Domestic Economy

Making a Comeback

Carpet exporters are facing difficulties in international markets, despite the easing of economic sanctions
Making a Comeback Making a Comeback
The handmade rug is one of Iran’s main export items

People have lavished fortunes on buying fine and exquisite Persian rugs. And many still do. It is not the purpose of this article to promote the supreme and unmatched handmade Iranian carpet and their weavers. They can, and will, fend for themselves.

Each finely woven rug is, indeed, a piece of craftsmanship and has a class of its own. They speak for themselves. The attractiveness, allure and excellence of these fabrics are often times mesmerizing and the craft unbelievable.

Carpets woven in towns and regional centers like Tabriz, Kerman, Mashhad, Kashan, Isfahan, Naein and Qom are characterized by their specific weaving techniques and use of high-quality materials, colors and patterns. It is in the context of the Persian rug that one gets closer to the proverb “seeing is believing.”

Small wonder that every Iranian family in and outside the country has at least one carpet adorning the home. They are enticing, to say the least.

In business terms, the handmade rug was one of Iran’s main export item. It still is, but with some disturbing differences: Inferior brands from other countries are making their presence known while hostile relations and economic sanctions of the past several years are taking their toll.

Now is the time for reinventing and redefining the Persian rug. More so in the lucrative western and Asian markets – not an easy feat by any leap of imagination, but deserving the time and energy carpet weavers and market stakeholders can and should afford.


  Export Constraints

The head of the Export Development Commission of Tehran Chamber of Commerce in Tehran admits that carpet exporters are facing difficulties in international markets despite the easing of economic sanctions.

“It is regrettable that access to the foreign markets is still difficult. This issue goes back to developments after the nuclear agreement was signed. Due to the obstacles created by domestic opponents of the government some laws were not implemented while some international markets are still not accessible,” Seyyed Razi Haji-Aqamiri told the news website

He did not name the opponents nor elaborate the laws that had been put on hold due to their obstructionism.

Haji-Aqamiri did, however, say that many big international banks, financial institutions and insurance firms remain anxious about doing business with and in Iran, in particular dealing with Iranian banks after almost six years of restrictions over the nuclear dispute. Their worry is tied mainly to the residual US restrictions on trade and economic collaboration with Iran.

“True, the economic sanctions are being lifted, but we have yet to solve the problem of money transfer and this is a concern for all exporters, not just those dealing in hand-woven carpets.”

The chamber official noted that any market that suffers damage, irrespective of the reason, will need time to recover and get back on its feet.

  Helping Rivals?

“The greatest harm that can be done to a market is the absence of other countries in that market. If you can’t take your goods to a country and sell it in its market, you in fact make room for your rivals and competitors, which is the case in point with Persian rugs in the American market,” Haji-Aqamiri complained.

Giving some perspective to his claims and the plight of carpet exporters seeking a share of the lucrative western markets, he said, “It’s five years now and the second time that we have been banned from the American market. The first time was in the 1980s when our fine rug exports were banned and not allowed entry in the US.

“In 2000, during Bill Clinton’s presidency and with the efforts of the private sector, the carpet sanctions were lifted. Before that, our presence was limited to the black market, until the opportunity arose for us to officially operate there again. We had 10 years to undo the damage but had already sustained immense losses and challenges up until 2000. In the process we lost our (superior) carpet market and status to countries like China and Pakistan.”

Haji-Aqamiri echoed the thinking of independent carpet experts in and outside Iran who strongly believe no other country can match the fine quality, diversity of design and colors plus the exquisiteness of Persian handmade carpets.

“Many still believe that Persian rugs are, indeed, something else and obviously irreplaceable by carpets from other countries.”

Reasons for the status and prestige of Persian carpets are numerous. The craft is ancient, dating back to more than 2,500 years and the skills needed to create these amazing elaborate works of art are often passed down from generation to generation.

  An Arduous Enterprise

 In addition, the carpets are woven with wool, vegetable dyes and silk to create exquisite colors and harmonious designs and many of them take decades to complete.

Moreover, besides their unique beauty, Persian carpets have a reputation for indisputably high quality and durability which often attract collectors, buyers and investors across continents in search of higher returns and works of exceptional art to adorn their homes and workplaces.

However, things are changing along with the market and the choice of new and younger buyers. According to the export official, “Persian carpets are like vintage luxury vehicles. Young people nowadays don’t know much about the origins of luxury cars made 30 years ago and the same could be true for Persian carpets. We, for instance, can’t really expect the young generation of Americans to understand the value of these carpets because they were born during the time of sanctions and consequently grew up without ever becoming familiar with this artwork.”

Effectively, the collective memory of society has forgotten the phenomenon that is the Persian carpet due to its very long absence from the market.

In contrast to many market observers and experts who believe otherwise, the member of the Tehran chamber says, “It would be incorrect to assume that in the present circumstances we can reclaim our (top) position in the international market; of course that is if we aren’t already forgotten.”

Driving the message home and with clarity of purpose, Haji-Aqamiri asked, “After all, what have we done in terms of advertisement and marketing” to restore our credibility, status and fair share in the multibillion-dollar international handmade carpet market?

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