Founder Chairman’s Desk

A. Rashid Mir

Founder Chairman

Mr. Rashid Mir, as founder Chairman established CIE: Cottage Industries Exposition Ltd., in its present form way back in 1978., and continued to be the chairman for next three decades.

During this tenure CIE achieved its preeminence as patron of arts and crafts, with the distinction of being India’s largest manufacturer exporter of silk carpets and other product, winning every export award for these three decades.

He cannot recollect how old the business is, though his forefathers were in the business of selling silk carpets for generations. "It must have been two or three generations" during the British Raj, he said attempting to put the legacy into some kind of perspective.

A small business, back then worth a few lakhs became a multinational company operating across 4 continents, supporting and employing generations of artisans.

Heritage Curator
CIE sources silk from China and employs a large pool of hand weavers in Kashmir to make its carpets. His buyers, both within and outside India, are those who see carpets as a piece of art and not just another household furnishing.

In more ways than one, hand-woven silk carpets and wines have a lot in common -- the price for both rises steeply with age; only a few can afford the best; and both need connoisseurs as buyers.

Not surprisingly, a good chunk of CIE's customers do not live in India. "These are customers who visit India on a private jet and probably spend more money buying a carpet than what they might spend as their travelling cost," Mr. Mir says.

Largest Exporter of Silk Carpets
India exports carpets worth Rs 2,500 crore (Rs 25 billion), 30 per cent of which are made of silk. And CIE is one of the largest exporters of silk carpets in the country, if sales to foreign tourists is deemed exports. According to the Carpet Export Promotion Council, there are very few other large players but only in the woollen carpet business from India.

At the heart of Mir's successful business is 1 lakh skilled weavers in Kashmir. Making carpets is a bit more complicated than weaving saris. "A good carpet takes anything between five months and five years to finish. Over 75 per cent of the carpet cost goes to the weaver and his family," Mr. Mir says.

The business model, however, works like the sari business. The patterns and designs are more or less pre-set. The CIE only gives indication of the minor improvisations that need to be done to suit buyer tastes. Here, again, the changes vary according to the market the carpet is intended for.

An American, for instance, is unlikely to buy carpets with strong or loud designs, or those with gold and semi-precious stones woven into the warp and weft of the weave.

Mr. Khan, a showroom manager at one of CIE's showrooms in Delhi, says there are over 200 designs in all in the Kashmiri lexicon. Each of these designs has a name that can be traced back to a family in the valley.

The design knowledge is passed on from generation to generation. Since handmade carpets are high gestation period products, the weaver and the seller have an arrangement of payment in installments. "His whole family works on a single carpet," says Mir.

Our Presence

CIE's network of showrooms also includes various owned by it. Today, CIE has outlets across major cities of India. Prices of silk carpets may vary from a five digit figure to Rs 10 lakh (Rs 1 million). A CIE executive says there are even carpets worth a whopping Rs 1 crore. The selling is done through retail outlets spread across India. Cities for opening showrooms are selected with great care. These are places that attract tourists in large numbers.

"The salesmen, wherever the showroom, are always Kashmiri. With their gift of the gab and their sentimental attachment to their art, they're ideal salesmen to convince carpet buyers," Mr. Mir says.

Silk carpets may be their flagship product, but CIE showrooms are also stocked with paper mache decorative items, cashmere shawls, gold painted marble objects, bronze items, sandalwood, rosewood, stone and copper works of art.

CIE's clientele has famously included the rich and famous from the world of business, politics and fine art. Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright and even Pope John Paul II own CIE silk carpets.

Our famous visitors include former US president Bill Clinton, pop star Madonna and Microsoft's co-founder Bill Gates.

Mr. Mir's colleagues recollect the security breach Bill Gates had indulged in to visit a CIE showroom in Delhi. "He just sneaked out of a back door and went out to shop like a regular tourist. He sat on the floor to inspect the carpets while sipping kahwa (Kashmiri tea)," a CIE salesman says.