Carpets of Afghanistan: Hector Coombs visits Turquoise Mountain for the first time

Hector Coombs of Shame Studios recently visited Afghanistan to meet with our carpet team, lead by Bulent Ozozan, and some of the weavers we support

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A weaver and wool, photo by Lorenzo Tugnoli

Afghanistan represents the most adventurous journey I have ever undertaken. I am not one of those people who has spent time on foot trekking far from civilisation. The closest I had come was a motorcycle trip through Rajasthan. Afghanistan was and will likely remain my biggest adventure.

One of the things that most attracted me to working with Turquoise Mountain was the opportunity to work with Bulent Ozozan, the resident genius of the Turquoise Mountain carpet programme. Bulent has been something of a carpet industry hero of mine for a very long time. It always seems that whenever I see a collection of contemporary carpets I admire, he has had some hand in their production. To spend time with him, to get to know him better, to understand the way he thinks about and sees carpets, and to see the facilities that he has developed, was the highlight of my recent trip.

Carpet Close Up

Detail of a carpet made by weavers supported by Turquoise Mountain

When I was there, we visited facilities in Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif, and seeing the modernisation that has been undertaken was incredible. To develop standards of dyeing that allow for fastness and repeatability, without sacrificing the use of natural dyestuffs or the variation in tone that gives life to a carpet, is a huge achievement. Seeing the standards of finishing that have become the norm in the Mazar facility, which really allows the work of the weavers and the dyers to shine through, was breathtaking.

It was clear to me from this visit that there is a great opportunity in Afghanistan with Turquoise Mountain. They have struck the right balance between being easy to work with, but also keeping the soul of the carpet. Bulent’s interpretations of various traditional Afghan qualities are fantastic for both classical designs and contemporary. I know of no other facility in any of the various countries I have worked that can offer quality and consistency on the level Bulent has developed with Turquoise Mountain. I must also say that the price point for the quality of work available is unparalleled. Whenever friends and family ask me where we should make their carpets my first choice is always Afghanistan with Turquoise Mountain, which is the highest praise I can offer.

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A weaver at work

There are countless opportunities in Afghanistan aside from carpets. The number of craft skills being taught, preserved and developed by Turquoise Mountain are too many to mention, but of particular interest to me was the stone cutting workshop. I felt that here was an opportunity to bring a new technique and product to market and an opportunity to challenge a heritage craft to engage with contemporary design. With the country not having undergone an industrial revolution to the same extent as most other countries in the region and the world, there is a plethora of craft skills practised aside from this one and the possibility of many interesting collaborations between designers and craftspeople. Turquoise Mountain is the perfect partner for exploring these opportunities. The reassurance that the endeavours are being undertaken ethically and the fact that they have spent so many hours vetting and developing the capacity of the craftspeople makes for ease in creating marketable product. I look forward very much to continuing our relationship and developing new works together.

For more information on Shame Studios, click here.