What is An Artisan-Centered Textile Company?

Open-air market in Chichicastenango, Guatemala, known for its Mayan textiles

Inspiration from a cup of tea

It first started over tea. Before we completely rearranged the mountain of rugs, before the internal debate of what I’d take home, or any discussion of price, the elma çayi arrived.

It’s 2009, a day before the New Year in Bergama, Turkey, a small town in the northwest of the country. I don’t know it as I walk through the shop’s doors, but I’m about to discover my love for sifting through piles and piles of rugs. 

What I find is how much I’m taken by the process–one that’s so different from what I know of most financial transactions in the US. I’m used to a salesperson that is either distant, only at the ready when they ring up your items, or uncomfortably hovering for purposes of ensuring the deal closes. 

That December day in Turkey, shop owners filled me and my friend up with apple tea, or elma çayi (pronounced like chai). The beauty of elma çayi is that it invites you to get comfortable. It says, “hey, why don’t you stay a little longer and take your time?” The moment it arrives, steaming in a small cup that can always be refilled, you can’t help but want to connect with the person in front of you.

We stayed for hours in one shop, where the owner shared about his life growing up on a farm. He had a leg disability that, as he said, “made me useless on the farm,” but didn’t stop him from maneuvering around the shop with ease. He pulled himself with upper arm strength to quickly go from one pile of rugs to the next. He had a mental map of the exact location of each piece, even as he brought the piles down, one by one. We took in hundreds of rugs, each one pulled from a neat stack, then unfolded with a flip of the arms to allow us to marvel at its design as he told us its origin story. The floor became a mosaic of rugs, varying regions mashed together into the most beautiful chaos I could imagine.

“You’re going to love this one,” he said as he opened a kilim rug. This kilim–burnt orange, red, and blue with a geometric design–became the rug which I compared all the others to. I would find another that I loved, and then look back at the kilim, and be reminded that I had found the one I would take home.

Still, we continued to scour the shop. He was giddy to show us any piece we were interested in, and tell where he bought it, or tales of his travels to Italy, his favorite country to visit. 

Once I finally decided on the kilim as a wedding gift for my brother, he uncorked a bottle of his Italian reds, and poured a generous glass for us to celebrate.

The art of connection

Elma Exchange’s name comes from that day. The day I learned that a rug store can be so much more than buying a piece you love for your home. The day I realized that a purchase can be centered around human connection.

Elma çayi, and the relationships it builds, is the ethos that Elma Exchange hopes to bring to the world. At Elma Exchange, we strive to treat artisans and weavers as true artists because we believe that the pieces they create are living art in our homes. Their craftsmanship and creativity infuse life into each rug and textile, transforming them into living works of art that grace our homes.

Know your artisan

At Elma Exchange, we want to tell the histories of the pieces themselves, the regions they comes from, and how they have evolved over time.

More so, we want to tell the stories of the people behind the creations. It is not just the rugs and textiles that take center stage but also the artisans themselves. The company strives to bring the names and faces behind the creations, fostering a sense of appreciation and connection between the creators and those who will enjoy their artistry. By illuminating the stories and journeys of these talented individuals, Elma Exchange aims to deepen the appreciation for the history, heritage, and individual craftsmanship infused within every piece.

Elma Exchange's artisan-centered approach

For Elma Exchange, the act of acquiring a rug or textile goes beyond a mere commercial transaction. It becomes a celebration of the human behind the piece, a testament to the shared joy and passion that weaves through the process. We seek to replicate the genuine excitement and warmth experienced in that Turkish rug shop, creating an environment where customers are not just consumers but active participants in a community of artisans and enthusiasts.

Elma Exchange emerged from an encounter over a decade ago, where a cup of elma çayi sparked a realization that home decor can be transformed into a deeply personal and relational experience. By embracing the ethos of human connection, valuing the artistry of artisans, and sharing their stories, Elma Exchange is excited to bring the world of rugs and textiles to your home.

As you explore our rugs and textiles, remember that each piece holds within it a story of the dedication, talent, and cultural heritage of its creator. Choose a piece that resonates with you, knowing that you are not merely acquiring a beautiful object but connecting with a vibrant tapestry of art and humanity. 

Welcome to Elma Exchange, where artistry and connection thrive, and the beauty of rugs and textiles intertwine with the stories of the lives that shape them.

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