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India New England, March 16, 2006

Medford, Mass. – When rug designer Linda Garriott was 21 and living with a roommate, she remembers preparing a fruit salad for dinner.  As she was dicing the fruit and assembling the pieces, she unconsciously arranged them in a geometric pattern - a fact her roommate immediately noticed.  Thinking back on that incident, Garriott, now 43, realizes that she always had an eye for spatial design - she just never thought it would become the basis of her career.

Garriott has a bachelor's degree in political science and she has worked in varied jobs, including as a host on N.H. public radio.  "I had jobs where I would work somewhere and at the end of the day, I would sit in front of the television with a clicker.  I soon realized I never wanted that kind of life, that I needed to find a hobby," Garriott says.  A friend introduced her to rug making and she got hooked.

The first rug she hand-made was from a stock design and these days it occupies a special place on the wall in Garriott's studio in Medford, Mass.  After her initial forays into rug-making, she expanded her repertoire and started designing her own rugs.  While she enjoyed the process, the time commitment was just too overwhelming.  The first rug that she designed and made took 600 hours to complete.  "It was two years working five hours a week," Garriott says.  She soon realized that if she really wanted to get into rug-making, she needed to focus on the part she loved more - the design aspects of the work and allow for others to execute her ideas.

An Indian friend referred her to mills in Pondicherry in southern India, but those didn't work for her because the looms were too small.

So Garriott resorted to the internet and found a rug manufacturing council based in India.  She sent them a query asking if they would help her find a rug manufacturer and she didn't hear anything back for a while.  Then two weeks later, she received around 100 e-mails from different manufacturers in the country offering their services.  She narrowed her selection to 10 after choosing carefully tailored criteria.  "Can they understand English?  Do they reply to my e-mails promptly?  Are their answers succinct?" Garriott recounts.  She then asked the manufacturers to send samples of their work.  "I wasn't looking for the quality of their designs," Garriott says, "but I was looking at the colors of the dyes, the quality of the manufacturing."   She settled on one manufacturer based in Bhadohi in Uttar Pradesh.

This was done in July 2004 and thus far Garriott has done a fair amount of work in collaboration with the Indian manufacturers.

She admits there are disadvantages with getting work done from people who come from an entirely different culture.  Garriott quotes and example about when she received her first set of rugs all with fringe at the end.  "To me, that would be instinctive, I would know this was a contemporary rug and that there could be no fringe, that would be bad, bad, bad," Garriott laughs.  But she realized that for the Indians, fringe was good.  Then she would write back saying "no fringe" and only the next lot would be without fringes - subsequent ones would be fair game.

"So now I have this punch list which I include every time which explicitly specifies what I am looking for each time," Garriott says.

She also sometimes wishes that she could see what was happening to her designs as they are being executed.  "It's difficult I got used to it, this is happening 8,000 miles away so it's not something that I can walk to or drive to and see what is going on," Garriott says.

But, according to Garriott, the advantages of getting her rugs produced in India far outweigh the negatives.  "For one thing, the dyes are just gorgeous, they can match just about any color sample," she says.  "Also my production costs are lower, which is good news for the consumer - my rugs are very competitive in the marketplace."   Garriott's rugs cost $30 per square foot for standard color and standard sizing.  She has more than 50 colors to choose from.  It costs a few extra dollars per square foot to get custom colors.

Rugs can be ordered hand-knotted or hand-tufted.  The hand-tufted version has a latex backing and is more practical for daily use where one is not looking to make an heirloom piece out of a rug.   Hand-knotted ones have the wool going all the way through to the back and are not recommended for pet owners.  "It really depends on how much of a purist you are," Garriott says, "if you are looking to hold onto this piece for hundreds of years, choose a hand-knotted rug, otherwise tufted is the way to go."

Garriott recognizes that some people might think that she is sending jobs away from the United States.  "But that is the beauty of this small world, that someone like me can say 'I want to do this' and actually do it," she says.

When Garriott started sending work to India, her research led her to hot-button issues about the carpet industry - she learned that child labor was one of the big problems in the industry.  So Garriott saw much value in working with Rugmark, a non-profit organization that works to end child labor in the rug-making industry in countries like India, Pakistan and Nepal.

Rugmark also invests money in literacy training and in providing the children basic education.  Garriott devotes a portion of her rugs' production costs [even before they are sold] to Rugmark.  "It's really something that I strongly believe in, that has to be done, if enough of us get on the bandwagon, we can make big changes," Garriott says.

Those big changes are exactly what Nina Smith, executive director of the Washington D.C.-based Rugmark, would like to see.  "If you look at it now, we have about 30 importers, about 1.5 percent of the market. If you can move that number to 15 percent, we can really make a big dent," Smith says.

Smith says participation in Rugmark is a contract entered into by the rug importers and manufacturers.  In India, spot checks are carried out by inspectors to make sure child labor is not being used.

To make the system more fool-proof, even the inspectors are meticulously tracked and their data cross-checked.  "People say to me how can you be sure it is completely fool-proof, sure we are always making things tighter, and this is better than apathy," Smith says.   She adds that Rugmark is beginning to make a significant impact on the problem - "there has been a huge decline [of child labor in the carpet industry] from a million children in 1995 to around 300,000 today. But we need to keep going. It would be nice if we were driven out of our jobs, if we completely eliminated child labor in the industry."

For more information about Linda Garriott and her rugs, please visit www.lindagarriott.com. For more information about Rugmark and for a complete list of Rugmark dealers in New England, please visit www.rugmark.org.

 

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