Earth Rug artisan at work

Spring 2020
Earth Rugs By Jess Schmidt

A maker with a focus on inspiring hope for the future

Eco-friendly is the buzzword in the gift industry at the moment. It seems to be defining everything good that humans are able to do and inspire hope for the future. With so many new companies jumping on the bandwagon and telling reduced environmental impact stories, we’re starting to see manufacturers seek out materials that were brushed by the wayside when cheap plastic materials became the best way to make money. Plastic is out, and natural materials are in. This includes a material that predates human historical record: jute.

Earth Rugs is in the business of importing jute rugs from Bangladesh. The journey of these rugs to American gift shops began in 1976 when Ed Back traveled from Europe to India, hitchhiking and taking buses for an entire year while seeing the world.

Earth Rugs Owners
Ed and Rose Back.

Back had a stop in Dhaka, Bangladesh on his return trip to the U.S. He saw plush pile jute rugs dyed in brilliant shades in a market there; these rugs were nothing like anything he’d seen in the U.S., and he immediately began to imagine building an import company to bring the beautiful rugs to his home country.

We know what you’re thinking. What is jute — and what does it have to do with rugs?

In the world of rugs, we’ve seen wool, cotton and man-made materials as the major players since 1947, when nylon, polyester, acrylic and rayon were introduced, but with the recent shift in popularity to natural materials, we’re also seeing synthetic fibers being dropped for materials such as hemp and jute.

Hemp is all the rage, but jute shouldn’t be overlooked. Jute was favored by residents of the Indus valley, in modern day Bangladesh, as long ago as around 3000 B.C. It was exported to other areas of the world by the British Empire and is still grown for textiles, known especially for its natural fire retardance and very durable fibers. It’s used in sacs for grains, clothing and other textiles.

Terracotta colored rug from EarthRugs

Since it comes from a fast-growing reed, jute is renewable and a green material. It also doesn’t require pesticides or fertilizer, so growing it does not have a negative impact over the ecosystem from which it is harvested. It is biodegradable and water resistant. Its water-resistant properties make it ideal for materials such as rope and rugs.

In 1977, Ed Back returned to Bangladesh and searched for those jute plush pile rugs again, which he found in the same marketplace in Dhaka. He sought out the manufacturer and made arrangements to import the rugs; Back thought the rugs were a great value and would be a coveted item in the U.S. market — where nothing like the rugs existed.

Table collection from Earth Rugs

The first places he was able to sell them were in mall stores and then big box stores, where the rugs were most popular. In 1996, the manufacturer stopped making the carpet-like plush pile rugs and switched to braided painted rugs. Today, the rugs are popular in gift shops and no longer sold by Earth Rugs into the big box stores. They are available in a multitude of designs and colors and the jute is also woven into coasters, baskets, placemats and chair pads.

Nautical Fish table linen collection from Earth Rugs

Ed Back and the team at Earth Rugs takes pride in being the first to bring plush pile and later braided jute rugs to the U.S. market. Their rugs are organic, eco-friendly, water-resistant, fire-retardant, easy to clean, durable and come in a multitude of color palettes and designs. They are available woven from dyed jute as well as stamped with popular designs. They are happy to drop ship in the continental U.S. and Canada for a modest $3 fee and do not have a minimum quantity for orders.

Jess Schmidt

Jess brings a creative writing degree and over 16 years of professional writing experience to her role as content marketer for the Great American Media Services and SmartSolutions teams. With her additional background in the design world, she works with clients to make their brand stories stand out. Her specialties are thought leadership, compelling descriptive language and marketing strategy. She moonlights as a contributing writer with Gift Shop Plus from time to time.

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