Dressed for the catwalk, Canadian carpets are taking off

Korhani has upped the style ante by sewing low-priced, stylish rugs into coats and gowns

Kirsten Korhani, creative director of Korhani Home, left, and a model at a recent runway show

Kirsten Korhani can make carpets fly. As creative director of Korhani Home, she has helped revitalize the 112-year-old Toronto-based rug company by sending it down the international fashion runway.

Her carpets, nearly half of which are manufactured in Canada, have made inroads at fashion events in Toronto and Berlin. Korhani, a fashion designer by training, has snipped and sewn her rugs into coats, gowns, headdresses and more, parading them down the catwalk on the backs of fabulously coiffed models.

Carpets are accessories for the home, she says, as covetable as a designer handbag. “When I first got into this industry, I found home fashion to be a little boring,” she says. “That is what inspired me to bring the exciting element of apparel to our area rugs and home fashion accessories. Rugs are the new art.”
Korhani Home is a third-generation family business with more than 150 employees.  It is managed by her husband, Moji Korhani, whom she met when both were high school students in her native Germany, and the company manufactures rugs in Sorel, Que. 

Today, Korhani Home is establishing itself overseas as well. The growth is slow but steady, abetted by a commitment to affordability. With most Korhani carpets selling for less than $200, they are flying out the door, and onto a floor near you.

What’s your market?

We are sold in all major retailers in Canada and have begun our expansion throughout the rest of North America and in Europe. It has been modest so far, but international growth is not something that happens overnight.

How did you translate style into carpets, and take it international?

Everything we do is focused on style and fashion for the home. For us, translating fashion into our products has completely changed how we go to market. We create seasonal collections of area rugs based on the latest fashion trends, just like how apparel is sold.

Should consumers of home decor be following the trends?

We believe the customer should be changing the area rugs in their home seasonally, just as they would their wardrobe, all at an affordable price. This has allowed our customer to step outside their comfort zone, because purchasing one of our rugs is not a huge financial commitment. The customer is now going for colour and bolder patterns, knowing that they can easily change it next season.

A customer can style their home with one of our bright reversible outdoor area rugs in the summer, and easily transition to a soft shaggy rug in jewel tones in the cooler months, without breaking their budget.

How has putting Korhani on fashion runways helped the brand?

People were amazed when we demonstrated how home fashion can be seasonal and displayed on runways just like apparel. We also proved to the European customer that you can have fun with home fashion and that Canadians are fashionable trendsetters in many ways.

How did you start expanding outside Canada?

We worked very hard to create distribution channels here that would allow us to take our business international.

Why Germany in particular?

This is a market I know well. I have a design team there; I have business connections there; I speak the language. Europe has also always been a very environmentally conscious market, a sentiment that has recently expanded to Canada as well, and we felt our UL EcoLogo (environmentally certified) products would be well received there.

Does it always work?

Creating internationally appealing designs is very difficult. It is easy to create a product for a niche market, but to create a product that will appeal to a wide range of international customers is much more challenging. We want to create a piece of art, but it also needs to be commercially viable, while also on trend and fashionable. Now we need to do the same thing but for additional countries. This is where it really comes down to knowing your market.

Do you have to travel much for business?

I like to travel to Europe, and our expansion there has allowed me to do so more often. I also travel internationally on a regular basis for design, fashion and trade events. When your products are focused on the latest trends and designs, you need to make sure that you are always travelling for inspiration to stay current.

How do you handle hiring?

Hiring internationally starts with an incredible HR team that understands your brand, vision and company values. Just as important is building an infrastructure that will allow your team to expand internationally when ready. You need a system that allows you to communicate easily and regularly, policies and procedures that can be followed internationally, and reporting and computing systems that can be used internationally.

You need to take into account different time zones, different languages and different currencies and laws when working in foreign countries, and how these foreign employees will fit in with your current company culture and structure. Communication and collaboration is key.

Does being made in Canada make a difference?
Even though we have very harsh winters, Europeans still like to visit Canada, and love our country. They were so receptive to our products and were fascinated by how we have grown our Canadian-made brand.

It has become important to the customer both internationally and in Canada to know where their products are manufactured. This has been a nice surprise and supports our work to manufacture as many products as we can here. The high standards of our UL EcoLogo-certified and 100-per-cent recyclable products are also exactly what they were looking for.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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