It would have been easy to believe that Prem’s destiny was pretty much a foregone conclusion.
Prem has been weaving rugs ever since. She’s one of forty thousand weavers currently employed by Jaipur Rugs, 80% of whom are women. Each of them use age-old techniques that have remained unchanged for the past 2,000 years to create handcrafted rugs dreamed up by some of the design world’s biggest names. It takes three whole months to knot the sixty kilometres of woollen thread into the two hundred thousand knots that an average-sized design requires. Fascinated by the craftsmanship that went into making each piece, Nand Kishore Chaudary decided to join the rug-making trade back 1978. Today, he’s at the helm of one of the Indian sub-continent’s leading firms. But above all, the man better known as NKC is a pioneer of social entrepreneurship. His motto? “Let goodness, fairness and, most importantly, love prevail in business, and profits will inevitably follow.” From the hills of Rajasthan to the aisles of MAISON&OBJET, two key ingredients underpin Jaipur Rugs’ development: ancestral roots and resolutely modern design geared towards a global market.
“Let goodness, fairness and, most importantly, love prevail in business, and profits will inevitably follow.”
Prem’s adventure is just one of thousands that leave us wide-eyed in admiration. For a number of years, the young woman successfully brought up her three children whilst simultaneously weaving for up to eight hours each day. In these rural regions, it would be inconceivable for a woman to work a long way from home, irrespective of the fact that transportation is so hit-and-miss. She and her husband, a blue-collar worker paid by the day, were like the thousands of other modest families trying to get by in the country’s remote provinces. Little by little, Prem worked her way up to the role of supervisor. Being paid on a monthly basis directly into her own bank account allowed her to become financially independent. Not to mention self-assured, encouraging her to… send her husband back to school. He’s now a history teacher, having graduated with a Masters.
Treating others with dignity is a philosophy NKC embraced at a very young age. Born into a family of wealthy merchants from the village of Churu in Rajasthan, he was destined to become a banker. But his passion for the art of rug making inspired him to take a very different path, hiring nine weavers and setting up his first two looms in the courtyard of his home. Employing people from a lower caste was frowned upon at the time, but the young man’s drive and business acumen ended up winning the day. Forty years down the line, Jaipur Rugs delivers wool to employees scattered across 600 villages in five different Indian provinces. Each rug passes through 180 different pairs of hands as it is woven, washed, mended and finished, with supervisors and trainers ensuring quality never wavers. Since 2004, the Jaipur Rugs Foundation has been funding schools and dispensaries to guarantee a better quality of life for the families of its 40,000 weavers, benefitting 130,000 people in all. Nand Kishore Chaudary calls them his “creative caste”. Italian designer Matteo Cibic is the creative mind behind the most recent Jaipur Rugs collection. On travelling to Rajasthan, there was just one word on his lips: “unbelievable”. He gleaned inspiration from the pink city’s hues, its lights, shadows and architecture to sketch out arches, shutters and stylised Mughal-style figures to feature on the rugs. Today, he’s a veritable ambassador for all these weavers, whose stunning work lovingly crafted in far-away provinces is now being admired the world over.
By Caroline Tossan