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Fashion International Workshop

Culture clash: overcoming language barriers with suppliers

Commissioning handmade rug designs from Moroccan weavers who don’t speak English or take measurements has been problematic for The Rug Trade.

7 Apr 2017

A year after placing her first order, Ella Jones, founder of The Rug Trade, decided it was time to meet her supplier in person. Jones had been buying vintage rugs and commissioning her own designs from a Moroccan weaver over email. She’d been using the same contact since 2013. A few weeks prior to her arrival, though, Jones’ supplier made a confession. He couldn’t speak English. He had been relying on Google Translate for the many months the two had been trading. In the weeks following news of Jones’ imminent trip, he had been anxiously sweating over how he was going to break this news to her.

Measure by eye

Not long after she commissioned her initial designs, Jones realised that the Berber people who were doing the weaving weren’t using any tape measures. ‘They do everything by eye,’ she explains. ‘It’s definitely hard to sell to people in the UK who have specific measurements, but instead of getting frustrated [with the weavers] I’m just massively impressed by their skill.’ It’s a stark contrast to the more exact and rigorous mass-production systems employed by the fast fashion industry, and something Jones has had to get used to. She’s previously worked as a designer for high-street brands such as Urban Outfitters and Topshop. ‘I’ve really enjoyed the human aspect of working with [these] individuals. It’s been quite a learning curve.’

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Handmade dimension

She has tried to nudge the Moroccan weavers towards more closely following the size specifications her customers want, although she has learnt to be more relaxed about exact measurements. Instead, Jones makes a virtue of their traditional techniques and intricate designs for custom orders. ‘When you think each rug takes one weaver 30 days to make, that’s incredible. This isn’t about big production, and you have to go with it,’ she says.

Freelance designer

Jones has been trying to get her business off the ground alongside her day job as a freelance designer. She’s sold more than 100 vintage rugs and around 30 of her own designs so far. The average price of the vintage rugs is around £350 while her own designs sell for £600, depending on the size and pattern.

This story is taking from Courier Apr/May 2017.