Flying this morning from Hannover to Istanbul and then on to Delhi I found myself contemplating the reverse route I am travelling along the historic Silk Road. At the foundation of the work I do is the commerce that took place so many thousands of years ago, starting in the silk rich land of China. Winding from the far East, throughout much of Asia to Istanbul and then the wealthy West – the well worn roads that carried priceless treasure East to West have paved the way for my business, skills & passions to prosper.
Ella, my fifteen-year-old daughter, spent the last few months studying the history of trade from China into Europe. Helping her to research what products flowed East to West was fascinating. Even more compelling was learning about the power structures that formed and the human exploitation that resulted from this trade. Slave labor in all its horrific forms served the insatiable hunger and vast wealth of the West and continues through much of Asia today in the many facilities that create our textile products.
I don’t know exactly how my own work and journey fit within the ongoing flow of beauty and suffering from East to West except to say that my company, Custom Cool, exists because of it. As a designer and artist I have been able to create a growing business that has the ancient crafts of various Eastern cultures at its core. However as a passionate advocate for human rights I can only allow my business to prosper knowing that our work is contributing to the advancement of human dignity and in no way exploiting the labor that produces what we sell.
My current trip East is for both my business and my purposeful intention to support the people and economies that form the groundwork of what I make. Hannover, Germany, was a fitting place to start. Custom Cool was a finalist in a significant international design competition hosted by Domotex which is the largest floor covering and carpet expo. In the world. The vast halls of Domotex showcased beautiful floor covering products, with staggering varieties of woven goods on display for buyers from around the world to purchase. The enormity of textile commerce was certainly something I hadn’t seen before in person – both glorious in its beauty and daunting in its scale.
I met up with Scott Welker and other GoodWeave vendors at their Domotex booth. GoodWeave is the not for profit organization that works tirelessly to rescue children from slave labor on the carpet looms of Asia. The GoodWeave carpet factories we have our rugs produced in work to extremely high standards that ensure both the fair and good treatment of their employees as well as high standards of manufacturing in terms of the environmental impact of rug weaving facilities. It was thrilling for me to meet committed advocates for reform and human rights in the textile industry at the very start of my trip.
One of the things we talked about is the work GoodWeave is doing in Afghanistan to help kick- start what was a vibrant carpet making industry years ago before the ravaging war. GoodWeave is working to train Afghan women to weave in a sustainable way which will allow companies like mine and many others from Europe and the US to create a new kind of beautiful product whilst supporting the many war widows and their children in a country where woman have few rights or opportunities. I am very excited (and eager – to say the least!) to begin making my first Afghan rug – and with the great work of GoodWeave I may well be able to fulfill this dream in the near future.
The efforts of GoodWeave to both help the women and children of Afghanistan as well as raise awareness of this issue within the mighty powerful rug industry was inspiring to see. I left Hannover motivated to contribute to the efforts to support local communities whose crafts are priceless.
En route to Delhi I had a day in my favorite city in the world – Istanbul. What more fitting pit stop for me on my journey East then to land in a city at the heart of East/West Trade – one portion of the city located in Asia, the other In Europe. The diversity of the people waiting in the airport, heading one way or another, was a marvel to see. From Turban clad men to woman in full burka to jean clad Europeans to holy men wearing various styled robes and Indian woman in both business attire and sparkling sarees. I think in my hours in the terminal I witnessed a parade of apparel that represented a good majority of the fabulous and fascinating locations along the Silk Road – from beginning to end.
I am now settled into my Delhi hotel, thoroughly exhausted but anxious for my adventure to really begin. In the next weeks I will be meeting with a variety of makers currently producing work for us and others who may well be helping us create new products that will set Custom Cool on a firm path of growth and success. In conjunction with this I will be visiting numerous GoodWeave facilities to see firsthand what this amazing organization is doing to support the weavers and the children of India and Nepal. I will be writing here about all that I see and experience, sharing just some of the beauty and mystery of what transpires. My objective is that in my reverse silk road travels I will bring just a tiny bit of healing and hope to those that have suffered as a result of the corrupted power structures that feed our insatiable Western market. All that I have in terms of my talents and success will be put to this task – and I am absolutely ready for the challenge to begin!