Carpet – Recreating Aladdin’s magic! March 2018 issue

Carpet – Recreating Aladdin’s magic!

The art of carpet is believed to have its genesis in India way back in 500 BC. However, its Mughal Emperor Akbar who is credited for bringing carpet weavers from Persia to India in the 16th century. Today, India is the world’s largest producer and exporter of hand-made carpets. And the trade is only thriving further

Neha Dewan | The Dollar Business

Carpets are weaved at very specific locations, and it’s not a pan-India industry


Presently, majority of the carpets produced in India are exported all around the world, thus reflective of their quality, fine workmanship and rich legacy which they are associated with. As per a recent report by the India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), 90% of the carpets manufactured in India are exported. In FY2013, exports of handmade carpets stood at $1,080.90 million, with US and European Union (EU) accounting for most of it. In fact, around 60% of India’s total carpet exports in FY2013 were to US and EU. India is a leading carpet exporting nation, with Iran, Nepal and Pakistan being some of its competitors in the trade. USA, Germany, Canada, France, Italy and Japan are known to be some of the major importers of carpets from India.

Of all kinds

Essentially, there are seven types of hand-made carpets by way of weaving techniques – hand-knotted, tufted, gabbe, woollen, hand-made woollen dhurries, pure silk, staple and chain stitch rugs. The hand-knotted carpets are designed first by clipping the lengths of the yarn. Weaving a hand knotted carpet entails a lot of skill and time, with its quality often being measured by the number of knots per square inch. Due to the amount of time taken, these also end up being a far more expensive buy. On the other hand, hand-tufted carpets do not require as much time or skill as hand-knotted carpets do. Produced with the help of tufting guns, these are created without tying knots and take far lesser time thereby reducing the costs.

Traditional handlooms usually take three-four months to weave a carpet


The hand-knotted gabbe woollen carpets, produced mainly in the Bhadohi-Mirzapur region in Uttar Pradesh, show a novel tradition of tribal designs. These are primarily made of 75% wool and 25% cotton. One of the least expensive yet sought after floor coverings are the woollen dhurries, which can be placed anywhere in one’s home to enhance space. Also known as Killims, these are extremely versatile floor coverings. They do not have any knots and can be used both ways which makes them rather unique in their functionality. Then, there are the hand-knotted pure silk carpets which are renowned for their fine workmanship and intricacy of design. Produced in Kashmir, most of the silk carpets are known to display different colours when viewed from various angles. They also tend to give an illusion of two carpets instead of one since the colours show-off a day and night variation in shades. However, this illusion is only natural as the lustre, shine, pile and the weaving technique of the silk fibre sets the silk carpets as being very novel and extraordinary. No wonder then that they are also sometimes informally dubbed as magic carpets!

India's carpet exports-TheDollarBusiness


Staple or synthetic carpets are synthetic hand-knotted carpets with a feel of silk, with Agra, Srinagar and Gwalior being their primary producing centres. Lastly, there are chain stitch carpets which are mainly produced in Kashmir. They are also known as Jalakdozi natively and reflect intricate needlework in their designs. Used as floor coverings and wall hangings, these use the ancient technique of hookwork where the entire cloth is filled with tiny stitches of cashmere or silk thread.

Variety of India's carpet exports

Of all cultures

In terms of design, Persian carpets carry a rich tradition and are woven with wool, cotton, silk. Some of the more common motifs highlight medallions, scrolling vine networks and overlapping geometric compartments. The Mughal style, which is considered to be one of the oldest styles, was influenced heavily by Emperor Jahangir’s great interest in botany. The colour combining in these carpets is done without outlines and use two different tones of the same shade side by side. Besides these, there are antique carpets which are quite expensive and can be used as a great decorative art for interior spaces.

UP, Kashmir and Rajasthan are some of the major traditional carpet producing clusters in India. More specifically, these include Bhadohi-Mirzapur, Agra in UP, Jaipur-Bikaner in Rajasthan and Srinagar in Kashmir. However, in recent times, other centres such as Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh and Panipat in Haryana have also emerged as carpet producing regions.

Region specific

Typically, each region is known for producing a certain type of carpet. For instance, Kashmir is more synonymous with hand-knotted silk and woollen carpets. It is famous for its versatile range of silk carpets with a weaving tradition that spans across centuries. Silk is the most significant raw material which is processed in complex patterns and with a density of up to one million knots per square meter. The rather detailed and complex designs on them makes the production of these carpets a long process, sometimes spread out even over a few years! Needless to say then, these are rated high on prestige and price both.

