Berlin-based designer Jeannine van Erk had already made a name for herself in the interior design world with her one-of-a-kind handcrafted lampshades when she decided to add rugs to her repertoire. The decision was a combination of her growing interest in antique Tibetan rugs, love of colorful Moroccan carpets and, above all, respect for an old craft she believes must be preserved. “From the beginning, it was important to me that if I was going to do this, there be absolutely no child labor involved; the weavers would be treated well and would earn fair wages.” She says that discovering GoodWeave® and then being able to choose from its list of factories made her new venture easier and assured her that her project was ethical at every level.
Jeannine’s journey, producing her stunning custom wool and/or bamboo silk rugs, took her first to Nepal, not simply to choose a GoodWeave certified factory, but to learn everything she could about the process. Although she says she had no knowledge of carpet making, handcrafts were not new to her. Even as a child growing up in the Netherlands, she was exploring crafts. Later, her training as a young adult was not only in interior design but also in cabinet making. During her career, she had designed and built furniture, structures for museum exhibitions and even exhibit spaces for the Venice Biennale. Weaving was complex and fascinating but she was certain it would be the vehicle to express an unusual idea of hers: to use the colors and shape of a magnified human iris as her design. “I don’t see it as an iris, ”she says. “Every person’s eye is a landscape.”
Jeannine’s initial inspiration for the iris rug was the iconic National Geographic photograph, “Afghan Girl,” which she had seen years before. The layered flecks of color and depth of the girl’s eyes had stayed with her. With the help of a photographer friend, Jeannine gathered and studied many images of irises. She was astonished at the amount of color and variety in each one. At the same time, she had the thought that the human iris embodies a pure idea of equality and universality. “Looking at an iris, we don’t know the people’s particular background, just their shared humanity.”
Jeannine van Erk’s rugs express her egalitarian worldview in other ways, as well. Even the scrap yarn left over from the rug production is used to better the community. That yarn goes to village women who, while home with their children, can still improve their situation by knitting and selling blankets from the extra wool. “Everyone deserves and opportunity to earn money and everyone deserves respect, fair wages and fair treatment,” she says. “It is a gift that we can get these great hand-woven works of art from the weavers.” To further demonstrate her respect, on each rug, along with the GoodWeave label, is another label. It shows the weaver’s name, village and the number of days the rug took to weave. “To me, it is important that my customers see who made this and how much work went into it.”
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