Looking Empty

Thanks to all our customers who have visited in the last couple of weeks – we have very few items left and the store has almost completely been emptied.

We even said goodbye to most of our plants yesterday…

Goodbye Plants!

Goodbye Plants!

But… …Nisha has been rummaging through her fabric collection from her travels and has still managed to make some more cushions and Turkish inspired ottomans! Email us for details if you are interested.

Vintage Anatolian Kilim Ottoman

Vintage Anatolian Kilim Ottoman

Latest Cushions

Latest Cushions

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The End of the Arastan Journey

That I enjoy what I do is well known. But what is less known is that my husband and I have financed the Arastan proof of concept knowing that we would need external investment to take our vision forward. Unfortunately, we have not been able to raise the investment we need. The business is too early and too small for professional investors, and we needed one person who has the financial wherewithal and an interest in artisanal livelihoods to come in as a financial partner and stay through to the stage we could go to professional investors or banks. We never found that person.

And so we close. Our last day for trading will be 31 January 2014 and everything we have in-store and online must go. Prices have been marked down to reflect this and there is many a bargain to be had.

Arastan Studio

Arastan Studio

The vision was to expand sourcing artisanal products from around the world with a mix of offline and online sales channels. Carpets and furniture formed the main categories with customisation and a ‘touch and feel’ solution before you buy built in. Art and décor, jewellery and speciality foods formed additional categories. The business headquarters would move to Rajasthan to benefit from lower costs and a better VAT regime so we could keep our prices sensible.

What we did well in the proof of concept was to create a brand that is associated with authenticity and uniqueness. While not enough people know about Arastan, of those that do, many have told us they love the stories, the products and the experience of it all. We have many many emails, comments, word of mouth references, all of which helped and encouraged us to refine what we do and how we do it. And we sold! An astonishing amount. That we could do so with only three of us working full-time surprised everyone. All I can attribute it to is a unique concept and being customer-obsessed (and perhaps a little carpet obsessed too!).

Why can’t we build on what we have achieved so far? Simply put we do not sell enough to fund working capital, growth and pay ourselves. We needed the investment to pay for people, marketing and stock in order to grow, ultimately allowing us to draw a basic income from Arastan. I had limited understanding of access to finance for SMEs in India when I started and assumed where the banks were inaccessible, angel investors would be easy to find. It was a big, and in our case, fatal assumption to make.  I am reminded of a line by Kurt Vonnegut: “Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, ‘it might have been.’” And I cannot help but wonder what Arastan “might have been” had we solved the financing riddle.

To our wonderful customers, thank you for buying and sharing stories and making our journey possible. I wish things could be different but circumstances demand otherwise. I do not have the luxury of running Arastan without it providing us an income, but perhaps one day we will journey again. I will still travel and occasionally post about the people, culture and craft I see along the way and maybe, just maybe, we can do something with the Arastan concept again someday.

This is the hardest post I have written, and it comes almost three years after I wrote my first one, when we had nothing but an idea and a domain. Thank you for reading then and thank you for reading now. You made Arastan possible for which I am utterly grateful.

Arastan Studio - Closing Soon

Arastan Studio – Closing Soon

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The Unassuming Indian Dhurrie

Most Indians have dhurries at home – they are the default choice of floor covering readily available across the country in every size and colour possible. For this reason, other than making the distinction between a Shyam Ahuja dhurrie (these were very stylish and very expensive when I was young) and all others, I never really paid much attention to them. That is, until I saw some flat weaves in Morocco and it struck me that we make more interesting and high quality ones back home.

Prince Dara Shikoh visiting the Ascetic Kamal

Prince Dara Shikoh
© Smithsonian Institution

India has a rich tradition of floor decorations. Done to invoke blessings for the home using simple rice paste, and at times flower petals and bright colours, these have become an art form in their own right. There are regional differences such as Alpana in West Bengal, Mandana in Rajasthan, Muggu (or Muggulu) in Andhra Pradesh.

Equally interesting is the variety of floor covering in the form of palm leaf and reed mats known as chatais. Used for eating, sleeping, praying, yoga, they provide relief from the heat and can be rolled away when not in use.

Tiger and leopard skins (such as the one on which Prince Dara Shikoh is sitting in this 18th century Mughal watercolour) were reserved for those in religious and political power and are now thankfully banned.

Wool Tapestry Fragment

Wool Tapestry Fragment, Central Asia; 200-400 AD
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

So it is but natural that the dhurrie, a flat pile-less woven floor covering, should embody these weaving and decorative traditions and become a household craft, woven in the home for the home. More lasting than a chatai, and an extension of the rich textile weaving tradition in India. Designs range from simple repetitive motifs or lines, to elaborate patterns typically woven in cotton and wool.

Dhurries have been made in India for far longer than handmade carpets, the latter being introduced from Persia in the last millennia.

A Night Celebration of the Prophet's Birthday

A Night Celebration of the Prophet’s Birthday; c1635
© Smithsonian Institution

Aurel Stein, on one of his expeditions across Central Asia, China and India, attributed several fragments unearthed at the Niya site in Turkestan to be flat weaves from India, dating them at 200-400 AD. This includes the woollen piece depicted here, with woven wool bands of red, pale pink, white, and blue, and additional contrasting decorations using a dovetail tapestry technique that was not known from China.

Much more evidence of the dhurrie tradition exists in manuscripts, paintings and fragments from the Mughal period and thereafter, such as the striped dhurrie from the c1635 AD watercolour shown here, depicting Shah Jahan holding an audience for a group of mullahs.

Carpet or Dhurrie?

Dhurries became very popular exports from Indian jails under the British. Bikaner jail still has a great archive of dhurrie swatches and the book “Dhurries” by Nada Chaldecott showcases designs from this period. Today dhurries have gone full circle, replacing carpets in the contemporary-rustic look so in vogue. Older pieces are sold at astonishing premiums at boutiques in London and New York – a dhurrie from 1950 in 8′ x 12′ size in good condition could fetch $8,000-$10,000!

Dhurrie Weavers using Horizontal Loom

Horizontal Loom

Dhurrie Weaver using Vertical Loom

Vertical Loom

My visit to Mirzapur brought home the effort that goes into making the very dhurrie I had paid so little attention to. At the Jaipur weaving centre, they use both vertical and horizontal looms with the latter producing tighter weaves. These are commonly known as Panja dhurries after the claw-like tool used to pull the weft in order to tighten the weave. My visit got me so interested that I started experimenting with creating Arastan’s own high quality cotton dhurries. Early days yet but exciting nonetheless.




The collection of dhurries we have from Jaipur Rugs Company is available only until 21 December. This includes interesting woollen pieces as well as ones in hemp and jute in gorgeous colours and weaves, and at great prices!

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  • Welcome to Arastan

    Arastan was an online store that curated rare and handpicked treasures from exotic bazaars along the ancient silk route. Unfortunately we ceased trading in early 2014.

    You can read about the reasons for closure.

    You can still browse some of the products we used to have via the category links above, although none of these are available for purchase.

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