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I started this company based on a handshake.

It represented a shared trust and commitment between me and another man from a distant culture and place. Out of that simple gesture grew all that is now Tufenkian Artisan Carpets.

In 1985 after finishing law school I wanted to take some time off and travel before going to work as an attorney. I had been nursing a big idea for a long time — to create a 21st century incarnation of the ancient Oriental rug business. I thought to pair modern design and branding with a production that embodied the virtues of great antique carpets. After all, machines had perfected sameness and our world was filled with their products. Wouldn’t people really love to live intimately with a few wonderful things that were perfectly imperfect, and reflected the touch of the human hands that created them?

So I ended up in Nepal and was introduced to a highly respected Tibetan carpet weaver. He was dedicated to making a few great carpets, when all the others simply wanted to make more. We sat in his simple home and talked over yak tea. I shared my dream, and that I needed a partner in order to realize it. I knew that I had met a kindred spirit when he told me that any dream of his had to include improving the lives of the craftspeople we would employ. So I promised to do everything necessary to build the business in America, and he promised to support it with the finest production.

Tsetan Gyurman and I shook hands and began a 30 year partnership that revolutionized the Oriental rug business. Certainly an unusual way for a lawyer to seal a deal, but I am proud of it.

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A Tufenkian dealer once told me
“I’m in California. Immediate gratification isn’t fast enough.”

I wasn’t really surprised. I figured from the beginning that once our customers connected with the right Tufenkian carpet they’d want to get it home fast and start their life together. So from the outset we have done everything possible to satisfy that desire by keeping “on-hand” a huge stock of our rugs in a range of sizes for immediate delivery.

Let me tell you, “fast delivery” is not an easy goal to achieve in a business like ours, and certainly not every company at our level of the market would even dare to try. In fact almost none do. When a rug takes 4-8 months to make and isn’t cheap, most businessmen choose to celebrate “custom only” and make everything to order. Let the customer wait.

We prefer to let the customer have it now. I am confident making the huge investment necessary to back up that level of service and satisfaction because our rugs are different. Experience has taught me that our designs are timeless, and that the extreme level of hand craftsmanship we employ in every step of their creation is only getting more costly each year. Plenty of accountants have questioned the wisdom of keeping such a large inventory and suggested to me that ours is not an optimal financial model, but it makes perfect sense to me. And of course our customers are pretty happy with it too.

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As a teenager, I played a lot of sports. That was normal. What was a little strange was that I also worried a lot about the end of my life. Not about dying, but about how I’d feel lying on my deathbed, looking back over what I had done with my years on earth. It terrified me to think that I might only then realize too late that I had wasted the precious time given to me. I couldn’t let that happen. So I made a plan. Get a great education. Make a lot of money fast. Then use both the money and the education to make the world better.

I ticked off the first when I finished law school. I started on the second when I founded this company. Then I stalled. A few years into it the business was going great, but the big pay-day that would free me to the final phase was a long way off. I was saved by the inspiration provided by my Tibetan partner who led us into ways of impacting the lives of our employees immediately through our work.

From the profits of the business, we aim to leave the world better than we found it.

We built an expansive medical center providing Eastern and Western medicine. A Montessori school for early education followed soon after. This grew along with the kids into a 700 student k-high school facility. We invested in solar power to fuel our production, and a recycling plant to help preserve the precious water of the Kathmandu valley. The goal was to give our workers every parent’s hope — that their children would have opportunities far greater than they had.

The Maoist revolution in Nepal and the many changes it brought have made this the right time to explore India as an additional source of production. I have approached it with caution and with one clear lesson foremost in my mind — that our high standards of social responsibility and quality can only be achieved if we pay a fair price for the products we make. The relentless demand for “cheaper and cheaper” is what drives suppliers to reduce their prices at any cost, and is the pre-condition for many of the most abusive labor practices that have been exposed in recent years. So I always pay a fair price, and make my demands from that high ground. While India is a huge and complex place, I am confident that guided by this foundational practice, I’ll find the way to work there while continuing to evolve the Tufenkian human story that began in Nepal.

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Now many years into my life plan I still can’t devote my whole energy and resources to helping the world as I had planned. So in order to partially serve my mission until I can, I channel most of the profits of Tufenkian Carpets into the Tufenkian Foundation. Its mission is to realize a range of humanitarian and development projects. The focus has been on Armenia which emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 with every kind of post-soviet economic and social problem. I felt called there to help develop a new economy, and equally, to fight for economic and social justice. That has led me into major projects to protect the environment, create democratic institutions, up-lift the weak and vulnerable, and re-settle refugees.

I began working to develop the economy of Armenia in 1993 when I started a carpet production there. I was fortunate to have my experience building the business in Nepal to guide me in reviving that historic craft in its birthplace, and enabling me to provide honest labor to its people. Then in 2001 I began Tufenkian Heritage Hotels, applying my design sensibility and financial resources to creating boutique hotels in the depressed regions of the country, and in the process, helping open them to international tourism.

It is the profits from the rug business that enable me to engage in this good work. Every purchaser of a Tufenkian carpet supports and participates with me in it and helps us to make the places we touch a little better than we found them.

I hope that out of that knowledge grows a deeper appreciation of our products, and a deeper love of them for what they represent.

When the human hand works with the finest materials, timeless beauty and unparalleled craft are born.

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