Expert Interviews

Gary Coles-Christensen
Name Mr Gary Coles-Christensen 
Organization Name G. Coles-Christensen, Ltd

Position: President, G. Coles-Christensen, Rug Merchants

Years in the industry: 16

Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico


Area of expertise: High-end rugs made by adult artisans.

You have been a leader in selling rugs made without the use of illegal child labor. Can you tell us about that?

That’s been a part of our vision since we opened the store in 1998. We really had a great opportunity. We could open the store any way we wanted it, and we made it a part of our mission statement and it drove our values. We could build a business that would be profitable, that was the easy part, but why not tie it to our personal values? We’ve been pleased to find that there are a great many people, looking for fine carpets, who feel that this issue is important.

Why are rugs made by adult hands important?

For us, the work we do has to express two main values in the way we present rugs: the rugs have to be truly beautiful, compelling on an aesthetic level; and they have to be truly from a good place, woven by happy hands, and those hands have to be encouraged to be creative through positive encouragement. A great rug-weaving shop must not be a rigidly industrial environment.

What are significant achievements or milestones of the industry?

Interestingly, one of the biggest influences has been the advent of the information age. Breakthroughs in communication services and transport have allowed us to more easily communicate between the various cultures we work with. Diverse minds are now working more closely together to accomplish something in design. We see an industry revolution taking root regularly. That one simple thing has revolutionized much. There are all kinds of amazing designs and accomplishments now we never could have conceived of before, and the craftsmanship is at such a pinnacle. There have never been better things created.

How does your involvement with GoodWeave impact your business?

Partnering with GoodWeave was a very smart decision for us. It was a way for us to capitalize on that abstract value that we began with, that people should be treated well and encouraged to be creative, that happy hands make better products. And it's been beneficial and profitable for us. It adds a kind of animating spirit into something that might otherwise be just another rug shop.

What are your general thoughts on the design and production of carpets and rugs?

People need to be as educated as they can. Most people [would] come in and say, "I'll know it when I see it," or "I don't know what I'm looking for." People are more knowledgable and more sophisticated these days. If it’s washed in something that's not healthy, those consequences can be seen in two or three months. So we just encourage people to buy from people they trust. As much as possible people should seek out that relationship of trust.

Why should people be interested in buying handmade rugs made without child labor?

You vote with your dollar. We have the capability now to really effect change in the world if we just pay attention to what we’re buying. When you’re purchasing you're spreading the wealth and allowing other people to work and to live. Buy something with integrity. A rug is one of the last handmade things someone can get for their home. When you're getting a rug you’re supporting a village, and that’s your contribution to human culture.

Who are the biggest influencers of the child-labor free handmade carpet movement?

The two shining lights of inspiration are Stephanie Odegard and Kerry Smith of Lapchi. There's something I call "the schmuck approach to business." There are some people who will lose money to do the right thing. But these two seemingly do the right thing in all aspects of their business and yet are still profitable and visionary. They do it all with a great amount of benefit on both sides of the service, the people who are producing for them and purchasing from them. And they’re revolutionizing the industry as they go.

Of course, the GoodWeave certification program is the leader. It provides that trust that we're talking about, partly because it’s an independent certification. It speaks with an authority that we can't necessarily muster were it not independent. There are hundreds of children that have been rehabilitated, educated and clothed through GoodWeave, yet the amount of money required to do that is surprisingly low. It makes a huge difference. It’s a very successful organization.

Where can people learn more about this issue?

GoodWeave offers tremendous resources as well as links for further inquiry.

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