July 05, 2019
The direct-to-consumer model has shaken up a lot of industries. Warby Parker was first, shaking up the eyeglass industry. Then came Everlane, a couple years after, for the apparel industry. And Parachute and Brooklinen with the bedding industry.
But rugsーnew and vintage alikeーhave remained cloaked in high prices and mystery, kind of like the art world. As a result, people settle for copies of the real thing: machine-made rugs from big retailers, which lack history and instead have markups and production compromises.
For the last two years, Revival Rugs has been bringing vintage rugs into more homes. We’re proud to say we’ve been able to revive thousands of pieces that would have otherwise been lost to time. Now more floors have a piece of history.
This experience uncovering vintage rugs has taught us volumes about this age-old artistry. And it has also taught us about the less beautiful realities of today’s rug industry. They don’t weave rugs how they used to. The handwoven rug is slowly dying outーreplaced by mass-produced, machine-made imitations.
So today, we’re taking our mission a step further. This time, our goal is to revive not just the rugs but the rug industry. (Don’t worry, we’ll still be releasing vintage rugs too—we can never give up the thrill of the hunt!) But we’ll also be releasing our own collections of new rugs made in the old-world style. We’ll be collaborating with the artisans who are still practicing traditional techniques, then selling them in the simplest, most transparent way possible: direct to you.
The journey really started a long time ago when my co-founder Joyce fell in love with a salvaged rug in Turkey. It was a multi-panel kilim, with a beautiful, subtle off-set stripe pattern. This style originated with nomadic tribes in eastern Turkey. Limited by the size of loom they could carry, they would weave long narrow kilims and join them side by side. The spirit of resourcefulness resonated with us.
This rug seemed like the perfect muse for our first collection: four unique rug designs, all inspired by the beautiful graphic pattern and joinery of the multi-panel kilim.
We also loved the idea of doing a traditional flatweave. Why? Flatweaves are a transparent construction. There's no hiding in materials and technique. Flatweaves also allow for more variation: With a pile rug, you can only really change how the pile is knotted to the foundation. With a flatweave, you see the whole construction. The way its woven is a key part of the design.
We knew finding the right factory partner would be key. Our research led us to Northern India, which has become today’s rug-making mecca. We discovered they had a thriving ethical trade movement. After meeting with over 20 weaving houses in-person, all over India, we decided on a well-accredited generations-old weaving house, who was open to reviving and relearning old-world methods. Then we opened up an office nearby, so we could visit our factory partners frequently and ensure the whole process met our standards of transparency and fairness.
It took ten months at the design table, lots of iterating, and walking barefoot across countless wool-blend samples. In a week, we’re launching four original designs, in different sizes and colorways, all inspired by the panel kilim.
Wool is hands down the best fiber when it comes to rugs. It’s sustainable, it’s biodegradable, it’s a natural fiber, and we’re not bleaching it. It’s something you would feel comfortable having your kids crawl around on.
We tested out combining wool with other non-traditional materials. We spent a couple months paging through swatches of linen, silk, and dozens of other fabrics—and talking to vendors about “foot feel.” But when it comes to that soft, satisfyingly textured feel, nothing beats 100% wool. It’s soft, durable, and sustainable. Not only is wool longer-lasting than most other natural fibers, it’s also naturally stain-resistant, with a hydrophobic top layer that repels water, wine, and dirt. So a 100% wool rug will stay cleaner and nicer for longer.
We made a custom blend of the strongest, softest wool we could find. We used 30% New Zealand wool, which is prized for its softness, ultra-fine fibers, and luster. And then a combination of Afghan and Sardinian wool. Afghan wool has a naturally darker color and has a more rustic texture. Sardinian wool has a natural sheen and long fibers, which means it's strong and sheds less. Suffice to say, we walked on a lot of samples before arriving at our ideal yarn.
Then we made sure to keep the dyeing to a minimum, to celebrate the natural benefits of the fibers. We used a total of four yarns: Two of them are natural and un-dyed. The other is a beautiful space-dyed Indigo, made in small batches with a gentle wash. We’ll also be offering it in a Terracotta colorway soon.
Glad you asked! Handspun yarn varies in thickness throughout the strand, lending a desirable texture to each rug. Machine-spun yarn has an even thickness, which gives it a special tensile strength. In order to make it as long-lasting as possible—while still retaining the character and texture we love—we used a strong, machine-spun, workhorse-of-a-yarn to form the foundation (the warp) and a beautifully textured handspun yarn for the part of the rug you see and walk on (the weft).
We realize this is just a small, first step in reviving the industry—we’ve got a lot more techniques to revive and handmade rugs to make. But the more we do, the better we can keep the rug-making art alive. Sometimes in order to advance an industry, you have to take a few steps back—and weave the way they used to.
It’s our first run, so we only made a few of each design. On July 15, we’ll be releasing them to everybody. Our awesome early adopters, our email subscribers, will get a 48-hour head start and first pick of the collection. Sign up to get early access.
I can’t wait for you to see our first collection.
Co-Founder & CEO
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