As one of the earliest sites of human civilization, Anatolia is home to some of the most longstanding weaving traditions worldwide. Handmade woven carpets from the region of modern-day Turkey boast a unique style that reflects the pluralist nature of the area – marrying motifs and patterns of the various peoples and cultures that have dwelled in this region over time into a cohesive, distinct design. Recently, however, the handmade carpet industry in Turkey has been in decline. Poor working conditions such as low wages, lack of social care and insufficient facilities have been major contributors to this decline and are placing this ancient and traditional knowledge at risk of being lost to time. Certified Label STEP Partner Kirkit Rugs, a rug manufacturer and dealer based in Istanbul, is working to curb the waning of Turkey’s handmade carpet industry by establishing a model workshop in Ushak.
Housed in a repurposed Ottoman mansion, the Kirkit workshop employs 24 weavers on a full-time basis. In contrast to the poor and irregular working conditions of rural, homebased weavers, the weavers at the workshop can rely on regular and fair payment – earning about three times the amount of rural weavers – and have access to benefits, including lunchtime meals, healthcare and retirement funds. The workshop also offers the security and advantage of consistency. In rural villages in this region, it is common for carpet production to wane between the months of May to September because agricultural work tends to take priority and offer a higher wage during this time. At the workshop, production is consistent year-round allowing both weavers and producers the reassurance of a steady and predictable workflow. Finally, the facility is regulated to comply with health and safety measures to ensure the work is not detrimental to the health of the weavers.
The consequence of these improved conditions means that the workshop’s cost of producing pile carpets is higher than the rural production by about 25 percent. However, Kirkit’s founder Ahmet Diler views this as a worthwhile investment in the future of the industry. Not only does it set an industry-wide example and precedent for the fair and equitable treatment of weavers, it also helps ensure the long-term viability of the industry as a whole by repositioning weaving as a possibly enticing job. In order to promote cost effectiveness and sustainability and to introduce exciting production innovations, the workshop practices alternative measures such as the use of recycled materials like nomadic tents and traditional hemp weavings in their carpet production.
The Kirkit workshop, however, will not be able to resolve the crisis of Turkey’s handmade carpet industry on its own. With over 150 people applying to work at the facility, the demand and need for fair working conditions amongst weavers is clear. Kirkit has indicated their intentions to open another facility, and it appears others may follow suit, nonetheless, ultimately, change will need to come from governmental bodies. Hopefully, the positive model initiated by Kirkit will help demonstrate the potential for change and sustainability in Turkey’s handmade carpet industry – benefitting weavers, workers, and their communities as well as aficionados of the Anatolian weaving heritage.