Destination for India's carpet and other floor coverings-TheDollarBusiness

Agra is renowned for its supreme quality hand-knotted Persian and Turkish carpets. The centre is well known for natural vegetable dyes, with bold floral borders being a distinctive feature. In fact, Bhadohi district in UP is known to be the biggest carpet manufacturing centre in India, famous mostly for its hand-knotted range of carpets. Popularly christened as the ‘Carpet City’, the Mirzapur-Bhadohi region is the largest handmade carper-weaving cluster, engaging around 3.2 million people in the industry.

Another important cluster is Rajasthan, which boasts of exquisite hand-knotted woollen fibres. The designs reflect their influence from the Mughal dynasty showing hunting patterns with trees and floral motifs.

And the challenges

Despite the fact that the industry offers employment to millions of artisans and weavers, the challenges faced by the industry act as a stumbling block to growth. Wool, which is one of the main raw materials used in the making of carpets, is produced in India on a far lower scale as compared to the requirement. However, due to high prices, it is not possible to procure it in bulk quantities. The heavy fluctuation in prices of imported wool makes it necessary that wool production in India should be considered as the most viable route to meet the domestic demand as well as the demand of the carpet industry.

Profit estimate for carpet exports-TheDollarBusiness

Most of the Indian wool for carpets comes from Rajasthan, which is known to produce different types. In fact, the use of good wool acts as a significant pull and is a determining factor to assess the quality of a carpet. It’s hardly any surprise then that the Iranian industry has been riding a high wave due to the use of quality wool in their carpets.

And then there are other issues. Lack of skilled human resource and innovation, unavailability of easy financing schemes and long-drawn-out processes act as a major deterrent. Bhadohi, which is a major cluster, has dismal infrastructural facilities and a lack of uninterrupted power supply for carpet production. However, little has been done to improve this scenario in a city which is a major export earner.

Tedious processes, for one, continue to be a pressing issue faced by exporters. Nishant Chandra, Owner, The Carpet Cellar, told The Dollar Business, “Documentation is very time consuming and cumbersome. There is a huge congestion at the ports. At arrival, it takes sometimes 20-25 days to clear shipment of raw material. And similarly, when you are exporting, you may pay for air cargo, few dollars a kilo extra and ship the goods, which is a very expensive process for us. But even then, you will discover that it took five days at customs for clearance. So, those things should definitely be simplified.”

Kashmir in India is famous for its versatile range of silk carpets with a weaving tradition that spans across centuries


For the magic

Another exporter who did not wish to be named, stated that despite the incentives available to them from the government, they at times, do not go to the extent of availing them due to the lengthy processes involved. Besides this, initiating effective steps such as rationalisation of duties and enhancement of rail capacities and infrastructure for smooth transportation movement is something which could help give a much-needed leg up to this export-led industry. But then, Aladdin’s carpet didn’t came easy, did it?

“Today, commercial carpet is a very competitive industry” - Nishant Chandra, Owner, The Carpet Cellar

Nishant Chandra, Owner, The Carpet Cellar


TDB: In what way do the carpets in your collection measure up on the novelty scale?

Nishant Chandra (NR): We have two categories – we specialise in own and antique carpets, which are there for the domestic market. But what we are doing is that we are recreating our antique carpets and are making new products inspired by the originals. So, we are not just copying the designs, we are actually recreating the processes that went into the making of a palace carpet. In earlier days, centuries ago, carpets were commissioned for a particular use, especially for noble families. So, there was a lot of attention to detail. There were no limitations on the time or the raw material that went into it. Today, commercial carpet production is very, very competitive. You are not only competing against manufacturers within India but also those in China, Europe and various other regions. So, we have carved a niche for making carpets of a quality which hasn’t been seen before. We have inherited the artisan skill in India, because weavers have this in their blood. It is handed over from generations to generations. So the skill is there – the challenge has always been to get the right raw material and give the artisans support in terms of giving them the freedom and leeway to create something of a much higher quality without cutting corners.

TDB: Which countries do you export carpets to?

NR: Our exports have traditionally been to Europe and America. But in the last few years, there have been a lot of enquiries and a lot of new business from countries such as the former Soviet Union, China and from many of the Asian countries like Singapore and Hong Kong, where incomes are improving and a lot of the expatriate communities are setting up businesses because of opportunities there. So, we are getting new markets, in addition to our traditional markets. We see a lot of new business from these places. About 50% of the exports are still to traditional markets, mainly US and EU.

