ALTI BOLAQ CARPET COMPANY

Classic Turkmen Carpets: fair prices on fair trade principles

Contact Us:
Alti Bolaq Carpets Limited, PO Box 126, Bradenham, Thetford, Norfolk IP25 7WY

email: abcarpets@btinternet.com


1. ABOUT THE COMPANY

Alti Bolaq is one of the Turkmen villages in northern Afghanistan outside Andkhoy in Faryab Province close to the Turkmenistan border. It has a long established reputation for the production of high quality hand woven tufted carpets produced by Turkmen women.

The Alti Bolaq Carpet Company was established in 2003 by four partners – Hashim Ismati and Yar Mohammad from Andkhoy and with long experience of the carpet trade, Moharam Ali from Bangladesh who had been working on micro-credit systems for carpet weavers since 1995 and Adam Pain who had been undertaking research on carpet markets in Afghanistan. The company is fully registered with Company House in the UK. All four partners have contributed to the seed capital.

Substantial changes are taking place in the structure of the carpet market in Andkhoy, with the nature of the product and price being increasingly affected by outside forces. Returns to carpet producers, particularly with respect to the proportion of the value of the final sale price that they receive are decreasing. Their market power is declining and the opportunities for them to develop and market their own artisanal skills are under threat. Alti Bolaq Carpets Limited was established to help provide better returns to the producers under principles of fair trade, to help build producer power in the market and so give them the opportunity to develop their skills and craft.

Objectives
The Alti Bolaq carpet Company has four objectives:

(i) To trade as a profitable enterprise in which all parties, shareholders and producers proportionally share both the risk and profit.
(ii) To build and develop an overseas market for quality traditional Andkhoy carpets starting from the United Kingdom.
(iii) To promote and develop traditional artisanal carpet production for the benefit of both producers and their communities.
(iv) To operate on the principles of 'fair trade' whereby producers will receive a fair share of the final market price and accumulate capital to support producers. This may include giving them a capital stake in the company in due course.

Methods of Working
The company has the long term objective of achieving ‘Fair Trade' status and registration. It is recognized that this will take time to build. For the present it buys or commissions carpets from the Andkhoy region paying the market price to producers. Ten per cent of the final sale price in the UK is being invested in a revolving credit fund that is being used to commission carpets and will be a source of fair credit to producers.

For the immediate future the company aims to trade three to four consignments of carpets per year and about 120 – 150 carpets a year with an emphasis on quality and principles of operation rather than volume or turnover. We would like to gradually grow the company based on sales and reinvestment but for the non-Afghan partners it will remain primarily an interest and enthusiasm rather than an income source.


2. THE AFGHAN CARPET MARKET

Afghan Carpets – growth but benefits for whom?

There is a widespread view that the carpet market is in need of revival. The evidence from Andkhoy, a carpet producing area in North Western Afghanistan does not support this. While much of the carpet producing capacity did relocate outside Afghanistan during the long years of political instability, this was not a dysfunctional and exceptional event that now requires that carpet production should be restarted. Rather it was part of a long-term transformation of the carpet industry that since 2001 has returned to Andkhoy fuelling a dynamic growth but with inequitable distributional outcomes.

The last thirty years have seen a decline in the role of the independent home based producer of carpets and use of traditional materials and designs. The growth in use of poorer quality machine spun wools from outside Afghanistan has been matched by the imposition of style and production patterns by an international carpet market into which key Afghan carpet traders have become linked.

Partly driven by the refugee experience and the drought many households moved into carpet production on a profit share or waged basis, expanding production but with declining returns to their labour. Although conditions have improved since 2001, the change in the structure of the carpet market has essentially reduced the ability of producers to negotiate better returns for their skills. It may also be leading to a systematic erosion of traditional artisanal skills of both design and execution. There are a number of key structures in the existing market driving this process and they must be recognised.

First there is a distinctly gendered basis of production with a dominant role of women as producers but their total invisibility in the market place that is controlled by men. Economic growth on its own will not address this fundamental inequality of market structure.

Second the majority of producers now work on a profit share or waged basis for which the returns to labour even under the best of conditions are unlikely to generate more than an income of US $250 – 300 a year. The return is between 6 and 12 percent of the final retail price in the west. This is enough to allow producers to survive but not thrive.

Third the market has become dominated in both production and absorption of labour by the Chob Rang carpet, made from wool imported largely from the middle east, vegetable dyed and with patterns based on a pastiche of motifs for western consumer culture. These designs have no relation to existing skills of design and weaving, are produced under wage labour conditions to exacting requirements for uniformity. The carpets are not traded within the carpet market, thus removing any opportunity for independence of action by the producer.

Fourth the Chob Rang market is almost entirely controlled by a few big traders with international connections who work outside the traditional carpet bazaar. Through their dominance and tactics within the market they reduce the opportunities for small traders to compete


3. ABOUT THE CARPETS

The company aims to trade in the highest quality carpets that are available focussing on carpets of classic geometric Turkmen design.

A note on carpet names
Traditionally carpet names were either specifically identified with particular locations, e.g. Bokhara, or used to describe particular designs, e.g. Waziri. However with the commercialisation of production from the 1960s onwards, labels were applied fairly indiscriminately. A case in point was the use of the name Daulatabad Carpets; there was a period when Daulatabad in Faryab did produce particularly fine carpets and as a result the name began to be used widely, even for those carpets not produced in Daulatabad to confer an aura of quality. Now Daulatabad has all but disappeared off the quality carpet map. Some villages e.g. Alti Bolaq, an Ersari Turkmen village, have however retained their distinctive identity, although the description of the Alti Bolaq Mauri Gul is inaccurate since the Mauri Gul is actually a Tekke design and not an Ersari tribal design.

In the Andkhoy carpet bazaar today a range of designs are on sale - ranging from Bokhara to Karachi , Russian, Iranian, Jerhogi, Fils Pai. Many carpets in Andkhoy are generally called Khol Mohammadi – which is in fact not a design but implies the use of a particular dye introduced during the 1970s.

The Carpets We Sell
We sell carpets in a range of sizes, designs and prices.

Designs
Please note that carpets of a similar basic design may well differ in details according to how the individual carpet weaver chooses to develop the pattern; no two Bokhara carpets for example are ever exactly the same.

Sizes and Prices
Small (0.9m-1.1m by 1.3m-1.5m) at £130-180
Medium-small (1.2m-1.5m by 1.8m-2m) at £280-380
Medium (1.4m-1.6m by 1.8m-2.1m) at £350-£440
Medium-large (1.5m or a bit more by 2m-2.5m) at £460-£540
Large (2m by 3m) at £800-900
Runners (0.8m by 2.5m-3m) at £320 +/-

Other sizes and prices are sometimes available. Bigger carpets or ones of specific sizes can be ordered. However it must be remembered that as a hand made product exact sizes cannot be guaranteed.


4. TO BUY

If you wish to buy a carpet, or carpets, from us you can send us your requirements (size and/or price) or ask us what we have in stock. We will be pleased to hear from you if you wish to know more about our company or carpets. You can contact us by

email: abcarpets@btinternet.com

or by post:

Alti Bolaq Carpets Limited, PO Box 126, Bradenham, Thetford, Norfolk IP25 7WY


Copyright © 2006 - Alti Bolaq Carpets Limited
PO Box 126, Bradenham, Thetford, Norfolk IP25 7WY - abcarpets@btinternet.com