Around the world, the carpet industry is testament to a rich heritage blended with contemporary sensibilities. One of the world’s oldest and largest makers of handwoven carpets, Obeetee Carpets stands as a beacon of this heritage. One cannot understand how intricate and time-consuming the art of carpet weaving is without delving into its intricacies, exploring how each thread in the carpet industry weaves together a legacy that transcends time.

For over a century, the global carpet industry has mirrored the changes in the world's tapestry. From local artisans to global brands, the carpet sector has maintained its appeal despite evolving market dynamics. The inception of Obeetee Carpets in 1920 marked the beginning of a journey steeped in quality and tradition. Over the past century, Obeetee has weathered the storms of time and evolved from a local enterprise to a global icon.

Established shortly after the First World War by F.H. Oakley, F.H. Bowden, and J.A.L. Taylor, Obeetee Carpets, based in Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh, gathered the finest local craftsmen under its banner. The town of Mirzapur, situated on the Grand Trunk Road, has been a historical hub of rug making in India for centuries. Its legacy extends to the Mughal emperor Jahangir’s reign in the 16th century, and its journey involves overcoming challenges, migrations, and foreign interests in the late 19th century.

The carpet industry historically played a pivotal role in bringing together cultures and innovations while preserving traditional techniques. “Throughout the last century, Obeetee has swiftly garnered attention from homeowners who appreciated its commitment to quality. Engaging with discerning homeowners, it has seamlessly integrated traditional craftsmanship with contemporary tastes,” says Angelique Dhama, CEO of the company. The brand’s story also intertwined with prestigious projects, where its carpets have adorned notable spaces, contributing to significant national narratives.

The art of hand-knotting rugs, once a revered craft passed down through generations, is facing the threat of extinction as artisans increasingly opt for higher-paying jobs. In a world dominated by mass production, Obeetee stands as a resilient guardian of this ancient craft, persisting for over 102 years in crafting rugs that embody the Indian tradition of hand knotting. This tradition, which found its way to India through the patronage of the emperor Akbar in the 16th century, represents a cultural heritage that is now endangered.

The creation of a carpet is an intricate and meticulous process. It begins with the careful selection of materials, emphasising quality and often local sourcing. Across various regions, artisans use the finest wools, silks, and organic dyes, ensuring that each carpet is not only beautiful but also durable and sustainable. Highlighting the background of the carpet pioneer’s expert weavers, Dhama shares that “The skilled carpet weavers integral to Obeetee’s craft hail from the historical hub of carpet-weaving in Mirzapur and the Bhadohi district, India.” In the 16th century, artisans who journeyed here from Persia via the Grand Trunk Road brought the art of hand-knotting carpets with them, passing on their skills. For over five centuries the artisans of Bhadohi have watched their fathers and mothers weave and apprenticed to become gifted weavers themselves, embedding the tradition of carpet-weaving in their society. Now, Mirzapur and Bhadohi together constitute the oldest and most significant hub of carpet-weaving in India, responsible for 60 percent of the subcontinent’s rug-making industry.

Depending on the complexity of the design and the size of the rug, a single carpet can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months to complete, says Dhama. The process is labour-intensive, involving many steps such as spinning the yarn, dyeing the fibres, designing the patterns, and finally, the actual weaving. Attention to detail is paramount, and even a minor error can mean redoing hours, if not days, of work.

A workforce of over 25,000 artisans is Obeetee’s backbone. These skilled craftsmen and women bring years of experience and expertise to their looms. The training process for these artisans is rigorous, often spanning several years, to ensure that each individual masters the nuances of traditional weaving techniques. The artisans’ dedication and skill is evident in the intricate designs and quality of the finished products.

The meticulous process of hand knotting involves skilled artisans tying individual knots to create intricate patterns and designs. The significance of preserving this heritage is not just as a nod to history but as a commitment to the artistry and authenticity that hand-knotted rugs bring to the world. Supporting and engaging with artisans can help ensure the survival of this art that has been an integral part of India’s cultural tapestry for centuries.

At Obeetee, artisans produce an average of 10,000 square metres of carpet every month, with each square metre requiring approximately 100,000 knots. This level of detail and precision is what sets hand-knotted carpets apart in the Indian and global markets. Every rug embodies the enduring spirit of a craft that defies the challenges of time and economic pressures. In a world where traditions often give way to modern conveniences, the company’s commitment to hand knotting is testament to its role as a custodian of India’s artistic legacy.

