From Kafr El Sheikh to Mandy Moore’s house: How Kiliim is putting the hip back into Egyptian rugs

“The youngest worker we have is 45 years old,” cofounder Ibrahim Shams says (Photo courtesy of Kiliim)

Egyptian rugs have made their way into American singer-songwriter Mandy Moore’s house, getting some magazine-cover exposure and awareness – thanks to Egyptian social enterprise Kiliim.

Singer-songwriter Mandy Moore’s home in Pasadena (Photo courtesy of Architectural Digest)

Kicking off in summer 2016 with only one workshop and four craftsmen manufacturing flat tapestry-woven carpets, Kiliim today has three workshops and a total of 13 craftsmen in a small village named Fowwa in Kafr El Sheikh governorate.

Fowwa: The kilim hub
Fowwa is the hub of handmade kilim rugs, but with the passing of time, the craft is starting to fade away and get lost across generations. It has always been known for manufacturing kilim rugs, ever since Khedive Mohamed Ali’s era. With over 85 percent of its employees working in the industry, Fowwa used to produce more than 77 percent of Egypt’s production of kilim and handmade carpets.

As the years passed, the craft was neglected by younger generations for almost 10 to 15 years, as youngsters had turned to other jobs instead of learning the craft from their ancestors.

Reviving an industry with fresh blood
To revive the craft and at the same time assist the locals, Ibrahim Shams and his wife and chief designer Noha El Taher took on the quest of making the Egyptian kilim hip again and adding a modern twist to it, while ensuring that the craftsmanship is passed down to younger generations.

Kiliim wants to hire 25 percent of Fowwa’s craftsmen

“Reviving the manufacturing of kilim in Fowwa was the social aspect to our business, by modernizing the techniques, designs and selection of raw material,” Shams explains.

In addition to the brand’s target of hiring more than 25 percent of Fowwa’s craftsmen in five years, cofounder and CEO of Kiliim Shams aspires to establish the Kiliim School, a project that attracts 18- to 20-year-olds and above to take workshops on the manufacturing of kilim and extend the legacy of their grandparents.

“We need to build new generations of people working on this craft because the youngest worker we have is 45 years old,” Shams tells Business Forward. “Through Kiliim School, we can inject new blood in this craft and raise a new generation interested to revive the industry and protect it.”

“If we reach the target of hiring 25 percent of Fowwa’s craftsmen, we would be making a good impact on this craft and in the lives of the workers and their income, which is 50 percent more of what they used to gain when they worked alone,” he adds.

How did it start?
The venture came to life after Shams and El Taher’s quest to buy their daughter Lina a rug for her room. This pursuit triggered the idea of making their very own brand of kilim rugs.

“We kept searching online and at different stores and street vendors, and we found out that all the kilim designs available are outdated, very folkloric or inconsistent in colors. Nothing new to the designs,” Shams explains.

Starting out with about 1,000 Facebook likes by showcasing Kiliim’s first collection of simple designs, today the brand has hit several exhibitions globally and is juggling a 45,000-strong social media presence. The designs are inspired by traditional and conventional motifs, produced from better raw materials and using less colors.

It is all about the customer
Shams describes his brand as very customer-centric, as the target audience is at the center of what the company does. Kiliim’s target audience is a niche, with an age ranging between 24 and 35 who are still getting married and furnishing modern houses.

“Our target market are design-conscious [people] who furnish their houses without using a lot of colors and details,” Shams explains.

Customers can place their orders online and customize them based on their needs.

“We built trust with customers through our deliveries, after-sale [services] and follow-ups. It is all about the customer at the end of the day; we try to fulfill what they want as much as possible,” he concludes.

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