TDB: Does the temperature of a country have a bearing on carpet demand and production?

NR: Carpets do definitely give you warmth, and especially woolen carpets provide insulation and warmth. But today, the use of a carpet is more decorative. It has more to do with enhancing the interiors of a space than it has to do with providing warmth. Because nowadays, all homes around the world are built to adjust to the temperatures in the city. So, if it’s a cold place, they will have the insulation or heating in place. Now even the floors are heated. So, with the technologies in place, the utility of a carpet is just not restricted to providing warmth. In fact, it has now been scientifically documented that carpets made from a natural fibre like silk can be cool in summer and warm in winter. Carpets made from artificial fibres like acrylic, viscose and synthetics do not have the same properties. On the other hand, wool as a natural fibre breathes. So, a sheep doesn’t feel hot even during the summer.

TDB: Among the various categories of carpets such as tufted, knotted etc, which one is most popular?

NR: I think in each category, the business is growing. It has become a very competitive business. So, if you are in the machine-made carpet business, there are companies in China, Indonesia, Turkey, and various other places where they are making carpets on a large scale. And today, for a hotel project in the Middle East, if we are bidding for carpets, we are not only competing against Indian manufacturers. There are at least 14 countries where carpets are being produced in this machine-made segment. Our strength is definitely the hand-made category. But even within this, there are also various qualities. In our hand-knotted carpets, we have no competition because of high quality. We are importing wool from Australia and South America. That wool is soft, lustrous and used for clothing, fine suiting or sweaters. We are reviving centuries-old vegetable dying techniques. So, this the USP of India, our artisan skills.

TDB: Do hand-made carpets continue to have an edge over others in terms of demand?

RP: It continues to be in demand because the degree of skill and knowledge required is very high. If we were told to double our capacity, it would take us at least three and a half years to achieve this because we have to impart the skills and training to the labour or the artisan workforce. Tufted carpets volumes are also going up.

TDB: What are some of the new and more innovative things that you plan to introduce in your business to scale it up?

NR: Innovation is a part of our strategy and we have new collections and new materials. There is a lot of R&D that goes into our production. We have collaborated with an institute for making regenerated fiber from bamboo. Traditionally, we make carpets with wool and silk. We have created a lot of beautiful, natural soft textures in bamboo silk, so that is something new and very exciting development that has been well received around the world.

In design, we have new collections almost every year. This year, we have got the Ikat designs inspired by the Indonesian weavers, and we also have a whole range of new silk carpets in abstract designs. So, while traditionally, our carpets were more inspired by either Persian designs or old Turkish designs, now we are going outside the realm of conventional carpets and getting into abstract art and paintings.

TDB: From an industry perspective, where do you think we stand as far as carpet exports is concerned?

NR: The industry is very, very hobbling because the policies of the government have really not filtered down to the actual artisan or trader. We are lucky as we are well established and have been in the business for about 40 years. We have a very good network of partners around the world. But artisans are in a very wretched position. The exporters, by and large, pay very little to the labour and a lot of exploitation happens. Standard international labour stipulations are not adhered. But more importantly, there is no incentive for someone to create more employment.

Today, what is more important for the weavers of India or the people in rural areas is that they must get at least 250 days of employment in a year so that they can feed their children, send them to school and aspire for a better life. That is not happening. Those jobs are not being created. It is a vicious cycle, unfortunately. Compare India’s road, rail and other transport infrastructure to China. Even a service lane outside a factory in a remote location in China is much better than our highways. And today everything works around a tight schedule. Earlier it was understood that if you had an order for six months and if you did not meet the order in time, you still had a few months of leeway. Today, that is not the case and if there is a delay, you have to pay a penalty. If your order is delayed beyond that, not only do you have to pay the penalty, but also arrange the air cargo.

TDB: What then is the solution to these issues that are plaguing the industry? Are you, as an established player, also helping in being a part of such solutions?

NR: We are doing our bit for the community on our own. But the fact is that we are not social reformers. Our reach is only as far as our own weavers are concerned. We are limited to the scope of our own influence – to the areas where we are producing. But there is a very large systemic overhaul that is required, both in terms of design inputs and quality required for weavers.

We are hoping that with the new measures that are being implemented in Europe, and the tightening of monetary policy, improvement in the situation in Europe and America, our margins would also improve.