fair-trade venture, artisans earn $6 to $7 a day instead of $2 to $3.  If they are educated, they know if a price is good.

Previously, family members who left villages had found life worse in cities because they lacked education.  Now some have moved back to make rugs.

No one depends on anyone.  Artisans own their own jobs.  It also relieves religious and social tensions.  Christians, Muslims and Hindus work side by side, focusing on their work, not their differences,” said Yousef, who remembers watching his father and uncle make rugs when he was four years old.  He then learned to make the rugs, too.

Yousef went to college at Punjab University in Lahore, majoring in business and economics.  He learned the business process from the level of the village to marketing in America.

Now he works with the program in North America, first coming in 1992.  He works in Ephrata, Pa., with Ten Thousand Villages, one of the largest U.S. fair-trade organizations.

A group of four people are on tour, going to fair trade stores around the country.  They will visit Spokane for the Rug Event.

Yousef said that fair-trade stores like Kizuri usually do not have the space or funds to include rugs in their inventories all year.

For information, call 464-7677 or email yousef.chaman@rugs.tenthousandvillages.com.