KABUL CARPET EXPORT CENTER
CARPET MAKING HISTORY
Carpet-making in Afghanistan dates back some 2,000 years. As waves of migrants from Central Asia moved south into the fertile Persian plateau, they brought carpet-making skills with them. The careful process of tying knots on the warp threads of hand-woven textiles was a highly-valued art with an important practical value: carpets kept floors of mud brick dwellings or felt-wrapped yurts warm while providing an often rare dash of color.
Carpet makers use wool from the sheep they raise themselves, spin it using a drop spindle dating back centuries, then dye it using plants they find growing wild near where they live. Originally, they wove their carpets by driving four stakes in the ground and creating rudimentary looms. They followed patterns that had been handed down from mother to daughter for generations – all remembered, none written down.
From early times, carpets are known to have been sold in the western Afghan city of Herat, which was heavily influenced by the Persian empire of which it was sometimes a part. The carpets made there drew on the Persian love of flowers and curvilinear designs. Belouch people who lived in the area as well had different styles, as did a number of other tribes.
In the 1930's, Soviet repression sent thousands of Turkmen fleeing south into Afghanistan. The Turkmen people brought their carpet-making skills with them along with their tradition of strong geometric patterns displayed on deep red grounds.
Later, when Afghanistan itself experienced a Soviet invasion, many Afghans of all ethnicities fled to Pakistan where they learned to weave carpets. Among them were Pashtuns and Hazaras who had never made carpets before. For most, it was their only means of survival. When they eventually returned to Afghanistan, they brought a new dynamism to the Afghan carpet industry along with the skill of weaving carpets to order.
CARPET MAKING TODAY
Carpets are made throughout Afghanistan, but most of the carpets that are exported are produced either in Kabul or across the north in a band that stretches from Mazar-e-Sharif to Maimana.
During the decades of chaos that began with the 1979 Soviet invasion, a highly complex Afghan carpet-making industry developed that relied on Pakistani exporters to get orders and sell the rugs made by Afghan refugees. When many Afghans began to repatriate to Afghanistan after 2001, the carpet industry shifted with them.
While the working relationship with Pakistani exporters continues, an increasing number of Afghan carpet-making companies have moved on and how handle all aspects of their business on their own. Many have become vertically integrated. They source their wool in Afghanistan, often from the high mountain pastures of Bamyan province and purchased in the wool markets of Ghazni. They dye it, spin it and weave it in Afghanistan according to their own designs. They have built finishing plants in Kabul, Mazar, Andkhoi and Herat. They have developed airfreight export routes out of Afghanistan through Dubai and Turkey.
Several Afghan carpet manufacturers have become top sellers in the international carpet industry. Others are now regularly showing their production at international carpet trade shows like Domotex. Many have developed substantial markets in China.
As their business strengthens, carpet manufacturers are learning English and communicating with clients via WhatsApp and Skype. Production questions that once required weeks to resolve can be handled overnight. Carpet manufacturers are increasingly visiting the U.S. and Europe and developing one-on-one relationships with their buyers, even as they increase the knowledge of their buyers' markets.