: Common Threads

ARZU STUDIO HOPE believes in a holistic approach to sustainable alleviation of poverty through women's economic empowerment, access to education, healthcare, clean water, and community development.

Perhaps a mission never resonated so soundly with Designtex, as this one from a nonprofit that provides sustainable income to Afghan women by sourcing and selling the rugs they weave. Arzu, which means "hope" in Dari, is a five-year-old corporation that operates "virtually" out of five U.S. cities (Chicago, New York, Boston, Sarasota, Fla., and Asheville, N.C.) and uses private sector practices to create jobs in poor rural villages in Afghanistan. When retired partner and managing director of Goldman Sachs Connie K. Duckworth visited Afghanistan with the U.S. Afghan Women's Council in 2003, she was struck by the impoverished conditions for women and children, which inspired her to establish Arzu.

When Steelcase president James Hackett met Duckworth, he recognized synergies between Arzu and Designtex, in terms of sustainability initiatives, quality of product, and social responsibility. And so began the process of creating the Common Threads collection of Afghan artisan rugs, which earned Designtex Best of NeoCon® Innovation and Editors Choice Awards. "I love the fact that the company is all about empowering women," Designtex executive creative director Kimberle Frost says of working with Arzu. "It's two different worlds without a common language coming together with a common vision. It was an extremely gratifying process"—and as it turns out, an unexpectedly simple process, given the language and geographic barriers. Arzu chief operating officer Alyssa Rome, vice president of sales and operations Suzana Rizzo, and creative director Angela Attento visited Designtex in New York to discuss designs. And while Designtex suggested a more bright, bold palette than the natural dyes favored by Arzu, after some initial back and forth, it was decided that six modern patterns in three sizes and three colors would comprise this limited-edition luxury rug collection.

"The six patterns revive the traditional Afghan rug motif with Designtex's modern sensibility, making it relevant to our market," Frost says. The pattern Relativity sports clean, simple lines at alternating angles, while Diversity features a rhythmic stripe of alternating bright and neutral colors. Prosperity is a line of coins, and Humanity is a starburst print. Unity's symmetrical squares are joined by a single line woven throughout, while Connectivity plays on the classic grid with rectangles linked by the illusion of a continuous line.

Rome recalls, "We negotiated color, but these six designs were our first go at pattern. Our weavers are able to do anything with designs. They create one-of-a-kind works of art." And they do so with a minimal environmental impact, using wool bred from local sheep and dyes derived from local plants and fruits. Since each of the 54 rugs in this collection is made by hand, each truly is one of a kind.

"This was an incredibly smooth process, considering much of it was done via Internet," explains Frost. "But I think it worked because Designtex has a true understanding of what Arzu is trying to accomplish. We just love what Arzu is all about. It's a great way of structuring a business."

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