Magic goes out of the Persian carpet business

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 November, 2007, 12:00am

Hong Kong is set to lose three of its most exclusive carpet shops over coming months as the world's supply of handwoven Persian rugs dries up.

Rehman Mir will be closing the doors of Mir Oriental Carpets in Wyndham Street for the last time early next year after selling carpets to the rich and famous for nearly 40 years.

The trader, whose family has been in the carpet business for five generations, shut his premier shop off London's Savile Row in March despite a doubling in the price of Persian carpets over the past year.

Mr Mir said 'old world' Persian carpets dating from before the Iranian revolution, which made up 99 per cent of the stock, were extremely difficult to acquire today, while present-day production was faltering in Iran.

Meanwhile, specialists in old-world Persians were being undercut by dealers selling modern-day reproductions that were machine-woven on the mainland or in India for the mass market.

'The lack of credible competition makes it difficult to be a trader in old-world Persian carpets because buyers need to be able to compare prices in other shops,' he said.

'The absolute high point of my career was trading in the very best old-world Persian carpets and I do not want to be a commercial trader dealing in mass-market textiles.

'I have enjoyed this career immensely, made a lot of friends and acquired fame and fortune - and I want to end it on a high note. But I am very sad that our family business has to close after five generations.'

Mr Mir, 60, is retiring to a luxury island villa in Dubai, where he will continue trading carpets as a hobby, while his two daughters, who used to work in the shops, will now run the family property business instead.

Rizwan Butt, owner of Oriental Carpet Trading House in Hollywood Road and Mr Mir's nephew, is also leaving the trade and moving to Perth, Australia, with his family.

Mr Butt said the Persian carpet industry had been disrupted by the Iranian revolution in 1979 and the handful of manufacturers that resumed production afterwards were unable to meet global demand for handwoven carpets.

'And as oil prices go up a lot of the weavers who were working in the carpet factories are going to work in roads and construction,' he said.

Mr Butt said there had been a strong demand for rugs since 2000 and a lack of supply had kept prices too high for most people.

'I don't want to dilute my business by dealing with mass-market textiles,' he said. 'We have got young children and we have decided that we will leave Hong Kong. The air pollution is one of the reasons.'

Tribal Rugs in Admiralty, which specialises in old-world Persian carpets and rugs from Afghanistan, Turkey and the Caucasus, will close in February because director Muhammad Yasin is moving to Canada.

Paul Driver, owner of the Caravan carpet shop in Hollywood Road, said: 'There used to be 15 carpet shops in Hollywood Road and Wyndham Street and now there are about five.'

Rent increases fuelled by the influx of bars and restaurants to the area and the impact on the carpet trade of the US-led 'war on terror' had also been factors in some of the closures, he said.