What do you do when you can’t afford the Turkish rug you want for your new home? In Ben Hyman’s case, you start a direct-to-consumer rug brand that taps into your on-the-ground connections in Turkey and saves you (and your future consumers) big bucks on middleman fees. The Oakland, California–based entrepreneur, co-founder of the direct-to-consumer linens startup Brooklinen, and his wife, Amber Hyman, were beset by what he calls “a general lack of transparency, unreasonable prices, and poor-quality machine-made replicas” in their rug search.
The pair partnered with two Turkey-based friends to work directly with artisans and vendors and create an “entirely transparent” supply chain for handwoven, handspun wool rugs. Revival Rugs’ categories include original vintage, vintage overdyed, vintage distressed, vintage antique washed, vintage kilims and vintage kilim cushions, and prices start from $35 to upwards of $3,000. The average price point is around $400.
Hyman dishes on opportunities, challenges and what’s to come:
Why is now the right time for the brand? Have consumers’ tastes changed recently?
In the last 10 to 15 years, there’s been a renewed emphasis on handmade goods and craftsmanship. It emanates from the hipster generation and it’s in many ways a reaction to things like fast fashion; cheap, poor quality products; and conspicuous consumption. Young people today want products with an identity, products with a history, products that will last.
For me, the recent popularity of vintage pieces has to do with the times we live in. Things are constantly changing. Technology and social change can feel unsettling. Vintage products have a soul and a history. They make us feel grounded, connected, and rooted in culture, despite the craziness all around.
There is also a dialectic between people’s identities and their home decor. They choose pieces that they feel represent them, but those pieces can also shape their identities.
This isn’t new. What is new is that people today are living more cosmopolitan lives. They may have traveled abroad, or if they haven’t, they often would like to. Our products reflect those experiences or aspirations.
What has the response been like so far?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive since we launched Revival Rugs, and momentum keeps building. What’s most exciting is how many of our early customers return to us to purchase more pieces for their homes. Many of our sales are from repeat customers who continue to outfit their homes with our rugs. It’s a great sign.
There is a lot of enthusiasm for what we’re doing because customers finally have the option to buy a handmade, one-of-a-kind rug at a price that’s accessible and with the customer support that they deserve. In the past, that option didn’t exist for most people.
Early on, we also noticed that many interior designers were buying our products for their clients so we recently launched a design trade program to cater to people in the interior design industry. In just two months of operating the program, 80 designers have signed up. One of the nice aspects of having a team in the U.S. and Turkey is that we can handpick and customize orders in Turkey while also providing U.S.-based customer service that clients expect and deserve.
Walk us through the process of founding the company. Where did you start? What had you learned from Brooklinen?
Much like Brooklinen, the idea came from a personal pain point. My wife, Amber, and I had moved to Oakland and we were looking for a unique, handmade rug for our new place. However, the rugs that we liked at retail shops and online were out of reach and we didn’t want to settle for a machine-made re-creation from a big-box retailer. In the end, we purchased a vintage rug on Craigslist. When we got it home, we realized we didn’t like it that much and ultimately sold it away a few months later. The whole experience was frustrating.
Around that same time, we passed through Istanbul on our honeymoon and reconnected with Kurt [Korkmaz], a friend and former colleague. Kurt was designing the interiors of apartments in Istanbul. Joyce [Kong], who has a keen eye for design, helped him select the perfect rugs for each unit. Frustrated with the rugs they found on the market, they traveled to remote cities in Turkey and built a network of artisans to supply beautiful, one-of-a-kind vintage rugs. During our trip, Kurt asked if we wanted to partner with them to supply U.S. businesses with rugs.
It was a serendipitous opportunity. The idea of supplying rug stores didn’t interest me that much. But having co-founded Brooklinen, a direct-to-consumer business, I felt like we could apply similar business principles to rugs—and having just struggled to find a nice rug, I knew there was a gap in the market.
The first step to launching was convincing Amber, Kurt and Joyce that a direct-to-consumer business made sense. We then worked as a team for 10-plus months to build a brand we loved and respected, and to refine our product offering. From my previous experiences, I had a rough blueprint for how to make this work, and the whole team grinded across timezones to make it a reality.
With a business like Revival Rugs, the devil is in the details. Working those details out is what sets the product and the experience apart for customers. For instance, what should our return policy be? What are the values Revival Rugs stands for? How should we communicate with our customers? What should the process be to individually photograph 1,000-plus unique rugs? What’s nice with our team is that everyone brings something different to the table, and we’re all really passionate about the product and the mission. That combination has led to great results so far.