Traditional Kashmiri carpet weavers are turning to a 21st century technology already embraced by French winemakers and other international purveyors to boost sales by reassuring buyers that they are buying authentic made-in-Kashmir carpets, not cheap imitations.
The technology, used to authenticate wine from Cabo Verde, watches made in Switzerland, Bashkir honey from Russia and Tushuri Guda cheese from Georgia, combines a digital QR code with geo-locational features to guarantee to buyers that a carpet was actually woven in Kashmir.
Carpets from the region are ranked among the finest in the world because of the fineness of the weaving and the quality of the wool and silk yarn.
Mahmood Ahmad Shah, director of Handloom & Handicrafts in Kashmir, says this is the first time the region’s pashmina or Kashmir silk carpets have received QR code-based geographical indications.
With QR code tagging, Shah expects to attract more clients, benefiting local artisans in Indian-administered Kashmir.
“We are optimistic that it would give boost to the $40 million [export] business and would benefit 54,000 artisans registered with the Department of Handloom & Handicrafts in Kashmir,” he told VOA.
The origin of Kashmir’s hand-knotted carpets, locally called as “Kalbaffi,” dates back to the 15th century. Sultan Zain-ul-Abidinis is believed to have sent Persian and Central Asian carpet weavers to Kashmir to teach the locals.
But Shah said the widespread sale of misbranded Kashmiri carpets has eroded trust among the consumers and led to the marginalization of local weavers such as Nissar Ahmad, a 50-year-old weaver from the outskirts of Srinagar who told VOA he works from 9:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. earning the equivalent of just $4.15.
“I have been into carpet weaving for over 35 years and at this age I can’t shift to any other economic activity to earn my living. With this earning, it is hard to manage daily expenses,” he said.
Shah said the certification will help the industry to regain customer trust, leading to a better life for the artisans.
From Gruyère cheese to Tequila, appellations of origin are jealously guarded by local growers and makers, especially in industries in which the quality of the product is directly linked to the place where it was made or grown. Many agricultural products, for example, are impacted by factors such as the climate and quality of soil.
The Srinagar-based Indian Institute of Carpet Technology (IICT) started labeling the Kashmiri carpets earlier this month, embedding such factors into the QR codes as the identity of the weaver, district, raw material, size, knots per square inch, pile height, quality and whether the weaver is an authorized GI user.
That information is readable on digital devices including smart phones, marking the first time the technology has been used in India. “Every piece of information you could ever want to know about a piece of carpet may be found in its QR code,” said Zubair Ahmad, director of the IICT.
Customers who are unable to scan the barcode can verify the product’s legitimacy by typing an alphanumeric code found on the label into a web browser. Ahmad said the label also bears certain information that can be read with infrared equipment, and which cannot be reproduced or damaged.
In order to participate in the program, artisans and manufacturers needs to register with the Indian federal government’s office of the Controller General of Patents, Designs & Trade Marks. According to the Geographical Indications Registry of India, so far there are 25 authorized users in Kashmir.
Shah said the government will be able to map the movement of each carpet in order to better evaluate the international market.
“When a customer scans the QR-tag through a smart phone fixed on the carpet, the department through block-chain technology will be able to trace the geographic location of the carpet and assess the demand from the various countries and will accordingly formulate market strategy.”
The institute has already received hundreds of carpets for labeling and expects the process to standardize the quality of hand knotted carpets. Shah hopes that will lead to Kashmiri carpets being valued on a par for price and quality with the best Iranian and Turkish hand knotted carpets.
A geographical indication can also highlight a product’s human-made attributes, such as manufacturing skills and traditions. The quality of handicrafts often depends on local natural resources and techniques handed down from one generation to the next.