"The ARZU carpets are a welcome addition to our collection," Jafri stated last week as he was preparing for the launch. "They have wonderfully innovative designs, some of which are very cutting edge. They come in every size from 3x5 to 10x14, and in very good colors. We already have a large supply in our shops, and we can easily get more from the ARZU warehouse in Chicago the minute we need them. We are very excited to have them."
Abrahamic Tribal Patterning 1 by architect Stanley Tigerman for ARZU alludes to the geometric patterning of Moorish history.
He says Dover Rug & Home already has had customers inquiring about the ARZU rugs. "We have been running ads on six radio stations and in half a dozen shelter publications as well as on social media." The story behind ARZU attracts a lot of attention that is enhanced by the local availability of the carpets themselves, Jafri says.
"It is so moving what Connie Duckworth and her team have done. ARZU has created something that is really helping the people who make the carpets," he explained. "Not all problems can be solved by dropping bombs."
THE ARZU STORY
ARZU carpets are woven in Bamyan, in the central highlands of Afghanistan where massive statues of Buddha had stood for centuries until they were dynamited by the Taliban in late February 2001.
Six months later on 9/11, Connie Duckworth was working in her office at Goldman, Sachs & Co when the planes hit the twin towers a few blocks away. At the time, she was the first female partner at the firm, but in the weeks that followed, she made a life-changing decision to walk away from that hard-won position and use her business skills to help the women of Afghanistan.
ARZU's ail is to empower Afghan women through weaving, literacy and peri-natal health care programs.
The result was ARZU, a word that means hopeÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ in Afghanistan's Dari language. From the beginning, it was always about more than making rugs. Duckworth drew on her experience mentoring younger women in the finance industry to empower Afghan women.
The women who wove for ARZU were paid bonuses on the completion of every rug, provided they, and all the female members of their families, participated in literacy classes. Weavers of child-bearing age became part of ARZU's peri-natal health care service. To date, ARZU has not lost a single woman in childbirth, and this in a country with the world's second highest maternal death rate.
ARZU has been running three pre-schools in Afghanistan for the past five years.
Childcare and pre-school programs became an essential part of ARZU along with two meals served to the youngsters every day. Malnutrition is a long-standing problem in Afghanistan.
"We have had three pre-schools running for five years that have graduated 90 preschoolers into the first grade every year," Duckworth says proudly like the financier she once was showing off a strong end-of-quarter report. "The preschool is one of our prides and joys. It is really flourishing."
RETAILERS AND HIGH-PROFILE SUPPORTERS
ARZU pays for these programs by selling its carpets as directly as possible to end-users. They started by relying on trunk shows and on-line sales, bypassing established carpet marketing systems. That worked well for a while. High profile supporters like Laura Bush bought some for home and her husband's presidential library.
Dover Rug & Home's ARZU event on April 19, guests will see a range of designs from the traditional 150-knot Allure rug (above) to the 120-knot tribal design called Alliance (below).
As those sales leveled off, however, ARZU sought the marketing guidance of established retailers. First to help was Minasian Rug Company in Evanston, Illinois.
Duckworth had moved with her family to Chicago when she left Goldman Sachs, and when Minasian welcomed ARZU carpets to their showroom sales soon picked up. In subsequent years, ARZU has expanded its network of retailers, but very selectively.
"We are always looking for new partners who share our vision to carry our line," Duckworth said recently. "We don't have the funds to advertise and compete on the advertising side; we would rather spend our money expanding our programs in Afghanistan. We seek retailers who want to give back to the women who make the rugs. It is very important for us to find the right partners."
"If you are going to be in this business," Jafri notes, "you are going to need a retail network that has the ability to sell rugs. That's what we do day in and day out. There is only so much one company can do under its own brand."
Jafri acknowledges that "the cost of ARZU rugs to the retailer is a little bit higher, but we are willing to trim our margin to keep the product competitive in the marketplace. That is our way to give back and support a great cause."
ARZU's Afghan women weavers broaden their portfolio to accommodate contemporary design tastes with rugs like Condensation.
