How I Source My Handmade Afghan Rugs

I’d like to tell you more about how I source The Rug Mine’s rugs. All of my Afghan rugs are hand-knotted, luxury rugs that are made by the most talented artisans in Afghanistan, from so many different provinces of the country, and each area comes with its own style of rug weaving too. As the only Afghan woman in the world to sell Afghan rugs to an international audience, I’m proud that so many of the artisans I work with are also women, like me! 

As well as using the very best quality materials and 100% hand-spun Afghan wool, I have two other key areas that I focus on.  They are ethical trading and sustainable sourcing.  In this piece, I’ll tell you how I source my Afghan rugs so the next time you look at yours, you’ll learn even more about its extraordinary story!

Rug-Making Isn’t An Easy Process

My artisan partners are seasoned and resilient. So many of them come from families with a long history in rug-making — some of these families have been crafting rugs for many generations, and as such, they understand the patience and intricate level of detail that’s required to create such breath-taking pieces. 

Sourcing rugs in Afghanistan is an arduous process.  As you might imagine, artisans and their families are usually tucked away in rural villages, far from urbanized cities.  There are often many problems to overcome.  There are roadside bombs, acts of terrorism, and armed militia that often interfere with everyday life, and pose problems when it comes to sourcing.  Thankfully, I am glad to say that usually, artisans are safe from these problems but there are other issues that arise and impact their daily lives too.  Those include the cost of transporting raw materials to artisans and then safely transporting the finished rugs out of the villages, into city centers and ultimately crossing Afghanistan’s borders.  This process greatly increases the price of Afghan rugs.

Why Rug Mine Rugs Are Priced Fairly

While talking about price, much of the transportation problem is that Afghanistan is a landlocked country and that sends the cost of transport very high. 

On a positive note, my rugs are priced at less than retail value, despite these challenges because I believe that people should experience the beauty of owning an Afghan rug. Each piece has its own story.  Every rug has immense style and all of my rugs’ good looks always turn heads!  Some people may view my rugs as on the expensive side, but they are genuinely fairly priced.  They’re extremely high quality, they’re made with sustainability in mind, and they support fair trade.  There’s no doubt that a buyer could go elsewhere and find something cheaper, but another Afghan rug from a cheaper seller won’t have all the beauty, be as ethical, or be as high quality as mine.  That’s a guarantee. 

In a department store, or other high-end boutique, you might find similar quality for greatly inflated prices.  My rugs are far less than the retail value.  So if you are lucky enough to own one — whether you want to dress up your home, or you’re a rug-lover — perhaps even an interior designer looking for that perfect finishing touch, buying a rug from me leaves plenty of room in your budget for the rest of your home furnishing needs.

An Investment Piece

We all pay tens of thousands of dollars on furnishings, the same applies to rugs — after all, an Afghan rug from The Rug Mine is the anchor to a room.  It is often the one piece that brings a room together.  In Afghanistan, we have a saying: a space without an Afghan rug is a “naked space.”  Rugs are the centerpiece of life, and in Afghanistan they bring everything together, including the family!  Such is their charm and character.  We make life’s most precious memories on the rug!

Ethical Sourcing

Sourcing materials ethically is a priority for me.  As someone who grew up in a household with six women (my mother, four sisters, and me!), I know first-hand, the importance of being paid fairly, particularly for women working in Afghanistan.  In the early 2000s, my mom began working as an elementary school teacher, but her wages weren’t enough to put food on the table.  Often, she wouldn’t receive her monthly salary and had to wait months before she saw a paycheck.

Luckily, I’m learning that private investors in Afghanistan’s economy (like me) have the potential to help break this cycle and I’m working really hard to become part of that narrative.  That’s why I strive to ensure that the artisans I work with are paid fairly.  As you can probably imagine, the craft of rug-making serves as a source of primary and supplementary income for artisan families.  Put it this way, entire artisan families may sometimes earn more than someone working in big cities like Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital city.

Rug-Making is a Growing Afghan Industry

A lot of the reasons why the artisan craft is growing in Afghanistan is because a lot of former government employees have found themselves unemployed so have pivoted, to learn how to make rugs to earn an income.  For me, I really want to support these wonderful artisans’ efforts through The Rug Mine, to help them live and I feel honored to do so.  There’s a proverb in Dari that goes like this:

“Qatra qatra darya meeshawad.”

It means that small steps yield big results and I believe this.  Small investors (like me) have great potential to not only uplift their local economies like mine in San Diego, California (where I live), but they also have the potential to empower artisans in war-torn countries like Afghanistan.  Small steps, big results!

Empowering Women on a Social and Economic Level

As a young girl who grew into womanhood in Afghanistan, I lived through many wars.  I know first-hand why empowering Afghan women (socially and economically) is so important, and it’s what I want to help achieve through The Rug Mine.

