What countries have you travelled to on rug buying trips?
So, the last countries I traveled to, buying rugs, was India and Turkey, and I did that last fall. In fact the time we're taping right now we are getting ready to go on another trip to India and Turkey as well. So those are our two main sources for direct importing.
Tell me about the rug weavers and their lifestyle.
One thing that people don't realize about rug weaving is most of it is done as a cottage industry, so it's done at home. So it is something that they will weave in their own home at their own time at their own pace. Most of the times they are farmers first and they weave to supplement their income; so it's not something they do constantly, it's not something they do eight hours a day or there is no sweatshop involved; it's basically a supplement to their income and usually they are very skilled at what they do.
So you have a situation where the mill or the compound, the people we deal with, they will give them the graph which is the cartoon, or cartouche we call it, which has every point of that rug painted in a different colorway. You’ve got to remember, most of the people we deal with are illiterate, they don't read or write, but they can read a graph, and they're good with their hands. You have a tremendous skill level there but not as far as academia, as far as reading instructions, and things like that.
At that point they have a map, they have the wools dyed how much they need, and they have all the strings for the loom to string the loom with, and they take it home and use them, they have a shed at home, and they'll string up their loom and they'll weave the rug according to plan. We'll come back out as far as the compound comes out and inspects and they'll pay them basically as they're weaving the rug going up the loom. They'll look at it saying, "This is right, take that out that's not right, you're not following this." So it's a lot of instructions being done by the exporter as well as the weaver is involved, but most times most weavers know what they are doing, they're very skilled and they can read that map, you can't imagine, they're very, very skilled at that.
And you end up with a product that's totally handmade, totally on their own, and pretty much a very unique situation where you don't have control on it. So it's a lot like art in some ways.
Are you looking at specific rugs and purchasing them?
We buy rugs in a couple of ways; one is we will find a rug that somebody else has made, the manufacturer has made, and they are offering to us to make it in any sizes we want, or if we want to change the color, we say we love it but we don't like the color, or we don't like the wool that's used in it, we don't want viscose we want silk. We can change those things about it and can commit to making those. That's a long-term wait as well. If it is something that's available and we can pick it up, that's great, we don't have to wait that time and we can have it within a few weeks or a month in our shop and ready to sell.
The other way that we do it is we develop our own product. Basically we research all the designs, we research all the colors, we give them all that information, they produce a cartoon or a drawing for us, we okay that, then we get into weaving a small sample, basically a 2x2 or a 2x3 as a rug type of thing. And then from there we'll take that and decide, uh no, we need to change it, we'll change it some more. That's very time-consuming. I would say from starting a rug doing it that way to getting to the point where you say, "Okay it's ready to make”, is at least six months, and that's very time consuming, and then you can add another six months on to it to weave the sizes that you want, and sometimes up to a year sometimes. So it's very time consuming to do it the other way.
Can you get a custom rug made?
We do a lot of custom rugs today. It's amazing how much we do. And a lot of people think that custom rugs are expensive or we're charging a lot more. Most of the people we deal with, when we’re dealing with hand knotted rugs, it's one of a kind anyway. Every rug is a custom rug. So it isn't like they're going to charge us extra to do it unless you get them a color that they don't have available, they had to dye something, or they have to use a special fiber in it that they don't have, they had to go out resource a bunch of that to get it together. But most of the time custom weaving is very common, and usually, most of the time, it's minor things you want to change. It's either the size of the shape - that seems to be the two big ones - or else it'll be there's one particular color in there that you don't like. Or you want to change the accent color or something like that or take the border off of it. It's pretty simple to do those kinds of things. Most rugs today are not 25 colored rugs, they're more like…two to six colors is a normal color range for most rugs we're making.
What strikes you the most about the people that make rugs in these countries?
The best part about anything in business is the people you deal with, and it's very interesting to have that relationship with them, and to know that we have this thing in common even though we're so different. And the art of weaving and the pride they take in what they are doing, and how hard they work at making it happen. If you saw how much work goes into it and how many hands touch it and so many things that can go wrong and will go wrong, and you have that relationship developing products and shipping products, you really get to have a bond. It's like a brotherhood when you deal with your suppliers and you have trust that's built, you have integrity that's built. So it really is a true friendship and a great business relationship as well.