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Publication Date: 2013-02-22

Behind the Design

​Arzu Weaves Modern Design & Empowerment In The Masters Collection

At an exhibit in Houston, the launch of ARZU STUDIO HOPE’S Masters Collection represented more than just beautiful rugs. “This collection is the marriage of world class designs created by iconic architects with the incredibly high artisan skill level of our weavers in Afghanistan,” Connie Duckworth, CEO of ARZU STUDIO HOPE, explains.

ARZU, a Chicago-based not-for-profit organization, has long been committed to empowering Afghan women by bringing their talent for and cultural tradition of creating unique, hand-woven rugs to a Western market. In its most recent project, the team at ARZU partnered with six of today’s most well known architects to design ten artisanal rugs.

Like many great collaborations, the Masters Collection started with a phone call.

Connie approached Margaret McCurry of Tigerman-McCurry Architects, about having the esteemed husband-wife design duo design and gift patterns to ARZU, in the same manner that Zaha Hadid did a few years prior. Inspired by ARZU’s mission and the quality of its rugs, Stanley Tigerman then called on the best in the business to lend their design expertise: Frank Gehry, Michael Graves and Robert A.M. Stern.

The six architects created designs that would be compatible with Afghanistan’s handmade rug making process, a process that results in natural color variation. “To the Western eye, which is accustomed to the pop of color that results from machine-made products, the handmade design is different, but very refreshing,” explains Angela Attento, Vice President and Creative & Technical Director at ARZU, adding “The ease with which the designers were able to go from design to rug speaks to why they are the geniuses they are.”

“Stanley remarked that the rugs have a ‘soul’ to them,” she notes. Soulful indeed. The pieces in the Masters Collection, like all ARZU rugs, are handmade and intended to last for generations. Each one is steeped in a deep-rooted culture of artisanal work, where rug making is passed down from generation to generation.

ARZU held three different launches for the Masters Collection. In Chicago and Los Angeles, the team revealed the collection to the commercial market, and in Houston, the launch took on the feeling of a curated exhibit. The handcrafted rugs were displayed alongside the tools the women used, showing the different steps in the rug-making process.

“These rugs are art. The women creating them are artists with true skill in weaving, not part of an assembly line,” says Angela. “We want to showcase for the public the level of skill and expertise in weaving that these women posses.”

The rugs represent economic empowerment for the women as well. “Just because someone lives in a third world country doesn’t mean they should get paid a fraction of what we get paid,” says Angela. ARZU, which holds non-profit status in the United States and is a registered NGO in Afghanistan, is part of the fair trade market, so the wages the women get paid are better than the local market. Connie describes ARZU as a “social business,” which it truly is.

ARZU is unique in requiring its weavers to obtain an education upon their commitment to the company. Women and children must go to school full time and attend literacy programs.

Economic empowerment, education, and maternal healthcare are weaved, literally, with the centuries-old tradition of rug making. “Change starts with economic empowerment,” says Connie. Through the Masters Collection, ARZU is creating change that not only empowers the women of Afghanistan, but also reshapes the relationship between designer and weaver.

The ten rugs in the Masters Collection demonstrate the unique beauty of combining high design and artisan craft.

- Molly Hess


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