Peace Industry

Peace Industry

This is the story of a single gift that revived a dying craft. In 1999, Iranian-born Dodd Raissnia visited his homeland after 20 years in the U.S. On the trip, he bought a felt rug for his friend Melina, who then became his wife. Melina, now 35, found that first rug “functional, utilitarian, but at the same time really homey. Felt itself has a healing quality. Instantly the images that come to mind are comfort, nourishment, warmth…It’s an instant connection.” The couple decided to return to Iran in 2002, to find rug makers who practiced the ancient nomadic tradition of felt production, with the idea of importing their rugs. Instead, they learned that the felt-making skills were not being passed down, so Dodd took it upon himself to carry the torch. “There were no young people doing it,” Melina recalls; Dodd decided to “learn how to do it himself and train people—younger guys that didn’t come from any kind of textile background.” He started by apprenticing with a rug maker who had perfectly executed one of Melina’s designs (she was enjoying a career as a painter at the time). After completing his extensive apprenticeship, Dodd established a workshop in Shiraz this past October. In a cinder-block factory with 30-foot high ceilings, Dodd’s mentor supervises 15 workers to handle the difficult physical work required for hand felting. “It’s its own set of skills,” Melina says. “When the wool is wet, it is very sculptural. You can actually use tools like a hammer or chisel, and you can make shapes straighter or rounder so all the edges of the rug are hand-shaped.” Meanwhile, stateside, the couple named their venture Peace Industry, and, in December, they opened a store in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood. Now Melina creates her line of simple modern designs, priced at $31–$33 per square foot, and frequently works directly with designers and architects. She also maintains the social philosophy that she has always had: “I had this kind of proletarian relationship to my work, that I wanted to do something that was really contributing to society and the greater good.” Indeed, she and Dodd have done exactly that. Peace Industry still commissions one felt maker to create traditional tribal rugs. Their Iranian employees who are new to the craft enjoy steady pay in a country with typically staggering unemployment. But perhaps more so, “They are proud that people in the West think so much of their tradition. And they know that this is the only workshop of its kind in the world, and it’s in Iran; it’s from Iran,” says Melina.