0617 GMT February 22, 2019
Although Iranians have been among the biggest producers of high quality textiles in the world since the ancient times, the country's textile industry has failed to satisfy domestic and foreign customers in the past couple of decades for several reasons.
Declining popularity of Persian textiles has brought Italian and Indian textiles into prominence in both domestic and global markets.
Until 10 years ago, there were apprehensions that Kashan Silk — one of the most delicate materials that used to be exported to several nations since the ancient times — would go into oblivion forever, as workshops involved in producing the material faced financial difficulties in view of the widening gap between supply and demand.
However, thanks to great artistic creativity of a couple — Ali Khatib Shahidi and his wife, Azadeh Yasaman Nabizadeh — silk weaving was preserved.
The couple, both cloth and fabric designers, brought about a revolution in silk weaving industry which led to the revitalization of trade in silk fabrics.
Iran Daily conducted an interview with Ali Khatib Shahidi about his successes. Excerpts of the interview follow:
IRAN DAILY: How did you become interested in textile weaving, as a professional designer?
KHATIB SHAHIDI: My wife, who had learnt sewing and painting during early childhood, decided to improve her skills by attending university and studying textile and fashion designing.
Her deep interest for textile designing encouraged me to become involved in fabric designing too. We began producing unique types of fabric with special designs, which could not be found anywhere else.
You helped Kashan silk weavers who were on the verge of bankruptcy 10 years ago. How did you do that?
Although global markets have been dominated by Indian and Italian fabrics that have attracted the attention of customers, we were not eager to imitate Western style and designs. On the other hand, neither were we interested in outdated Persian designs.
Hence, we started conducting research on ancient Persian attires in collaboration with masters of silk weaving in Kashan. The result of the research enabled us to create new kind of fabrics with exceptional colors and designs at reasonable cost.
Silks that were produced by using traditional methods were not only unaffordable for many, but also failed to meet the needs of customers because of undesirable colors that had been used for centuries.
Now, we dare say that Kashan silk weaving industry is regaining the status it enjoyed during the Safavid era, when Persian silks were exported.
Do you have plans to revive other types of fabrics?
Yes. The first phase of reviving fabrics of Kurdestan Province was launched seven years ago. Four years ago, we entered the second phase, which is to establish workshops to start production.
We have learnt that Moj weaving — a type of checked fabric made of wool — has long gone into extinction in southern and central parts of Kurdestan and only a handful workshops are still operating in northern and western parts of the province.
We established our workshop in a village in Sanandaj — which was once the hub of producing Moj. We also invited the local people to join us in the production process. Currently, Moj is produced in different colors and by the use of modern techniques.
Maras cloth was also very fashionable in Kurdestan in the past. Maras is made of Angora wool, which makes it delicate and warm. Angora goat breeds in only six regions of the world, one of which is Kurdestan.
We have planned to revive Maras weaving in Kurdestan.
Have you ever encountered problem in meeting the supply of raw materials?
Iran, just like many nations, has been affected by years of drought limiting the access of producers to raw materials. However, developed nations have overcome such problems by using modern technologies.
For example, while Iran is only able to rear silkworms once a year —concurrent with the growth of berry leaves in spring — Japan has achieved the technology to rear caterpillars throughout the year and in all locations.
Silkworm rearing is not a thriving industry in Iran because of the huge costs involved. Hence, we need to revitalize our methods and develop technologies for producing raw materials of any kind.
Foreigners constitute a majority of your customers, according to experts. Which countries are much more interested in your products?
Customers from Persian Gulf Arab States show a greater interest in Persian fabrics that are produced in Yazd and Bushehr provinces.
European customers, who account for majority of our customers, demand delicate fabrics such as silk.
The British Museum is one of our main customers. It sells our products in its gift shops.
Our products are almost unaffordable to a majority of Iranians.
How can Iran compete with other nations, including India, which has emerged as one of the biggest global textile producers?
We still need to boost domestic markets, as it seems to be too early to think about competition.
Iran lags behind its rivals in global markets mainly because of poor publicity and poor fashion industry.
We need to publicize hand-made clothes through influential figures including actors.
Domestic customers must be assured that domestic products are comparable to the most exquisite clothes produced by famous global brands. Iranian styles need to be promoted to save our culture and national identity.