By Yuri Iwahara
Name: Aelfie Oudghiri
Occupation: Founder/CEO at AELFIE
Hometown: New York, NY
Current City: Brooklyn, NY
Aelfie Oudghiri is a rug connoisseur, a mother of a two-year-old, and the owner of an entirely self-made business. When I asked Aelfie if she was considering any other career choices before diving into rug dealing, the self-proclaimed optimist confirmed: “Yes, all of them.”
Turns out, rugs were the way to go. Her aptly named home goods brand AELFIE has been up and running since 2012, and has already gained quite a following. By drawing inspiration from flat woven textiles all around the world (“Navajo to Berber to Kurdish- the whole gamut”), Aelfie creates colorful designs that seamlessly melds the contemporary with the traditional.
I had the privilege of visiting Aelfie’s studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and had a chance to chat with her about her life with rugs. The studio itself is full of them, of course. Rugs on the floor, rugs on the shelves. Rugs splayed out, rugs piled up. Big gold and silver foil balloons resting against the window read out: HIGH ON RUGS.
Aelfie’s own playful energy manifests itself in every part of the studio. In big stenciled letters, the name AELFIE is spray painted in a dark pink on the industrial white brick wall. A tiger cutout that looks both menacing and endearing rests against the wall on top of a pile of rugs. “Oh, that,” she says. “The tiger is by this illustrator that designed one of the blankets. I was like, I gotta have that tiger. I keep meaning to put it in my daughter’s room because it looks so cute, but I also love it so much that I don’t want to part with it.”
As someone who knew virtually nothing about rugs, I had a lot to learn.
What personal connections do you have with the world of rugs?
My grandmother is from Izmir in Turkey. Jews weren’t really rug weavers per se. After World War I, they took a boat from Izmir to Marseille in France because everyone was dying of starvation there. And my great grandfather opened a textile factory in Paris, a knitting factory. So that’s more so my connection to textile manufacturing and production, although I feel like the Middle Eastern, Turkish stuff, is in my blood. The attraction to rugs feels deep in my bones.
Where are your rugs made?
The weaving happens in Northern India. There’s a guy there I speak to everyday. It’s cottage industry weaving, as opposed to factory [weaving], so some of it is done in homes. The work is more flexible than what we think of in an American factory where the hours are 9 to 5 with a 30 minute lunch break. It ebbs and flows with the demand. [The weavers] all like the designs- I’ve gotten a lot of feedback about that.
Who are your rugs for?
I think its 25- to 34-year-old women, from what I can tell. New York, LA, London, Melbourne. It’s like, cool city dwelling ladies. But I never thought about the market. When I started, I just thought- well, what would I like? I guess there are a lot of people like me.
How do you lead people to the right rug when they don’t know what they want?
When people come to the studio and try to find a rug for themselves, they want a guiding hand sometimes. Some rug deals have taken a year. I love working with couples because it’s so challenging. It’s hard enough for one person to find a rug.
Do you have any special projects that you’re currently working on?
We just made a bunch of new baskets in Rwanda, and we have a cool new basket imported from Swaziland that’s made by master women weavers shaped like a frog. I’m really into the baskets.
Do you have any advice for first time rug buyers?
When you’re 28, you’ll probably own a rug. Or start going on the rug hunt. Something happens later in your 20s when your life becomes more predictable, and you have a home, and that’s when you start thinking seriously about a rug.
Buy the rug first, because it’s way harder to find the perfect rug to match everything else. Start from the ground up. Don’t compromise on the rug. People get these weird- they’re just like, oh let me get this beige thing because I’m scared to get the crazy rug. I don’t understand why people are so scared to get crazy rugs. When they’re down [on the floor], they’re pretty innocuous.
In what way are people scared of the crazy?
I’m always perplexed. People fall in love with the wild version of a rug and then they’ll take it down a level and compromise with something less interesting or less colorful out of some kind of fear that creeps in when people are interested in especially eccentric textiles, home furnishings, or clothing too. And I’m like, what is this fear? Fear of going insane because of the colors? Fear of being out of step with societal norms? Fear of color? Just fear, period? I don’t know.
What’s your advice for those people?
You see the crazy thing and you’re like, can I pull this off? Of course you can! All you have to do is put it on your body or put it on the floor and you have pulled it off! Go for the crazy option. Because why not?
Yuri Iwahara listens to sixties jazz when she’s cooking in the kitchen. She’ll talk to you about art, plants, or that bizarre online article you just read.
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