Female artisans usually handle the rug weaving, but they are taking great strides with handling the entrepreneurial side too, for example, in selling and exporting the rugs.  This is an unprecedented achievement.  In fact, (and I’m excited to tell you this), despite the many stereotypes surrounding Afghan culture, actually, female artisans are often the breadwinners and contribute to their families’ success, as well as helping to support and grow the Afghan economy.

I’m Ensuring Fair Trade and Sustainability In Rug-Making

Currently, I’m in the process of hiring Afghan women throughout Afghanistan to help excel and propel my fair trade and sustainability efforts.  There are a lot of Afghan women with college degrees who’ve been left without work during the last year.  I hope to recruit as many as I can to work with me toward ensuring that my fair trade and sustainability efforts are put into practice, and work.  It’s unfortunate that there aren’t any certification partners that I can work with, given the political climate but that won’t stop me!  I’m going to embark on my own journey to create a self-regulating system that ensures fair trade and sustainability work using high standards.  I realize this isn’t ideal, as there’s no neutral third-party to oversee my work, but it's a step in the right direction and better than what anyone else in the industry is doing to support fair trade and sustainability in rug-making.

Fighting Back Against Child Labor

There’s no doubt that child labor should be eliminated, and I do my best to ensure that all of my rugs are child-labor free.  Unfortunately, due to the many wars in Afghanistan over the past 40 years, child labor has become a persistent problem given the humanitarian and hunger crises overwhelming Afghanistan. It deprives children of the same opportunities that other children receive (not just outside of Afghanistan inside too).  I’m talking about the right to receive an education — additionally, child labor can even impact the health and well-being of Afghan children.  I feel a responsibility for those children, and I try hard to source and customize handmade rugs from artisans who share my concerns surrounding child labor in the rug-crafting process, refusing to work with artisans who find child labor acceptable.  That's why I find it paramount to ensure artisans are paid fair wages so they're children can go to school (not work for long hours).

The Rug Mine Says No to Animal Cruelty!

Another value that’s close to my heart is looking after animals and all of my rugs are animal-cruelty free.  The artisans I choose to work with treat their livestock with utmost care and compassion. For example, they are treated with respect, the animals’ wool is sheared gently, and they are fed well in Afghanistan's lofty mountains (which also contributes to the best quality wool).  These are the principles that rest at the heart of rug-making.

Using Natural Dyes

As part of my sustainability effort, it’s good to know that my Afghan rugs involve using all-natural ingredients.  So, while chemical and synthetic dyes might be popular among some rug makers, I don’t agree with it!  The wool in my rugs is dyed using Afghanistan’s natural fruits, vegetables and plants — for example, pomegranate peel, madder and walnut peel (amongst many others). 

The Journey of Our Vintage Rugs

While the rugs handcrafted by our partners in Afghanistan, brimming with story and craftsmanship, form the core of The Rug Mine collection, we also take great pride in offering a curated collection of vintage rugs. Unlike our new Afghan rugs, these vintage pieces don't follow the same sourcing journey or fall under our fair trade program - and for good reason.

Vintage rugs are enigmatic, each piece carrying with it a unique story and heritage that is often hard to unravel. Due to their age and the circumstances surrounding their creation, it's not always possible to determine who made the rug, what materials were used, or the exact conditions under which they were crafted. These rugs have traveled through time and are now with us, and while they may not be subject to our usual fair trade program, we do our utmost to ensure they originate from conditions respecting the same values.

In sourcing these vintage gems, I rely on my deep understanding of Afghan rug artistry, craftsmanship, and cultural significance. I evaluate their designs, the techniques used, and the materials, employing my best judgment to determine their origin and authenticity. This is a different process, but no less important or rigorous than our fair trade sourcing, because it ensures that we honor the integrity of these extraordinary pieces.

These vintage rugs, each unique in their history and design, form an important part of our collection. They offer something different - a slice of history, a testament to the evolution of Afghan rug weaving traditions, and an inherent, timeless beauty that only the passage of time can bestow. They carry a charm and character all their own, and when you bring one into your home, you're not just acquiring a rug, you're becoming a part of its story.

Please understand that while these vintage rugs aren't part of our fair trade program due to their inherent nature, The Rug Mine remains committed to promoting ethical practices, fair wages, and sustainable methods throughout our operations. Whether you're purchasing a newly woven Afghan rug or a vintage treasure, you're contributing to a larger story that values people, their craftsmanship, and their well-being.

Final Thoughts

Isn’t it comforting to know that when you purchase a cruelty-free Afghan rug from The Rug Mine you are making an investment?  You also get to own something so remarkable, with a rich history, that’s made by an experienced, artisan hand using natural materials, the finest Afghan wool and that supports the empowerment of women. My Afghan rugs are there to be treasured, serve as family heirlooms which in time will become valuable vintage pieces that hold so much cultural significance, such is their value. They will be moved from room to room, house to house, injecting warmth, color, and creating a focal area for all the family to deeply enjoy.

I hope that your Rug Mine rug brings you pleasure and peace of mind, too.  Your purchase helps me to help others — you can’t put a price on that!

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