When Cathy Holdsworth started volunteering at Ten Thousand Villages, a nonprofit boutique in downtown Overland Park offering fair-trade goods from around the world, she had no idea the gig would lead her to completely redo the floors in her Merriam home.
“I never paid attention to rugs before, and the first time they came to the store, there were piles and piles of them,” Holdsworth said of her first Bunyaad Oriental Rug Event seven years ago.
The annual sale offers hand-knotted rugs made by Pakistani artisans who receive fair wages for their work. “Every year, I’d work the rug sale and look at these magnificent rugs and be in awe at how beautiful they were.”
Holdsworth thought the Bunyaad rugs were so beautiful that she ripped up the carpet in her house to install wood floors, and then began a collection.
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“I thought I’d start small, maybe with a 2-by-3, but of course the first one I bought was a 9-by-12. It just worked so well in the living room. I put it down in the room, and that was it.”
Ten Thousand Villages will have its 10th annual Bunyaad Rug Event on Thursday through Oct. 13, with more than 300 rugs for sale. The variety of designs and patterns are specific to the families that created them. A portion of sales will help families affected by floods in the Punjab region.
The store also will offer “Introduction to Oriental Rugs” at 7 p.m. Thursday to discuss how fair trade works and will show how the rugs are made, from dyeing the wool to tying fringe.
Holdsworth’s first rug — one of six now featured in her home — showcases a tribal pattern called Chobi, known for its designs that divide the rug into sections. The rug is made from hand-spun wool and natural dyes like indigo, walnut shells and marigold flowers. If you stand at one end of the room, the colors look bolder, richer. From the other side, softer and warmer.
There is not another exactly like it in the world.
“I think of it as a work of art, only instead of on my walls, it’s on my floor,” Holdsworth said.
However, it’s not merely the beauty of the rugs lining the gleaming floors of Holdsworth’s home that still stop her in her tracks to gaze at them, but the connection they have given her to the artisans who created them more than 7,000 miles away.
Holdsworth’s patronage supported them for the entire length of time — sometimes up to a year — that it took to create and draw out the designs for the rugs, gather the materials to dye the wool, and tighten every knot by hand.
“It’s a pretty overwhelming feeling. That’s part of why I like these rugs so much, knowing they were put together in someone’s home, by a family, allowing them to stay in their villages and make a living,” Holdsworth said.
This is the concept behind the Bunyaad Rug Co., which was begun in the late 1960s by a Pakistani pastor and rug artisan as a way to create and sustain jobs for 10 families in rural villages. More than 850 families in 100 villages throughout Pakistan now work on Bunyaad looms: artisans are guaranteed fair wages, child labor is forbidden, and they are paid not by speed but per knot, ensuring high-count, high-quality pieces.
Perhaps now more than ever, the Bunyaad artisans’ survival depends on patrons like Holdsworth, with more than 90 artisan families currently affected by floods ravaging the Punjab region of Pakistan, their looms swallowed by mud.
“The rain saturates everything — the ceiling, the walls, the roof — then the floods come and there are no chances for anything to survive,” said Yousaf Chaman, director of the Bunyaad Rug Co.
“This region where the rugs are coming from, the artisans mostly produce our Persian rugs and our Bokhara rugs. If those artisans don’t get help, we would not receive a certain type of rug anymore.
“They pick their own colors, their own designs, everything. It’s not like somebody else could take over and say, ‘We could produce these rugs.’”
Fortunately, the Bunyaad artisan families don’t have to worry about how to restart.
“We help them rebuild their homes and their looms as well. There is some confidence there for them, because not every family in those villages will be able to restart their lives as quickly,” Chaman said.
“One of the aspects of fair trade is that not only do the artisans get paid a fair wage, but we stay with them through thick and thin.”
This brand of global activism inspires Kansas City resident Mary Jorgenson to continue to purchase Bunyaad rugs.
“This was not simply a decorating decision for my home, but a conscious decision to buy art from a supported artisan group,” Jorgenson said.
Jorgensen’s purchase of an 8-by-10 Persian rug in eggplant colors connected her directly to Munir Bhatti, the head knotter for her rug. Bhatti’s community of Halwan is currently surrounded by floodwaters; he and the other Bunyaad artisans there have lost most of their wheat and rice crops.
Soon, the Bunyaad Rug Co. will begin to assess the damage to help Bhatti and others restart their lives after the devastation, much like they did for others after the floods of 1988 and 2009, and the earthquake of 2005.
“We have found our response has been more swift and positive than most organizations out there because our focus is not just on (asking) do these people have a home, but do they have a job?” Chaman said.
The certainty of work for even a single artisan in a village can make all the difference to sustained recovery efforts there.
Oriental Rug Event
The Bunyaad Rug Co. sale is Thursday through Oct. 13; “Introduction to Oriental Rugs” is at 7 p.m. Thursday. The events are at Ten Thousand Villages, 7947 Santa Fe Drive, Overland Park.
A portion of all sales will help families affected by flooding in Punjab, Pakistan. Rugs range in price from $250 to $8,000. For more information, including store hours, go to TenThousandVillages.com/OverlandPark or call 913-642-8368.