Peace Industry is the only designer, producer, and retailer of Iran-made felt area rugs, the original Persian rugs, in modern history. Dating back to 6000BC, wool felt rugs were made by nomads of the Central Asian Steppes. They remained mostly unknown outside of the region until Dodd and Melina Raissnia built their own felt rug workshop in Iran and created a modern collection of rugs based on Melina's work as a painter and graphic designer. Peace Industry area rugs are made from 100% carpet grade lamb's wool and natural dyes. They are entirely chemical free, reversible, have no backing, and do not require a rug pad. Visit the Peace Industry showroom in San Francisco, Bay Area
An Ancient Craft Revitalized
In 1999 Dodd gave Melina a small felt rug that he found in a craft shop in Tehran. Melina fell in love with the charming and folkloric felt hearth rug and then she fell in love with Dodd. Their initial search for information or books that would offer clues about the rug revealed an obscure and undocumented craft. In 2002 they were married and starting a family when they decided to travel to Iran to look for felt rugs and felt makers.
They began their search at the main bazaar in Tehran where hundreds of thousands of Persian rugs are sold. Not only were there no felt rugs available but no one had any idea where they could be found. From Tehran they traveled to nomadic mountain camps in Azerbaijan and villages finding evidence of a lost art form. After several more trips and countless glasses of tea they found a few old men who were practicing the ancient art of felt making. It became apparent that this ancient and unknown tradition would die out quickly if nothing changed.
The felt rug tradition began in Iran in the Neolithic age. It spanned the nomadic mountain regions from Turkey to Mongolia where Central Asian nomads live in felt covered tents. Central Asia is the only region in the world with a felt rug tradition because of the type of wool available that produces an extremely strong felt. The Turkoman tradition is the most known and incorporates primitive motifs from the Zoarastrian religion like spirals, rams horns, and waves. There is little known about the Persian adaptation of this nomadic art form. The Raissnias have found pieces that they believe represent a once popular style in Iran but don't really know how long the tradition enjoyed popularity amongst urbanized Persians.
The Felt Making Process
Felt rugs are not woven but are pressed to create an incredibly strong, dense textile. Layers of loose wool fibers are arranged on a tarp on the floor. Boiling water is sprinkled on to the pile. It is then pressed and rolled around a stick in the tarp and then bound tightly with a rope. The rolled, wet wool is stomped on until the fibers have shrunken together enough to bind. The wet wool is removed from the tarp and rubbed and rolled by hand to ensure even, tight felting. Patterns are achieved by incorporating a layer of wool into a design. Imagine making a collage and then shrinking it. When the wool is wet it is very sculptable. Blocking techniques are used to move the design into position and shape the edges. The tools include a tarp, a rope, a pronged fork, pliers, and a mallet.
Committed to fair trade and sustainability
Before the Raissnias launched Peace Industry they were conscious of the most progressive trends in socially responsible business practices and dedicated to creating a business that could put those ideas into practice. The Raissnias committed themselves to making rugs that would not harm the environment, deplete natural resources or pay sub-living wages.
The ancient felting process does not require the use of chemicals or toxins. Only a very mild soap is used to wash the wool. Otherwise, wool and biodegradable vegetable dyes are the only ingredients.
It takes more than good intentions to conduct foreign trade in accordance to the principals of fair trade. Peace Industry found itself in a unique position because it operates the only workshop in the world that produces this type of rug. This guarantees that their rugs can not be outsourced to other workshops where workers could be paid less which is something that happens frequently in the rug trade and is impossible to control. For the Raissnias, fair trade is not seen as a practice based on charity but necessity. If workers are not compensated fairly, rigorous quality standards could not be achieved and a base on which to build a future could not be realized.
What's in a name?
While searching for felt rugs in Iran, Melina was making peace flags and selling them from her tiny art gallery in Point Reyes, California, a coastal village located an hour north of San Francisco. As the business expanded to include felt rugs, Peace Industry moved next door to a larger location and then eventually, to the current space in San Francisco. The name, Peace Industry, stuck. The Peace Industry logo was Melina's original peace flag design.
The term, 'peace industry' is also geo-political lingo to refer to businesses that suffer during war and thrive under peace, unlike the war industry. For Melina and Dodd their brand has come to represent the growing movement in business to actively seek ways of addressing social and environmental problems. They see this community as part of the larger peace and social justice movement that is responding with creative solutions.