Understorey Crafting Ethical Luxury: One Knot at a Time

Rooted in the rich tradition of Indian storytelling, the vision of the Understorey is to transmute the user’s narratives into exquisite rugs – timeless treasures that echo through generations. By Aishwarya Kulkarni

“Hand-knotted rugs go beyond just being useful; they’re pieces of art themselves,” says Rahul Kapoor, the Co-founder of Understorey, and this truly encapsulates the essence of what Understorey stands for. Understorey is an atelier for bespoke rugs, meticulously handcrafted by the esteemed artisans of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, India. Rooted in the rich tradition of Indian storytelling, the vision of the organisation is to transmute the user’s narratives into exquisite rugs – timeless treasures that echo through generations.

“The name ‘Understorey’ symbolises the verdant undergrowth beneath a forest canopy, unfurling tales beneath one’s feet, bridging the gap between sole and soil and evoking the lushness of the wild. Each rug unravels on the floor like verse, speaking a dialect of color and design that can be tailored to mirror each person’s distinct style and persona,” says Sanjana Kapoor, Chief Marketing Officer & Public Relations at Understorey, when asked about the origin of the name.

The genesis of Understorey traces back to a saga that commenced in 1916. Continuing a lineage spanning four generations devoted to the art of rug making, Understorey flourished within the esteemed confines of SN Kapoor Exports in Jaipur, which mainly catered to the international market. As Understorey evolved as a brand, their rugs travelled a large domestic market, and continued to infuse Indian homes with the subtle opulence. In a world filled with machine-made products, hand-knotted rugs stand out as rare treasures. Centuries ago, they adorned the palaces of Mughal kings, symbolizing luxury.

Skilled women artisans at the forefront of hand-knotted rug weaving.

At the heart of Understorey is a purpose – to empower people with ethical luxury. India has the highest number of weaving communities in the world, and the first step was to identify the weaving communities, and harness the untapped potential. The Company established training centers in Utrada, near Bikaner, Rajasthan and currently is proud to have over 1200 looms and a workforce of 3500 artisans. After carefully analysing the rug-making process, which was historically male-dominated, the Understorey team was able to intervene in the existing socio-cultural eco-system and introduce jobs for women. The women were trained to do carding of the wool, one of the initial and intrinsic steps of rug-making, which helped them get financially independent and secure their future.

From yarn to loom, women artisans infuse every hand-knotted rug with passion and precision.

The carpet-making process unfolds through over 30 intricate steps, predominantly manual, embodying a commitment to artisanal talent. The journey of a rug begins with sourcing yarn (wool, cashmere, silk, mohair) globally, primarily from India, followed by carding.

“Design development is crucial, tailored to concepts or custom orders, with precise dyeing using an in-house software for accuracy. As opposed to vegetable-colour dyeing which is not reproducible, Understorey opts for Chrome Dyeing from Germany for consistency. Weaving, a meticulous handcraft, takes 6-10 months at an average, or upto two years longer for custom projects. Post-weaving, rugs undergo diverse finishing and washing methods, ensuring quality and sustainability,” says Kapoor.

The organisation tries to reduce the machine-use at all steps of the rug-making process.

The collaborative effort of the local community, weaving together to craft exquisite hand-woven rugs.

Understorey holds government certifications for water treatment and zero discharge – with 90 percent of wastewater treated to be reused. The rest of the 10 percent is evaporated, leaving no residue which can be harmful for the environment. As hundreds of hands work on one piece, every rug is curated to the end-users’ aspiration, each its own minute uniqueness!

‘Metamorphosis’, from the The Kintsugi Collection.

Some of the work that best highlights this craftsmanship is from the Kintsugi Collection, which is an exquisite hand-knotted rug that combines hand-carded Indian wool with metallic threads, creating a luxurious blend of tradition and innovation. These rugs are a revival of the ancient art of rug weaving in Jaipur, Rajasthan. Inspired by the philosophy of Kintsugi, which repairs broken ceramics with precious metals.

While the team experiments with materials, there is experimentation with colours and concepts too. For example, symbolising the passage of time,

The Moirai from Greek mythology represent the weavers who spin, measure, and cut the thread of life for every person. The rugs of this collection embody a portal that peers through the passage of time, depicting layers of contemporary hues, of weathered time, unveiling antique motifs from bygone years. Understorey x Rex Ray Collection marks a tribute to the illustrious legacy of American artist Rex Ray, renowned for his visionary pop aesthetic.

The ‘Labyrinth’ weaves 81 knots per inch, bringing Rex Ray’s pop art to life in every detail. In collaboration with Samad Brothers Inc.


Genesis is a robust blend of wool and silk in subdued latte and silver tones.

Understoreys’ work has impacted hundreds of families to preserve their traditional knowledge of weaving in India.

“One weaver, who worked with my grandfather, had sons who worked with my father, and his grandsons are now working with me,” says Kapoor with pride. Transcending mere production, Understorey has woven threads of sustainability, cultural heritage, and economic empowerment into the fabric of society – one knot at a time.