Jafri and Duckworth were introduced five years ago when she gave a talk at the Longwood Cricket Club near Boston. "We reconnected last year," she says. "His business is growing and doing well. He wanted to engage in ARZU as part of his world view of social responsibility. We are thrilled to be associated with Dover Rug & Home."
For his part, Jafri says his commitment to helping women in Afghanistan goes deep.
"It started with a friend of mine, Patti Quigley, whose husband, Patrick, was on one of the planes on 9/11. She took this amazing loss, and with another woman, Susan Retik, whose husband was on another of the planes, turned their grief into a source of strength. They created an organization called Beyond the 11th to help women who have been widowed through acts of war. Patti introduced me to ARZU.
"Also, I was working with Razia Jan, a remarkable Afghan woman who, against great odds has built a very successful school for girls near Kabul. I met her at a wedding; she suggested that I get involved."
The Arabesque 2 rug for ARZU illustrates architect Michael Graves' notion that a rug should have no horizon line to appear properly oriented from any viewpoint.
ARZU'S MASTERPIECE COLLECTION
For Jafri, his interest in ARZU goes beyond the ancillary social programs. "Just look at the rugs," he says "they are beautiful, and so very well made." He points to a collection ARZU developed a couple of years ago by soliciting designs from master architects like Frank Gehry, Robert A.M. Stern, Michael Graves, Zaha Hadid, Margaret McCurry and Stanley Tigerman.
"These are real works of art," he enthuses. They were among the first pieces that he selected for display at Dover Rug & Home.
The Masters Collection has caught the eye of commercial design world, as well. Two years ago, ARZU entered a partnership with Coalesse, a major commercial designer for offices, health clinics and educational institutions. Through its Steelcase brand, Coalesse provides its customers ARZU rugs, many of them custom orders.
Caption 9: Part of ARZU's Masters collection, Simeon II by Margaret McCurry magnifies a tribal symbol in wool woven in varied pile heights.
THE WEAVER'S STORY
Rob Leahy of Fine Rugs of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina, has been selling ARZU rugs since 2009. "They add a dimension to our showroom that we did not otherwise have. Our customers are delighted to see the weaver's story that is attached to each rug. Sometimes they frame it. They show it to everybody who comes to their home, which is great word-of-mouth advertising for us."
Duckworth is proud of those cards, "We know which weaver made every rug. The card provides weaver's story, with background on their family and the difference ARZU has made in their lives. For example, ARZU weavers earn 68 percent more than the average Afghan. About 55 percent own their own home, while 70 percent own cellphones. All of ARZU's weavers are literate, when 90 percent of rural Afghan women are not. Very exciting is that 20 percent of ARZU families have at least one child in university."
"I have had three special ARZU events in the store," Rob Leahy reports. "ARZU carpets have a track record as being a valued addition to the showroom."
At a Fine Rugs of Charleston ARZU store event in 2014 are Dr. Penny Travis, Qais Akbar Omar, Rob Leahy, Roz Rustigian and Connie Duckworth.
Roz Rustigian, herself long a champion of Afghan women through her work with the Initiative to Educate Afghan Women, says "the ARZU operation is impressive in many ways, but especially for its promoting women as the earners of a living wage in otherwise male-dominated Afghanistan." Rustigian has carried ARZU carpets at her Providence, RI, Rustigian Rugs for the past several years.
Other retailers carrying ARZU rugs are Hyde Park Fine Rugs, Scottsdale, Arizona; Isberian Rug Company, Aspen and Basalt, Colorado; The Mustard Seed, Lake Forest, Illinois; Hagopian, Birmingham, Michigan; The Ghiordes Knot, Troy, Michigan; and Dallas Rugs, Dallas, Texas.
The door is open for other retailers. Duckworth says, "We would love to hear from dealers who appreciate the ARZU story and who want to represent ARZU."
In this 275-knot design, Puzz by Frank Gehry for ARZU, the architect sought to create the effect of 3-dimensional puzzle pieces in the 2-dimensional woven carpet.