”Factory rugs are too perfect. The ones out of the homes have imperfections, authenticity. They have soul,” says Zia Hassanzadeh, owner of Herat Oriental. (Joseph Victor Stefanchik /FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

I came in 1985 to U.S. from Afghanistan. During the Russian invasion, we were all forced to leave. Somehow, everybody went somewhere. My family scattered. I came alone. It was terrifying. But when you have to make it, you make it. It is the instinct of survival. I enrolled in college to be an engineer. Then I visited my sister in Germany; my brother-in-law was in the carpet business. He told me there’s a big market in U.S., but I was dubious. I am a student, not a rug importer. In my country, we are brainwashed to be doctors or engineers. I brought one back for an experiment— and I sold it easily and made a good profit. I went back and brought back more. I made $7,000 in one week. I had these friends who had already graduated with master’s in engineering, and they were out of work. I had just made more in one week than they did in two months. So I took a break from college.

At any time, I have 10,000 rugs in my inventory. We have a staff of eight people here, but we probably create about 20,000 jobs for people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Egypt, Tibet. The average 9-by-12 rug takes two people six months. There are two type of weavers. In the villages in Iran and Afghanistan, rugs are done by housewives and daughters. In parts of Pakistan and in India, it is becoming more managed. Some rich guy buys a big warehouse, put the looms in, one right after another. The difference is that the factory rugs are too perfect. The ones out of the homes have imperfections, authenticity. They have soul. The reason is that guy who goes to the factory — that is a job for him. But the lady who is at the loom after all the cooking, she may have had a fight with her husband, so when she sits down, the frustration and feeling goes into the rug. They finish one rug; we give them another one.

I think all the time about the journey these rugs take. I have customers, collectors, who have 100 rugs that are folded and sitting in closets. They unfold them, show them to their friends and put them away. We have to thank God for them, too, because they feed this economy, too — and they still love the rugs in their own way. I remember delivering a beautiful rug to this mansion in Great Falls — it was 13-by-9. The weavers have to build a tent just to have room to make it. So when I drop that on the floor of this beautiful home, I want the customer to know where it came from, who it came from. And I will say, “Americans are the most appreciative customers — they want to know the story.”