By Regina M. Connell.
Girl meets boy. (She: originally from Miami, art school in Chicago, fashion in NYC. He: from Iran, the son of a small factory owner in Tehran, emigrated to the U.S. at age 13 just before the revolution.) They fall in love.
She moves to San Francisco. They start a gallery by the bay. Import felt rugs (which she eventually designs) from Iran. Open a store in San Francisco. Thrive. Move to a lightfilled brand new showroom in the Mission, opened in 2013. Keep thriving.
Ah if it were ONLY that easy. But no. There is drama. Think the challenges of resurrecting an ancient nomadic tradition. Think international conflict. Think trade sanctions. Think not having a source of product anymore. Think starting up manufacturing in a country where (among other things) you don’t speak the language. Oh hell, think the challenges of just running a business day to day.
And there you have Peace Industry, one of the greatest stories in the business of design. Peace Industry has always been one of those places we’ve loved. Nestled in Hayes Valley, as it was for many years, Melina and Dodd Raissnia brought cool to carpets and rugs, marrying ancient felting tradition from Iran with contemporary design sensibility in a way that was accessible, fresh, modern.
A combination of imagination, business smarts, and tenacity got them started in the first place: they wandered in bazaars and villages in Iran to find where craftspeople still created felt rugs and then convinced them to incorporate modern design. This already potent combination was put to the test in 2010 when sanctions against Iran finally spread from weapons and oil to that dangerous and terribly subversive category of carpets. “Epic disaster” are the words Melina uses to describe the decision.
A few months before the sanctions took effect, they started to ratchet up production, to get things in, to stock up. They bought all the tribal and village rugs they could find and sold through the inventory as they considered their next steps.
At first, Melina and Dodd thought they’d have to close once they’d sold everything. But that didn’t feel right. “Here we had a successful business that would have been fine if not for the sanctions. (And frankly, I had no idea who would hire me or give me a job!) So we did what it took to keep going. A month later Dodd was on a plane to Turkey. It took about six months to get production up and running. The production started really slowly. It took forever to find a space, go through licensing, find people you could trust and really to start a factory. But we did it. We had to.”
Part of the challenge is the particular craft itself. It’s a nomadic tradition, often found in small villages. “You may find one older craftsman making rugs, but you can’t exactly ask him to make a high end, modern rug. That’s not what they’re about. So in order to get production off the ground, you have to train some young guys (it’s strong, physical work), and train them exactly how to do it (to keep in quality), and that takes a long time.” (See the video on their site for an in-depth view of the incredible felting process.)
The language barrier didn’t help.
And yet, here we are. And there have been benefits. There’s more flexibility in Turkey to do a broader cross section of floor coverings and and to create more merino, which can be used for pillows, upholstery and more to expand their product line.
The results of all this effort are clear in their breathtaking new store, the pitchperfect blend of craft and design, sense and sensibility. They’ve also brought in the works of others, including furniture by San Francisco-based Alice Tacheny, ceramics by Andrew DeWitt, and home accessories by one of our favorites, Papaver Vert.
Drama is interesting to watch, but not so great to live through. Here’s hoping that Peace Industry’s next chapter has more peace, less drama, but just as much style, flair and freshness. The world needs it.