My Life’s Work | Christopher Sharp, Co-Founder of The Rug Company
In this weekly series, we meet a Walpole member executive to discover what makes them tick, how they define success, and what keeps them awake at night. This week we meet Christopher Sharp, co-founder of The Rug Company, who discusses Tibetan sheep, breathing new life into the rug industry, the importance of surrounding yourself with innovative people.
As co-founder of The Rug Company, Christopher Sharp’s vision has brought together the age-old craft of rug making with contemporary design. Twenty years ago, he established a company which is now represented in 13 countries, and offers a major source of essential employment in Nepal. He has helped to invigorate an ancient craft and triggered a revolution in rugs. The success of The Rug Company’s collections is grounded not only in Chris’ passion for rug collecting, which was initially ignited while he was working in film production in the Middle East, but also in a determination to ensure that every aspect of the company meets the highest standards while retaining a strong humanist stance.
Chris has always put the quality of the product before economic temptation and understands that satisfaction is derived from doing everything well. When he started the company with his wife Suzanne in 1997, the rug industry was in a spiral of decline, reproducing copies of rugs from the glory days of the 18th and 19th centuries but offering little to future generations. This is no longer the case. Uniquely, Chris has commissioned some of the world’s most influential and inspirational designers including Paul Smith, Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, Tom Dixon, Diane von Furstenberg, Matthew Williamson, Jaime Hayon and Marni, and works closely with them to create collectable pieces that capture the spirit of our times.
What does British luxury mean to you? Luxury has become a rather unhelpful term, hijacked to describe anything from crisps to boats. I think that if something has been made with genuine craftsmanship and designed with authenticity it’s probably something worth owning. I sense a genuine over-saturation with ‘stuff’ so having fewer, special things, feels better. I take great pride in our association with British designers and we have collaborated with some of the finest. Creativity breeds so if you surround yourself with innovative people, it’s going to rub off.
What’s your vision for The Rug Company? To continue to be innovative. The vision has been consistent, we’ve always wanted to handknot original and contemporary rugs to the highest standard. We need to keep the highest standards and avoid taking short cuts. We want to build a catalogue of extraordinarily well-made rugs, beautifully designed, which will be collectable in the future.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? Helping, with others, to breathe life back in to an industry that had stopped innovating.
How do you define success? Distancing oneself from the ‘ordinary’. What’s your greatest extravagance? I have a pilot’s licence and I love flying so that involves plenty of unnecessary (extravagant) travel!
What do you like most about your job? Being able to take a design concept and then have total control of the whole process; from the manufacturing, through to the marketing and sale. It all starts with a Tibetan sheep and it’s wonderful to see, four months later, the finished rug in someone’s house.
What’s the smartest business idea you have ever had? When we first set up the business we invited ten of London’s top Interior Designers each to design a rug for us. It worked on a number of levels. It gave us product that people wanted to buy and relationships with ten great interior designers.
What was your big break? There have been some people who have made introductions that have changed the course of the business. As an example, Lucinda Chambers (formerly Creative Director of British Vogue) instigated our first fashion collaboration with Marni. This was a seminal moment which changed the business, as was bumping in to Paul Smith in his shop on Westbourne Road.
What is your guiding principle? Make a work environment that people enjoy. I’m a good delegator. For the first ten years of the business no one left.
Which living person do you most admire? It’s hard not to say Obama, particularly when we are now in such dire straits with clearly reckless, self-serving leaders. Suzanne (my wife and fellow co-founder) has had the most positive influence on my life.
What keeps you awake at night? I sleep very well. That’s a question investors invariably ask!
What do you most value in your friends? Humour.
In a parallel life, what would you be doing? Very easy, I’d be a bush pilot on my own game reserve, in Africa, and an utterly brilliant tennis player.
What piece of advice would you give someone entering the luxury industry now?
Make sure you do something, at least one positive action, for the business, every day to make it better.
For more information, please visit The Rug Company.