SUBMITTED BY REBECA SCHILLER
Shortly after the birth of his daughter, Ibrahim Shams searched for a rug for her nursery. While he scoured his local market for a kilim that would be suitable for an infant’s room, he discovered that what was available wasn’t well-designed. During his quest, he noticed this a puzziling market gap within the kilim making sector. He decided to research the state of kilim-making in the country, which in the end inspired him nd his wife Nada Atalia, a graphic designer, to embark on a potential new career: launching a social enterprise and lifestyle brand with the goal to revive and sustain the craft of kilim weaving, but also offering consumers traditionally crafted kilim products that incorporate modern motifs and colors to suit contemporary homes. That
The company manufactures the rugs in Fowa, a small village that sits on the western banks of the Nile Delta in Kafr ElSheikh, which is three hours away from Cairo. “Just a few decades ago, Fowa used to be a hub for kilim rug weaving and home to thousands of workshops, however with a declining tourism industry, the fast spread of cheaper machine made rugs, and a lack of design and innovation in traditional kilims, Fowa’s main industry began to fade with craftsmen no longer passing on the craft to their children. After further research, we could hardly find a brand that offered a wide range of modernly designed kilims because formerly, kilim artisans designed, marketed, and sold the kilims despite having no formal training in any of these fields. Due to this, the motifs that they created became obsolete and less marketable to younger, design conscious home owners,” explained Shams.
Kiliim currently works with master weavers who either left their trade, changed professions or who only weave part-time. These weavers are generally middle-aged and reside in Fowa. “We started June 2016 with one workshop and four craftsmen, now with the increasing demand we have three workshops and 13 craftsmen working with us. By 2019, we aim to start the ‘Kiliim School’ project, where we’ll be targeting younger generations of Fowa residents, marginalized people like refugees, women providing for their families, etc. Our top craftsmen are to teach them the craft and have them join our team thus adding new blood to the craft, lowering the age range, which is in-line with our mission to revive and sustain the craft while preserving the village’s main industry and cultural heritage,” said Shams.
The design team, of Nada and Noha El Taher, are responsible for crafting the designs that combine international trends in design with traditional motifs and patterns, and find inspiration for each collection. These are then printed and handed over to the chief craftsman who divides the loom according the needed proportions for the designs to be applicable for weaving. Designs are then handwoven by skilled craftsmen and finished up to create the final product that’s shipped to their Cairo warehouse where quality control checks are done. Items are then packaged and shipped to its final destination.
The collections include:
The Debut Collection (Summer 2016). For Kiliim’s introductory collection, tribute was given to the traditional kilims that Fowan artisans crafted. This collection blurred the lines between modern designs and traditional motifs. While the same geometric shapes were used in tradtional kilim rugs, the designs from this collection were updated by reducing the amount of colors used, as well as repeating the shapes to create more uniform patterns to add a sense of modernity.
The El Delta Collection (Winter 2016) honors the Nile Delta region wherethevillage of Fowa is located. The Delta region is shaped like a triangle, also like the greek letter delta, for this reason the triangle was the main design element used in the collection. The form was manipulated to create directionality, as well as repeated to create traditional motifs to the region.
The Botanical Collection (Summer 2017) celebrates nature. The motifs were designed by adapting the organic forms of various plants such as the cypress tree and the pomegranate fruit from the region, to geometrical, cultural, and folkloric motifs. Some of these were inspired by motifs from classic Persian carpets which carry symbolic meanings, such as fertility, life, and eternity.
The Texture Stories Collection (Spring 2018) centers on texture that are the main design element of the pieces. “This collection started out as an experiment on our part, seeing how new techniques, foreign to our craftsmen, could add a new dimension to our kilims. The design process was a great learning experience for both our design team and craftmen who tosseled ideas and samples back and forth throughout,” said Shams.
For a relatively young company, Kiliim has reached significant milestones including coverage in Interior Design Magazine and was mentioned in an article in Architectural Digest about actress Mandy Moore’s home. The company has also won the MIT Arab Startup for their role in reviving and developing Fowa’s weaving industry, and sales have been impressive: since Kiliim’s launch, the company hassold over 2,000 pieces to over 1,200 customers. “Our products are now decorating homes in 28 countries worldwide,” said Shams.
Yet, even with the accolades and impressive sales, the company has also faced some challenges. “It’s our challenge now to attract those craftsmen who quit, convince them to practice it once more through offering fair wages, decent working conditions and secure income through creating enough demand,” said Shams. Secondly, he adds, is the issue of penetrating the international market. Shamns hopes to open doors by exhibiting international trade shows, forming partnerships and negotiating export deals.
Killim will be attending Artisan Resource at NY NOW from August 12-15 at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City. Shams and Nada be exhbiting their new Texture Stories Collection as well as their new 100% Egyptian Cotton kilim rugs and cushion collection, which will be exclusively seen for the first time at Artisan Resource.