US to Afghan Rug Weavers

The Washington Post carried an article on the Afghan war and aid that is meant to help the rug weaving economy.  According to the article, many rugs are woven in Afghanistan but most are shipped to Pakistan for the final process of washing and finishing.  The US is about to grant a $1 million contract to assist the weavers in Afghanistan wash and finish the rugs.  The contracts was designed so specifically it was meant for only one person, London-based Richard Ringrose, who for many years was the vice president for Oriental carpets at New York's ABC Carpet. The contract seems to make sense, but then the article points out the outsourcing the finihsing and washing process is usually less expensive in Pakistan as wages are lower and the weather is more conducive to the process.

Regardless of the politics involved, I found the article very interesting.

In Afghanistan, the challenges are different. There is no Afghan "brand" for rugs on the worldwide market. And instead of mass-production factories, the country has a cottage industry of weavers working mostly out of their homes. Ninety-five percent of the rugs produced in Afghanistan are shipped to Pakistan for washing and finishing, then labeled "Pakistani" rugs, according to a 2006 report by the USAID-sponsored Afghanistan Competitiveness Project.

Unwashed and unfinished Oriental rugs are essentially diamonds in the rough, and defense officials said as much as 40 percent of the wholesale value of an Afghan rug is lost to Pakistan. Moreover, each carpet requires seven or eight people for washing and trimming -- jobs that are also being lost to Pakistan.

Ringrose, under Pentagon contracting rules, was prohibited from speaking publicly with a reporter. The defense official and a person involved in the contract said that Ringrose would seek in the next year to establish training facilities for washing and trimming in Mazar-e Sharif and Herat, where much of the Afghan carpet weaving is centered. He will also create an Istanbul "hub" where foreign buyers unwilling to travel to Afghanistan could examine the merchandise.

The hope is that each facility would generate $20 million to $30 million in business, the defense official said.

The 2006 report, however, noted that Pakistan dominates the washing and trimming business because it has several advantages over Afghanistan, including lower wages and warmer weather, allowing for quicker drying. The report said such facilities in Mazar-e Sharif would need to use heaters indoors or close for at least two months in the winter.
To read the full article, click HERE.

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