Weaving a better future for handmade rugs and the people who make them

Rugs give us a lot to feel good about. A soft step out of bed in the morning, a warm welcome home and a nice place to land for the little one who is taking her first wobbly steps.

And when it comes to IKEA rugs that are handwoven in India, there is something even more comforting: the people skilled in this 300-year-old craft are starting to thrive after years of exploitation, corruption and miserable working conditions.

“We want to keep this craftsmanship alive, and nurturing it starts with the people who make the rugs,” says Peter Westerfors, range communicator at IKEA of Sweden AB.

Hands sewing

 

Many of us walk on rugs every day yet probably don’t realize what goes into hand-weaving one. Depending on the loom used, it takes one to three skilled weavers in India approximately two days to make a rug. Then add one more day for the finishing work, such as embroidering edges and tying fringes, washing, drying and stretching. Each rug is unique, and carries signs of the weavers’ craftsmanship.

We think it is a time-honoured skill worth celebrating, but weavers were often working 10-12 hours per day in extremely strenuous working conditions, far from their homes, and the pay was so low that it was almost impossible to make a living and feed their families.

Several years ago, handwoven rugs from India were removed from the IKEA range. Then, IKEA Range and Supply, together with suppliers, took the next step in solving the problem by consolidating weaving into organised centres with good working conditions, fair wages, stable work and care for the environment. Today, they are in use, and new weavers are being trained — attracted by fair wages and good working conditions.

Women sewing

Being in the business of making things better, IKEA Purchasing went even further by modernizing one of the looms used in the production of handmade rugs in India, the punja loom, so it is more ergonomic and 40 percent more efficient. Together, the new punja looms and working conditions have made it possible for more women to work at the weaving mills, and that’s having an even greater impact on the community. Hopefully many more women and communities will benefit, which is why it was decided not to patent protect the loom. It gives the entire industry the possibility to improve working conditions.

“Thanks to this job, I’m able to send my children to school and start to dream about the future,” says Sushila Devi. “Before, I worked as a day labourer, and was paid each day. But now I get a monthly salary. I can plan my investments, and I’m investing in my children’s studies.”

Weaver Santoch Kumar agrees. “All our past problems have been solved with this job,” he says. “We get the security of a permanent job with timely compensation.”

Each rug is unique, and carries signs of the weavers’ craftsmanship

IKEA retailers and customers benefit, too. The rugs are produced with better quality control and at a more steady supply, and they are delivered on time.

“It feels good, and it’s simply a more sustainable way of producing handmade rugs,” Peter says, “one that ensures the well-being of the weavers and their communities, the resources we use and our business.”

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