How Kenya's carpet market has evolvedTuesday March 28 2023
There was a time when carpet prices were ludicrous. Homeowners had to wait for months for a specific carpet to be imported and buy it at very high prices. Others had to shop abroad.
But now prices of floor rugs and carpets have fallen sharply as many importers join the business, bringing in from Turkey, Indonesia, and China, the main suppliers.
More Kenyans are also weaving carpets, giving consumers variety from handwoven tribal prints to jute.
Prices in most markets have started to fall lately as technology evolves. A burst bubble, maybe?
Some buyers simply want a decorative covering and there are those who collect out of passion.
Therefore the old-fashioned designs may be cheaper but shoppers who favour pieces dating from the 16th and 17th centuries or handwoven may still be buying at high prices.
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Joseph Mutie from Nasimi Interiors, a shop on Nairobi’s Mombasa Road that has classy furnishings and home décor, says there are many types of carpets including deep piles [those with long, tall fibres and have a plush appearance and texture], cut-loop piles which were very fashionable during the 70s and 80s but lost popularity through the 90s], and woven carpets.
"Deep-pile carpets, such as saxonies, are favoured at the moment and offer excellent comfort and warmth,” he says.
Mr Mutie pegs the price drop to new weaving technologies.
“As technology progresses, carpet production evolves. Rather than woven by hand, most carpets today are made through tufting. Tufting machines are faster and more efficient, making mass-produced carpets more affordable than ever before,” he says.
A wider range of materials is also becoming more common in carpet production.
“Initially, synthetic materials and dyeing methods were used to meet the rising demand for different types of carpets, with nylon and acrylic proving popular choices,” he says.
Synthetic carpet fibres, Mr Mutie says, allow for more durability, are easier cleaning, and give a better overall product. They also have advantages like being waterproof and pet-proof.
Mr Mutie is quick to add that Nasimi Interiors stocks purely hand-woven carpets sourced from India.
“They include jute rugs, vintage and woollen carpets, which range from Sh58,000 to Sh89,000 for a 6 by 12 ft,” says Mr Mutie, adding “they are so comfortable to walk on and also provide unique style options and add that designer touch that many people are gravitating to.
The complex patterns and subtle hues in colours make the design choices far more exciting as well.”
James Macharia, another seller has been in the business for 12 years now.
He says one of the reasons for the drop in prices is the use of synthetic materials which mimic the look and feel of traditional wool.
“Wool is considered a classic and timeless choice,” says Mr Macharia, adding that however, buyers are also opting for stain-resistant pieces.
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“Chemical treatments are used in production to ensure carpets become resistant to stains and wear and tear. This is reflected in the longer warranties that are increasingly being offered by many carpet manufacturers,” he says, adding "Most of my customers buy Turkey carpets [priced from Sh7,500] because of their beauty and complex patterns and rich colours."
Millan Ouma who has been in interior design for seven years also says when he started the business not many Kenyans could afford carpets.
“The sales were quite low as most people could not afford them. Carpets were considered a luxury, but the story has changed over time. Prices have dropped to between Sh10,500 and Sh35,000, and now we even stock hypo-allergic carpets,” he says.
Kenyans are also exporting carpets. In value terms, research shows the largest markets for carpet exported from Kenya are Israel, South Sudan, and the US, with a combined 67 percent share of total exports.
Somalia, Rwanda, Ghana, Uganda, India, and Tanzania are the other export markets.
In 2021, shipments abroad of carpets and other textile floor coverings increased by 212 percent, rising for the third year in a row after two years of decline, research from IndexBox, a global market research firm shows.
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The availability of affordable and quality carpets in Eastleigh and Kamukunji has also contributed to the drop in prices in upmarket malls.
Jennifer Rabuor is among those who have seen a shift to these downtown markets. She started selling carpets at Kamukunji market in Nairobi’s downtown seven years ago.
She is among the tens of carpet traders at the market, similar to Eastleigh, now seen as the carpet hub in the city.
“My prices range from Sh6,500 to Sh13,000,” she says.
With lots of available styles in the market, Kenyans are now spoilt for choice.
“How you would wish to layer your home with different effects from luxury carpeting, either with warm, rich hardwood flooring or back-to-texture sustainable carpeting is now at your disposal,” says George Moseti, who has been in the business for five years.
“Let’s face it, nowadays if you can dream of a look of your home, you can create it. People no longer shy away from carpets due to the possibility of trapping stains and dirt. Carpets have massively advanced that we have those for high traffic areas, spill, and moisture magnet zones, or even often-used family rooms.”