As you wander along Old Town in Mombasa, an intricate carpet catches your eye. Inside, large and small Persian rugs with embroidery festoon the walls, while others sit on the floor.01_BODY_TEXT_RIGHT_RAGGED: At the heart of this vibrant operation is Aziz Kaderbhoy, one of Old Town antiques shop owners who sells carpets made from natural dyes to those sewn from fibres of finest quality wool and silk.
This shop feels like a private museum but the antiques and carpets have price tags.
Mr Kaderbhoy has been in the Persian rugs business for more than 30 years now.
“We started the shop around 1984. We saw a market for handmade carpets and started importing carpets from Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Our major clientele was tourists and a lot of hotels,” he says.
At Gallery Mashaallah, he has stocked carpets of different colours, designs, lengths and patterns ranging from Sh10,000 to Sh3 million.
“The cost depends on the size and quality. You can get ones that go up to Sh3 million especially some silk pieces which come from Qum, a town in Iran that has highly collectible rugs,” he says.
When Mr Kaderbhoy started the business, the handmade carpets used to be brought to Mombasa port by dhows. Now he travels to
Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan to select them.
Despite the influx of carpets and rugs in the Kenyan market, the 60-year-old says, the famed Persian carpet still maintains its competitive edge in luxury living.
“Persian carpets and rugs are works of art, it is a very specialised market,” he says, adding that because the art of weaving carpets has been ignored by young people, the demand for ancient carpets keeps growing.
“Today in Iran and other carpet-making countries, very few people want to sit down and make a rug. The younger generation are less into the art. In the next 20 years, the practice of hand weaving might die off. Today a small carpet measuring 5 by 3 metres can take four to five months,” he says.
Nomadic tribes mostly weave the carpets and every city in Iran has a unique handicraft.
“We go to different villages to source for different carpets. Nomads who move from one town to another make the carpets in between their travels. Many people prefer the tribal nomadic carpets. They are unique and more expensive than others that are made in bigger towns and are more commercialised,” Mr Kaderbhoy said.
When buying a Persian carpet, Mr Kaderbhoy, advises you look for an authentic one. What material is the rug made from? Is it is cotton or silk? What about the quality of the artisanship?
If you want intricate rugs with high knot counts, you may have to pay more.
“The more the knots the higher the quality. The finer the carpet the more expensive it is,” he adds. Also, choose your source wisely. “If you are first-time buyer you have to trust the seller. Experienced dealers will help you in sampling. I can tell from the knot and weave if a carpet is handmade or machine made,” he says.
Mr Kaderbhoy says because the carpets are made from delicate sheep hair, dyed with herbs and then painstakingly weaved and coloured, he recommends professional cleaning and repair to maintain them.
“Handmade carpets are usually made out of natural and vegetables dyes. If you soak it in water, it runs. You have to be very careful. At the shop, we clean using special brushes and detergents,” he said.
Over the years, Mr Kaderbhoy has sold his carpets to hotels in Mombasa and homeowners in Nairobi.
“I have sold to hotels in South Coast including Baobab Beach Resort and Spa, Kole Kole, Leisure Lodge and recently another one in Kilifi. We also have clients in Nairobi. When we started most embassies used to buy from us,” said the carpets seller who studied Business Administration in university and took after his grandfather’s artistry of tribal rugs and eye for antiques.
“We are one of the oldest Asian families here. My grandfather was a very good antique collector and had them in his house,” he said.