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Phyllis Ripple Weaves Trendy Hemp Rugs Using Ancient Methods

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Colorado might be on the cutting edge for adult-use marijuana laws, but if you chat with Phyllis Ripple, you'll quickly realize that when it comes to hemp, this state — and the entire country, in fact — are far behind the times. Ripple runs ecoFiber Custom Rugs out of Boulder, and her rugs can be found in upscale boutiques in New York, San Francisco and select other cities. She started working in the carpet business in 2005; prior to that, she was raising children and collecting rugs in Pakistan, Indonesia and Egypt — which is how she got the idea for her current business.

"There wasn't a lot to buy, but you could always get handmade things, and we started collecting rugs," Ripple explains. "They're easy to move, you can always roll them up, and you may not be able to bring everything you own, but you can bring rugs pretty easily. I became familiar with what a good rug looks like and how one is made." And hemp is one of her favorite fibers.

"Hemp has been used in rugs for centuries," she explains. "It's a very traditional fiber, and it’s so sustainable. When you live in countries that have a limited economy, you see so much pollution and deforestation and detrimental effects on water supplies. I didn't want to participate in that to any strong degree, so hemp was an obvious option for me."

As a rug-making fiber, hemp's appeal stretches far beyond dorm room or head-shop decor. "It's really versatile," Ripple says. "The color is almost a vibration; there is a variation in the color of hemp from season to season when you treat the fibers naturally. Hemp can be used for a very sophisticated look in interior design and in rugs, and I think that most people don't think of it as a fiber that would be a fine fiber. But it's all in where you source the fiber and how that fiber is released."

Ripple also works with cactus, hemp, nettle and other plants, many of which grow wild in western Nepal in remote areas; that's where the hemp that Ripple uses in her rugs is grown and spun. "They don't require any irrigation, cultivation or use of pesticides or fungicides," she explains. "They're very hardy."

She also appreciates the use of traditional methods to treat the hemp fibers. "My personal philosophy on rug-making is that the finest and most valuable rugs in the world have been made in a very low-tech way," Ripple notes. "We don't even rely on the availability of electricity. My suppliers only work during the daylight hours and don't use factories. All the looms are communal looms, so families can stay together and don't have to travel into a city. It's very much a cottage industry, but the supply of hemp is superior and plentiful." She imports the fair-trade, ecologically sourced hemp to this country, where she uses it to create custom rugs.

"It gets softer as it ages," she continues. "Hemp isn't stiff and prickly feeling when you walk on it because of the way we work with the fiber."

Ripple designs and makes each rug to order; prices depend on the size of the rug and materials used. Find more information here.

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