TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) - The US has long been a major market for Iran’s hand-woven carpets but a stack of sanctions imposed in 2010 pulled the rug from under the Persian craftsmanship, allowing cheaper craft from Pakistan, India, Turkey and China to gain a foothold.
“China, despite being a rival of Iran in the past, is now importing Iranian carpets and the United States is the largest importer of carpets from Iran,” Kargar told a news conference ahead of a carpet exhibition in Tehran.
For the first time, 14 American traders will be attending the 26th edition of Iran’s handmade carpet expo in Tehran to be held for a week from Aug. 23, Tasnim news agency on Wednesday quoted Kargar as saying.
Iranian caviar, pistachios, saffron and carpets and US commercial aircraft and their parts are among the items allowed for limited business with the US under a nuclear deal which went into effect in January 2016.
Citing customs statistics, Kargar said $89 million of carpets were exported in the four months since March 20, which grew by 7 percent year-on-year. Last year, Iran’s exports totaled $360 million compared with foreign sales of $635 million before the sanctions.
Kargar, however, sees a potential for growth and even a leap in sales of Iranian carpets in the international markets.
“After six years, the exports of handmade Iranian carpets to the United States have flourished, but in order to maintain our target market, we need to watch our rivals, such as India and Pakistan, because the taste of our modern customers is important in this market,” he said.
Traders hope the quality of Iranian carpets would trump rivals. Devotees of Iran’s artistry value its premium quality, design and color.
Iranian carpets are made of wool, silk or cotton, or a combination of the three. They are dyed with natural ingredients such as walnut skins, pomegranate and acorn cups.
Carpet weaving has a history of 2,500 years in Iran, ingrained in the country’s national identity. There are currently as many as 1 million weavers across the country, including 700,000 full-time artisans involved in the profession.
The northwestern provinces of Ardabil and East Azerbaijan, Isfahan in central Iran and Kerman in the country's southeast are the major carpet-weaving zones, each having its own unique style.
It is a family-run business, involving all age categories. Artisan products are churned out in local workshops where honed skills in design, weaving and dying make the difference.
It is a painstaking vocation where some rugs take a decade or more to weave.
In the United States, Persian rugs are sold for between $10,000 for a smaller rug and $100,000 or even twice as much for a fine, large rug.
In China, some Iranian traders have carpet warehouses and in Shanghai Free-Trade Zone, Persian carpets occupy 500 meters of Iran’s national pavilion, according to Kargar.
Iranian carpets are currently exported to 80 countries. In recent years, rug dealers have switched to the Asian market, catering especially to the growing crave in China and the UAE. However, the US holds a special place among the traders.
“The thirst and passion for carpet exports to the American market is highly strong and there is an expectation of a leap in sales to the country,” Kargar said in 2015.