"Carpet weaving is quite a tricky thing and there are only very few people involved in the industry who don't have a family background," says Jan Kath. The German-born designer is world renowned for his hand-knotted carpet designs, which fuse elements of more traditional Persian carpets with contemporary, minimalist concepts.
Groomed to be a third-generation dealer – both, his father and his grandfather made a living through buying and selling traditional and antique carpets across Asia – he was introduced to the woven world of carpet at a young age. "I remember as a kid having guests from Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, and India at our breakfast table, and playing in my grandfather's warehouse, jumping on the carpet piles driving everyone crazy, because they had to clean it up for the next day."
Despite being born into an industry legacy, Jan wasn't interested in following in his father's footsteps. "It never really crossed my mind. I ran away from home and ended up in India, travelling and holding techno raves."
But, after three years on the road, he ran out of money and was faced with the prospect of returning home to Germany. Stranded in Kathmandu, Nepal, Jan bumped into a German supplier of the family business who lived and ran small factories in the region.
"I remember it well because he gave me my first real espresso in two years. He started talking about his job and how unhappy he was living in Kathmandu, and there I saw my chance."
Determined to remain in Asia, he took a job with the man in quality control and was thrown into the technical side of carpet production. "I worked for him for about two and a half to three years in Nepal, Tibet and Mongolia. I was circling those countries sourcing raw material."
It wasn't long before Jan found himself at crossroads again, propositioned to buy the small-to-medium sized workshop where he'd been working. "Innocent as I was, I agreed to buy the place and all of the sudden I was the owner of a factory – I was just 24. I thought, ‘What did I do?' I clearly underestimated the situation."
It was almost five years before the company's first successful collection was born. Admittedly out of his depth, Jan says, "I had to learn how to use the tools. There was a lot of trial and error involved." Inspired by his travels, Jan's designs began to blend traditional styles with more contemporary concepts.
"I used the very last bit of the budget and we organised a professional photo shoot in an old industrial area in Essen, Germany. The shoot was very successful, it was recognised by international press and by the local and international design community and it was a solid base for us to continue to work."
Having come full circle since running away from his father's carpet business, the Jan Kath empire now employs about two-and-a-half thousand people with sites in Nepal, Mongolia, India, Thailand and, of course, their headquarters in Germany.
"It is really interesting to see that we managed to change the industry because the high-end contemporary rug industry didn't exist before we started and now there are hundreds of people trying to do similar things."
As for what's next, he says, "I can only tell you the name of the next big collection – spectrum. It's all about light and colours."
Jan Kath's rugs are available in Australia through Cadrys.