Four rug companies recently committed to increased social standards and production transparency through membership in the nonprofit RUGMARK. A+ Designs, Amy Helfand, DuncanArts, and Mat the Basics have signed on to be licensees of RUGMARK, an inspection and certification program that verifies illegal child labor is not used and creates educational opportunities for children in the weaving communities of India, Nepal and Pakistan.
RUGMARK's innovative monitoring system enables both importers and retailers to sell their hand-woven rugs, confident that the product's integrity was not compromised by child exploitation. Last year, the sale of RUGMARK-certified carpets experienced 20% growth, indicating that the market is a viable mechanism for sustainable social change in South Asia. This most recent increase in collaboration between the carpet industry and RUGMARK underscores this growing trend.
When experienced artist Amy Helfand began to transition her abstract landscape collages into contemporary wool rugs, she explored RUGMARK out of her concern that children might be exploited during the weaving. "When I was looking for a manufacturer to translate my artwork into a rug, I contacted RUGMARK for a list of companies who had pledged not to use child labor," she explains. "As I began to make more rugs, it only made sense to become a RUGMARK licensee so that my business would reflect a philosophy of integrity."
A+ Designs owner Alicia Keshishian is among the growing list of RUGMARK licensees whose intent is to raise industry labor standards. Her passion for color and texture was inherited from her own family of accomplished artists. Keshishian was motivated to join RUGMARK as a way to give back to Nepali weaving families. "I deeply respect what skills and talent the weavers offer," she states. "I want to further support the people that make my dream a reality." This support is critically needed since reports from groups like UNICEF, the ILO and the U.S. Department of Labor indicate as many as 300,000 children currently work on South Asian rug looms.
Claire Duncan, of the husband and wife creative team DuncanArts, recently brought a love for contemporary design into the traditional media of hand-knotted Tibetan carpets. Having witnessed child labor while in India years ago, Duncan was sensitized to the issue and concerned about finding credible manufacturers. "The moment we learned of the existence of RUGMARK, we experienced a feeling of having come home." Duncan not only feels relieved, but optimistic that her affiliation with RUGMARK will foster the growth of their young business.
Established companies have also looked to RUGMARK for the assurance that human rights guidelines have been implemented throughout their supply chain. Although fairly new to the U.S. market, Mat the Basics has been weaving handmade rugs in India for over 60 years. Mat the Basics rugs are known for clean lines and rich textures. The company has long been committed to workers rights in Indian weaving communities, including appropriating a just wage and vowing to be child labor-free. This pledge is reflected each time a RUGMARK-certified carpet is sold in their showroom as a portion of the proceeds goes directly toward sending former carpet children to RUGMARK-sponsored schools.
Advances in RUGMARK's strategy both within the marketplace and weaving communities have allowed the organization to set its sights even higher. In early 2006, RUGMARK will launch a consumer education campaign with a focused effort to substantially increase the market share of RUGMARK certified rugs. With a growing alliance of designers and importers leading the way, RUGMARK believes eliminating illegal child labor in the carpet industry is within reach.
RUGMARK is a nonprofit organization working to end illegal child labor in the carpet industry and offer educational opportunities to children in India, Nepal and Pakistan. The RUGMARK label offers the best assurance that no illegal child labor was used in the manufacture of a carpet or rug. To date, over 3,000 children have been freed from the looms and many more have been enrolled in one of 11 RUGMARK-sponsored schools throughout the region. More information is available at www.rugmark.org.
RUGMARK AND IMPORTER LOW RES PHOTOS ATTACHED. HIGH RES AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST
An experienced and versatile artist, Amy Helfand recently began translating her abstract landscape-inspired collages into contemporary wool rugs. In 2004, motivated by an exhibition in Bronx's Wave Hill, Helfand designed a limited-edition carpet based on the site plan of one of the gardens there. The overwhelming popularity of this piece and her desire to create "a work of art to walk on" initiated her entrance into the carpet industry. Since then, Helfand's commitment to only the finest quality hand knotting, asymmetrical design and images both real and imagined is propelling her as a rising rug designer.
Another factor that distinguishes Helfand's work is her integrity in both the artistic and production process. As one of RUGMARK's designers and importers, she shares a deep concern about the use of child labor in the handmade rug industry. "As I began to make more rugs, it only made sense to become a RUGMARK licensee so that my business would reflect a philosophy of integrity." www.amyhelfand.com
ALICIA KESHISHIAN, A+ DESIGNS
The granddaughter of a renowned Oriental rug authority, Alicia Keshishian has grown up with carpets as a part of her life. An accomplished artist for more than 25 years with an extensive knowledge of various crafts, she has recently returned to her family's roots. Alicia custom designs each carpet with respect for the client's specific wishes and sense of beauty.
In addition to a daring use of color, the thread that ties her work together is a profound gratitude to the expert weavers who make her vision a reality. Alicia's recognition of the hardship of Nepali families and the exploitation of children has compelled her to action. "Enslaved labor strips everyone of the hope for a better global community."
She became a RUGMARK licensee so as to ensure customers their purchase does not indirectly support child labor. Instead, her successful line of RUGMARK-certified rugs has enabled former child laborers to attend school and receive vocational training. www.acarpets.com
DuncanArts grew out of the combined creative energy of a husband-wife team with backgrounds in architecture and the arts. Their love of design, color and texture recently found a new medium - hand-knotted Tibetan carpets. All of their work is done with 100% hand-spun Himalayan wool in a vast array of colors. A modern touch weaved into traditional design themes make their rugs incredibly versatile.
In addition to their external east meets west design, DuncanArts rugs have a subtle beauty that lies beneath the surface. As a licensee of RUGMARK, their products are contributing to the elimination of child labor and the education of boys and girls in South Asian weaving communities. "To us, having our designs brought to life by illegally exploited children would be totally antithetical to the creation of beauty. Also, we believe that the individuals who are drawn to our carpets want to be enriched, not diminished, by the experience of living and growing old with them."
MAT THE BASICS
One of the most respected and established Oriental rug importers, Mat the Basics is known for high design coupled with abundant texture. Their collections include rich, harmonious colors and organic 100% pure new wool. They offer variety in terms of shapes, colors, and sizes thus enabling customers to satisfy their particular needs.
Since the carpets are made exclusively in India, Mat the Basics has long advocated on behalf of workers in the North Indian weaving communities. They are deeply committed to fostering the livelihood of these families and therefore became RUGMARK licensees in order to have the most transparent and trustworthy manufacturing process. www.mat-thebasics.com
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