In sitting down to write this post I was and still am concerned with the correct tone and approach to take. While many of you are undoubtably aware of my long standing public support and championing of the RugMark Foundation and their efforts to eliminate child labour in the hand-made rug and carpet industry, others of you are likewise without a doubt equally unaware. Being supportive though does not mean writing with blinded praise. During Metro Market Week (look for a review of that in my next post!) I had the pleasure of running into a former colleague who commented: “I read your blog. You seem to get a few jabs in at us now and again”. To which I replied and she agreed “I take jabs at everyone.” I like to think I offer a (mostly) objective approach to my writing, such that when my personal feelings do get in the way, you as the reader respect the credibility of my opinions, knowing I am not merely kowtowing to the whims of those I support.
My writing about this topic (in a supportive way) then should not come as any surprise. But what good is a narrative without a surprise, or a twist, or something gossipy? So with that, I give you my commentary on the rebranding of the RugMark certification label to: GoodWeave.
A brief Summary
RugMark has been, and continues to be the preeminent international non-profit working to eliminate illegal child labour in the carpet industry. The rebranding into GoodWeave – which is predicated by the fact that there was an impetus from many interested parties (consumers, importers and manufacturers) to expand the label beyond illegal child labour, and thus as follows from the forthcoming difficulties, the need to re-brand – was announced earlier this year to industry, and slowly rolled out publicly over this past summer. This rebranding will allow RugMark to focus not only on illegal child labour, but to expand the certification to include various other social and environmental concerns. To quote Nina Smith, Executive Director of The RugMark Foundation: “The new GoodWeave certification and label represents a holistic approach.”
The often not understood premise.
The short (for the sake of expedience) version is quite simple, and truthfully something I myself did not understand until becoming more involved with the RugMark Foundation (the foundation name is remaining the same) in or around 2005 and my subsequent meeting of RugMark founder and human rights activist Kailash Satyarthi. GoodWeave (nee RugMark) is an economic solution to a human problem. The moneys paid on certified carpets, ultimately by the end consumer, are used to fund programs to improve the lives of those who make the carpets, and help break the cycle of poverty and indentured servitude. This is not to say that the goal is to take people away from carpet weaving, but rather to allow children to be children and then to learn valuable job skills (of their own choosing) at appropriate ages, within the confines of international and national laws. That was the original and still applicable premise, RugMark’s original reason for being, and is still the core mission. This same premise – of monies paid by the end consumer funding programs – is now, with the GoodWeave label, being extended to include socially and environmentally responsible programs as well.
Relevance and Timing
So why the rebranding now? Without digressing too far into a rambling commentary into what the New York Times has referred to as “churn”, suffice it to say that there are businesses that fail only to be replaced by businesses that do nearly the exact same thing, but just happen to succeed by remaining that much more relevant to contemporary needs and wants. In order to avoid failure, one must remain relevant, this is why the change to the GoodWeave label is now taking place.
Examining the state of consumerism, environmentalism and any other of the various “isms” I or you would care to mention, it is obvious that just as there is no one single root cause of any mentionable problem, this is also no panacea. Illegal child labour, unfair labour wages and disrespect for the environment are not unconnected. Neither are the solutions to these problems. Consumers (and thus smart businesses) are not blind to this fact and their spending habits increasingly reflect this enlightened if not newfound approach to living. The rebranding of GoodWeave, and the subsequent expansion of the certification, is RugMark’s response to these demands and will not only allow the organization to remain relevant and by extension to continue to be successful, but to also grow beyond its current scope into potentially more success.
The GoodWeave Label and its Meaning.
The founding of RugMark and the meaning of the original label was one that assured there was no illegal child labour. Expanding that label to mean more was just not practical, as it is easy to imagine, dealing between multiple countries, with multiple goals, various cultural differences and different legal environments is not a job for the faint of heart, and posed excessive cultural and legal obstacles. It was simply just easier to create a new brand. Starting this past summer, carpets bearing the new GoodWeave label, which is the physical representation of the massive rebranding effort, began appearing in the United States and Europe. As it is today, the GoodWeave label means the exact same thing as the old RugMark label meant (and still means) yesterday: No illegal child labour. The alluded to changes though in both the new brand and interaction between countries lay the foundation for future expansion. One I personally feel is beneficial to us all. What will this expansion look like?
Partly out of design and partly because the new system is now part of ISEAL, the certification is a progressive standard that can be adapted to the specific needs of the country at hand. So for instance in Nepal, where air pollution from open wood fires used for dyeing is a major concern, transitioning to cleaner contained wood fires, or even gas fires would be an improvement and thus qualify for certification (This of course, is when GoodWeave starts work on environmental concerns). Contrasting that with the environmental concerns associated with dyeing in say North America (something of concern for my company Red Spruce) where the de facto standard is electric or gas, perhaps certification would include the use of solar heating or other low emission sources. Furthermore, returning the the “holistic” approach, it should be obvious to most people that illegal child labour is not a concern in my own production, and thus if and/or when GoodWeave certification does come to North American production, the focus will need to be on environmental and social concerns, not child labour. Red Spruce carpets bearing the GoodWeave label (N.B. Red Spruce does intend to license when this becomes an option.) will have technically conformed to slightly different geographically specific standards than those made by say Lapchi or Odegard – who are likewise working to improve the conditions in which carpets are made – in Nepal, but the holistic approach to bettering a host of problems remains the same. Now these are just my examples, and as I understand it, environmental and social standards are at least a year away, but the comparison and concerns are accurate and illustrate how the new GoodWeave certification is accommodating to the specific needs of a region, and is poised for continued growth and success. Something I and many others are looking forward to.
