March 25, 2015
Q&A with RALO
RALO, a Tibetan Carpet Company located in Tribeca, continues to design and celebrate traditional Tibetan rugs.
by New York Spaces
NYS: When was Ralo established in New York?
RALO: Ralo was founded in 1985 by Tsering Lhungay, a first generation Tibetan immigrant, making it among the first Tibetan-owned and operated family businesses in the US.
NYS: What sets Ralo apart from other rug companies?
RALO: Ralo's vision and driving force is our commitment to preserving authentic Tibetan culture and identity. As our most important goal, it affects all that we do from our social charitable contributions to our high ethical standards when it comes to our products and services. Ralo remains a family business owned by Tibetan immigrants.
NYS: Where does the name come from exactly?
RALO: "Ralo" signifies the ancient and arcane heritage of Ra Lotsawa Lhun Drup Gay Khang, a famed 11th century Buddhist teacher and translator. Ralo's founder, Tsering Lhungay, is a direct descendant of the last practicing Ralo Lama who passed away in a miraculous way in 1973 in Nepal. The company title is particularly apt because Ralo strives to "translate" Tibetan craftsmanship, aesthetics and values for a modern Western audience.
NYS: What do you mean when you say Ralo carries completely handmade Tibetan rugs?
RALO: Exactly as it sounds! Every step of our carpet weaving process is done by hand, preserving the traditional hand-crafted nature of Tibetan rugs. This means we hand-card and hand-spin the raw wool, a time consuming and costly process that we insist on as it contributes to the distinctive characteristics found in each Ralo carpet- an organic and textured pile that is both aesthetically pleasing and durable with minimal shedding. Next, we hand-dye the yarns and hand-knot the rug before hand-washing and hand-finishing the completed product. Thus, the Ralo process avoids any mechanization and follows the ancient but arduous methods without compromise.
NYS: How is the Tibetan culture integrated into your rug patterns and designs?
RALO: References to Tibetan Buddhist iconography and culture are pervasive throughout many of our rugs designs and even our showroom's design - it is inseparable from the identity of our company and team members.
Our "Cultural," "Modern," "Transitional" & "Traditional" Collections feature rugs with numerous esoteric symbols (eight auspicious emblems, etc.) and mythical beasts such as the dragon (Tib: druk), the phoenix (Tib: ja), the garuda (Tib: khyung) and the snow lion (Tib: singhi), the national symbol of Tibet. Many of our transitional and modern designs feature the lotus (Tib: pema), a very popular motif which can be found in Buddhist art. The lotus is clean and pure despite rising from dark and muddy depths and therefore it symbolizes purity and transcendence from cyclic existence.
Furthermore, many of our most popular transitional designs such as Gau, Shopchung, and Tashi Methok actually depict traditional Tibetan motifs and patterns with a modern twist - be it color scheme or layout.
NYS: How do you commit to the social welfare of your weavers and their society?
Ralo's management regularly completes site visits of our workshops to ensure the maintenance of our weavers' welfare. Ralo and its manufacturing partners have a zero tolerance policy for child labor and underage workers.
NYS: What kind of wool do you use in the rugs?
RALO: Ralo exclusively uses high quality long staple "Jhang Bhel" wool sourced from Tibetan highland sheep.
NYS: What differentiates Tibetan highland wool from other wools? What are the advantages of using it?
RALO: Tibetan highland wool is naturally high in lanolin, a waxy substance that extends the life of the rug and has stain-resistant properties. Jangbhel is long staple wool which assures minimal shedding. In short, Tibetan highland wool provides durability, sheen and easy maintenance in contrast to generic carpets made from local, cheaper, lowland wool.
NYS: Are the dyes you use eco-friendly? How so?
RALO: The majority of our rugs are made with natural wool with vegetal dyes created from organic Himalayan herbs and plants. Ralo rugs easily last over 50 years and since wool is a natural renewable fiber it has a minimal impact on the environment.
NYS: Can you tell us about the rug designs that depict Tibetan villages? Where do those designs come from? What makes them special?
RALO: Ralo's Tibetan Village rug is one of the best examples of the saturated color palate that can only be achieved by vegetal dyes. The rug illustrates a collage of simple life in Tibet and was exclusively designed by Ralo with a limited release.
RALO: From the snowcapped Himalayan Mountains in the backdrop to the rice paddies in the foreground, this playful rug depicts vignettes of life on the Tibetan Himalayas. One can easily spot the children, playing outside of schools and the colorful prayer flags fluttering in the wind near the monasteries and stupas that house ancient relics. The quaint houses and villages of the farmers contrast with the decorated tents of the nomadic herders. All the while, the wild and domesticated animals of the Tibet steppes can be seen roaming through the foothills.
RALO: Ralo currently has the largest and highest quality collection of Tibetan Tiger rug reproductions in the United States. Tiger rugs are an exceeding rare and storied part of Tibetan history and only a small number of them were ever brought out of Tibet and documented. Recreating these cherished works is a passion of ours and we take special care to make sure the construction, materials and dyes are true to the original methods used in the original antique rugs. Many of the designs come from our own large collection of antique Tibetan rugs.
NYS: Do you do a lot of custom work? Can you tell us about a particularly special custom piece?
RALO: Yes, a significant portion of our business consists of custom projects for interior designers and individual clients. We especially relish the challenge and pleasure of a unique custom design. In a recent example we were approached by a client who had a unique vision of blooms whimsically strewn about a majestic field of rich raspberry. Taking into account her preference for a lack of symmetry, we fashioned a brand new design by throwing actual flowers randomly on to the floor and mapping out the layout based on where they landed.
NYS: You do a lot of custom and commercial work. What is one of your biggest commercial products to date?
RALO: While many of our rugs ultimately end up in private homes and boutique hotels around the world, one of the most exciting commercial assignments we undertook was for Loews Regency Hotels suites. We created custom Ralo rugs for Loews Ventana Canyon in Tucson, AZ, Loews Coronado Bay Resort in San Diego, Loews Vanderbilt Hotel in Nashville, TN, and Loews Miami Beach to name a few. The hotel chain informed us that a few clients actually commented on the beauty and uniqueness of our rugs instead of appreciating the newly renovated suites!
NYS: Where else can we expect to find your designs in New York?
RALO: Our rug designs are exclusively carried by our SoHo showroom at 29 Howard Street. Our rug pillows can also be found in several high-end interior retailers such as Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams and The Rubin Museum of Art.