Over recent years, the Baltimore-based firm Tamarian has been the leading importer of rugs from Nepal into the US. Quietly and efficiently, it must therefore have developed a well-honed formula for success in the high-end rug market. In a recent conversation with owner Ryan Higgins, it became clear that this position as market leader has been earned through a keen focus on the close working relationship that the company has with its network of dealers. Also crucial has been a well-refined inventory programme, with a large quantity of stock ready to ship—unusual in a business that is typically custom orientated and sample based.
At the start of 2020, the company entered a new phase in its lifecycle, with Ryan Higgins buying founder Steve Cibor’s remaining stake in the business. Originally joining the company in 1995 as an artist, Higgins was responsible for steering the firm’s design direction, working on weave and texture and delivering the custom orders (an ever growing part of the business, according to Higgins). Ensuring that collections reflected emerging colour palettes was a none-too easy task for a company that has a network of more than 200 partners, with varying regional yet specific colour requirements.
I talked to Higgins just as the US is emerging from election fervour and (like the rest of the world) enveloped in COVID lockdowns, the company’s singular focus on relationships became clear. Maintaining close ties with the customer has proved to be a winning formula during this potentially chaotic period, while helping Higgins to define the sort of changes that he sees as most immediately desirable. Alongside his annual pilgrimage to Atlanta at the start to the year, he spent time travelling around the country meeting and listening to partner galleries, understanding their requirements and seeing how continued collaboration can help inform the company’s future approach.
The pandemic has affected business, but Higgins reports that, in general, galleries are still doing quite well—indeed, only a few are reporting any falls in sales and enquiries. It seems that, for many people, the enforced stay at home has brought forward plans to decorate. Others have decided to move to safer, less urban properties. There has also been opportunity for designers to complete their planning and ordering for future projects.
The benefit of not having to chase sales targets (to some extent enforced by the difficulties in production and shipping from Nepal) has given Higgins space to think about what Tamarian will look like in the future under his stewardship. Some of his innovations can already be seen. A new partnership with Label STEP builds on the green initiatives he has so far established in his Nepal workshops. During the pandemic the empathy Tamarian has with its workers and weavers has been of particular importance for all involved.
Given Ryan Higgins’s role when he started at the company, it was no surprise to hear about a renewed emphasis on broadening the design portfolio and stronger colouration. In fact during our talk it struck me that Tamarian has received less recognition than it deserves with regard to design innovation. Fabulous new collections have recently been created with local artists Jessie Unterhalter and Katey Truhn. Almanac, made in tandem with paper-cut artist Annie Howe, shows an interesting narrative direction to carpet design that is new for Tamarian.
A recent experiment has involved a collection of smaller-area rugs. One features a tiger, but with a difference: the pile is knotted in reflective yarn so that it throws back light in a different way and glows at lower light levels. There are also continued refinements to the company’s proprietory weave textures, such as the patented all-wool Phoenix weave, with an exciting new TK150 weave that allows for greater gradation of colour. With new lines from India and another collection of rugs being made in Afghanistan, it is clear that there will be many good reasons to keep an eye on Tamarian in the coming months and years.