A quick mid post pseudo wrap up.
A new label with the same meaning for now, that in the coming year(s) will expand to include other social and environmental concerns. A good strategic move for RugMark that will allow GoodWeave to bring more carpets (eventually) into the certification regime. And just as in politics, if you don’t vote, your voice isn’t heard, consider letting RugMark know what you think of the new certification(s), speak up and most importantly: Join! (If you can.)
More into at: www.goodweave.org
Part II: And now for some writing that may or may not be added in a seemingly random manner just for something interesting to read.
Design notes on the new label.
To many, it seems that the now former RugMark label was just starting to become a strong brand in and of itself, and could have succeeded for years to come. I do tend to agree with that statement, assuming child labour is your only issue and if you were somehow able to eliminate the sixth opinion from the interactions between all of the various countries in which the organization operates. Since those two things are obviously not the case, and given all the aforementioned reasons, the new GoodWeave label was christened….
It is said that you cannot please everyone, and that is most certainly the case regarding the broad world of rugs, again referring to the reasons for the branding change, but now also in reference to the label itself! Many people objected to the design of the former label (I myself having once been told by an individual that the label was essentially atrocious, that he/she would not include it in their advertising, and that given his/her design/experience with a certain unnamed large multinational, he/she had offered to redesign the label for RugMark). To that, and to everyone else who didn’t like the old design, or who, like myself aren’t huge fans of the design of the new label, I say: Let’s get over ourselves shall we?
Of course no single design is going to please everyone, and if it did it would be the most boring homogenous, and likely beige coloured true atrocity on the planet. Moreover none of us would have rug companies as there would be that “one beige rug” everyone buys. I know this is hyperbole, but do you see my point?
I myself, much the same way as that just mentioned he/she didn’t care for the old label, don’t necessarily care for the design of the new label. I find the human shaped knot, while very clever and straightforward in meaning, to be a bit derivative of, and not nearly as elegant as the Kooches “k”. I also find the legal constraints placed on the colouration of the logo in use to be rather restrictive on good design. Those two things being said however, I 100% support the use of the new logo according to the style guide and encourage everyone else to do so as well. The true work to be done here is in promoting the label and the work it funds, not in being designistas, (myself included) as it were.
A quote, not necessarily intended for here, but applicable none the less.
“A lot of people who have the mindset and the heart to do socially responsible work put that first. But you have to make money or you can’t do this stuff. You have to start with the making-money part and make sure you’ve got that down. Then just never lose that sense of importance that is has to contribute to something better.” – James Tufenkian, as quoted in the September 2009 issue of Metropolis.
Well said Mr. Tufenkian. I don’t think anyone involved in GoodWeave or any other like oriented organization would disagree on premise (I don’t), and furthermore, just as Mr. Tufenkian’s ultimate goal with his company was/is to do good, so should be the goal of any start-up company, and the planning to do as such should be included from the very beginning. So how does one then (in the context of the world of rugs) go about making money to do good? The same way we always have: By selling rugs for a profit. With the best way to do as such being, as mentioned somewhere amongst my rambling in this post, to remain relevant and also by association, competitive.
A quick digression: During the Industry Briefing given by GoodWeave during Metro Market Week, they announced that the rugs and carpets concessionaire for Macy’s (perhaps you’ve heard of them) has joined with GoodWeave and that in the not too distant future, GoodWeave certified carpets will begin to appear in Macy’s branded department stores across the United States. This is going to bring the GoodWeave (and former RugMark) labels out of the rarified air in which it is often cast by detractors, and into the living rooms of those breathing more mundane, pedestrian air as it were. To steal an annoying phrase from the media: From Wall Street into Main Street. This broadening of GoodWeave’s visibility and reach will strengthen the brand and thus lend more credibility to all certified products. End quick digression.
Remaining competitive though (and by reverse association relevant to consumers) is no easy task. Factors measurable and innumerable influence the whims of consumers, who chose or chose not to purchase, often for reasons unknown. In the context of GoodWeave (and elsewhere), I am going to argue that you can know one thing for certain. Consumers are comparing your product to other products which they consider to be in the same class. That being said, would it not make sense to ensure that whenever possible your product is easily perceived as equivalent if not better than your competitors?
A conclusion of sorts and an open appeal.
Perception is reality and consumers do not perceive self monitored or self administered programs to be as effective as independent certifications. If GoodWeave certifies a rug from Company X, and yours isn’t, you’ve started out behind in the sales game, regardless of your own efforts.
With all of this very longwinded post having been said, I invite anyone who is not currently a licensed GoodWeave importer to join, if for no other reason than to remain competitive, and I encourage The RugMark Foundation to expand GoodWeave certification into other countries (such as say Canada *wink) so that the monies paid from the successes and fortunes of all participating rug companies, regardless of geography, can go back to doing the work of good, where it is most needed.