As innovation and sustainability become integral to the carpet-making process, many employers and artisans are at the forefront of introducing eco-friendly practices in the industry. Obeetee’s approach involves using sustainable materials like organic wool and silk and adopting environmentally friendly dyes, as part of a commitment to sustainability in every aspect of production. Other efforts include implementing water-recycling processes in the dyeing facilities, reducing water consumption significantly, and adopting solar energy to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint, making a substantial contribution to environmental conservation.

“Through dedicated water conservation initiatives, Obeetee has also achieved a remarkable 90% reduction in water consumption during the washing of their tufted collections. Our on-site effluent treatment and wastewater recycling facility further exemplify our dedication to responsible water management, utilising the treated water for irrigation around the factory,” says Dhama. “To significantly reduce the carbon footprint, solar power panels at our main factory provide 30% of our energy requirement, resulting in an annual saving equivalent to approximately 37,666 trees. At our dye plant, we've transitioned to using locally sourced rice husks instead of coal, resulting in a substantial reduction of approximately 74,000 trees worth of carbon emissions annually.”

The efforts extend to recycling plastic. “Recycling plastic bottles into PET yarns has become a hallmark of our eco-friendly approach, utilising around 540,000 bottles monthly to produce durable and weather-resistant yarns for outdoor carpets.” The artisans at Obeetee employ a diverse range of sustainable materials such as natural handspun wool, undyed handspun linen, BCI cotton, organic cotton, recycled cotton, hemp, and jute. In their design process, they prioritise natural dyes derived from sources like indigo, saffron, and walnut shells, with some collections incorporating AZO-free dyes.

The company also invests substantially in skill development initiatives, offering workshops and educational resources that cover the intricacies of carpet making. Community outreach programs and the active promotion of traditional crafts serve to inspire the next generation, emphasising the cultural and historical significance embedded in these skills. Support for artisan communities through initiatives like higher wages, educational support, and vocational training contributes to a holistic ecosystem that facilitates the transmission of skills from one generation to the other.

The international success of carpets is not just a result of commitment to quality and sustainability, but also the ability to adapt to global trends. Blending traditional designs with contemporary aesthetics, these carpets align with modern interior design trends. Obeetee Carpets collaborates with renowned designers from around the world, blending traditional Indian designs with contemporary aesthetics. This fusion of styles has resulted in carpets that are not only culturally rich but also align with modern interior design trends.

Carpets made by their craftsmen have also played a significant role in furnishing prestigious establishments. In 1992, the President of India commissioned two carpets from the brand. More recently, the brand has been involved in the Central Vista Project, particularly in crafting carpets for the new Parliament Building. Obeetee weavers meticulously crafted 158 carpets for the Lok Sabha and 156 for the Rajya Sabha, utilising the laborious art of hand knotting. The carpets, spanning 35,000 square feet, feature as many as 120 knots per square inch, totalling over 600 million knots. Adorned with intricate motifs of the peacock and lotus, symbolising India’s national bird and flower, they are testament to India’s artistry.

According to Dhama, “The weavers, hailing from various villages, dedicated over a year and a half to this mammoth project, which commenced in 2020. The challenging task involved crafting carpets for halls measuring up to 17,500 square feet each. Women weavers were an integral part of this historic undertaking, showcasing the brand’s commitment to inclusivity and diversity. The colours used in the Rajya Sabha draw inspiration from kokum red, while the Lok Sabha incorporates shades of Indian agave green, influenced by the Indian peacock’s plumes.”

The story of the global carpet industry is more than a tale of crafting rugs; these carpets are not mere floor coverings; they are artworks, each narrating a piece of history, culture, and craftsmanship. The journey also highlights the industry’s adaptability and foresight in an ever-changing world. The legacy of the carpet industry is a multifaceted one, rich in exquisite craftsmanship, environmental responsibility, and cultural preservation. As we look towards the future, Obeetee, amongst many, stands as a shining example of how traditional arts can flourish and evolve, to thrive in the modern world. The story of carpets urges us to value our heritage, to innovate responsibly, and to weave our future with threads of sustainability and respect for the past.