By Regina Connell.
There’s been a buzz in the world of craft and artisanship of late, and I’m not talking about a new artisanal brew, air-dried hachiko persimmons or hand-turned foraged wood beard combs. No: I’m talking about Cuba and Iran.
Many friends are buzzing about going to both countries to see what’s what in the world of craft in these long-isolated countries (at least from the US); to discover and bring back new and exotic treats and processes; and to tell all those good stories. (More on all those efforts later.)
But for some people, this isn’t about discovery. It’s about getting back to their roots. And that’s the case with Dodd and Melina Raissnia’s Peace Industry, which we profiled a while back. Since we did, they’ve been thriving with their line of wool felt rugs: modern designs using ancient techniques.
Dating back to 6000 BC, wool felt rugs were made by nomads of the Central Asian Steppes. They remained mostly unknown outside of the region until Dodd and Melina built their own felt rug workshop in Iran, near Isfahan, created a modern collection of rugs based on Melina’s work as a painter and graphic designer, and began selling them in the US.
Or so it was, until geopolitics intervened.
When the trade embargo on Iranian goods went into effect in 2010, it meant that most Iranian goods couldn’t be imported to the USA. Until that point, Peace Industry had spent years developing its felt rug workshop and overnight, they faced closure. So Dodd (who is originally from Iran) relocated operations to Turkey, though it was tough going and never ideal.
Dodd and Melina lost no time. Peace Industry relocated its operations to a new workshop in Isfahan, Iran where they employ 35 artisanal makers. “Having the rugs made in Iran again is more than I would have ever hoped for,” says Dodd about the workshop’s historic return to that country. “It is incredible that we can once again continue an ancient rug making tradition in the very place it was originated.”
In the workshop, each artisan specializes in a different facet of rug production. The process of making each rug is done almost completely by hand using Iranian wool from grass-fed lambs. Once the locally sourced wool is sorted, combed, washed and polished, the artisans bring Melina’s original designs to life. Since more than a quarter of the workers are deaf or hard-of-hearing, the workshop relies heavily on communication in sign language, which, ironically, has proven to be a valuable and efficient way of working in the loud production environment.
On April 6th, Melina attended the Nowruz Celebration at the White House. She was invited upon thanking President Barack Obama for his bold leadership in engaging with Iran and implementing the historic Iran nuclear agreement, which has allowed Peace Industry to reopen its workshop in Iran.
Probably not exactly what John Kerry and the State Department negotiators were focused on when they negotiated the agreement. But then, life is about unintended consequences.
And sometimes they’re even beautiful ones.