Officially Partners: The Ministry of Handicrafts and The Anou Cooperative

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Brahim El Mansouri, woodcarver, co-founder and president of the Anou Cooperative, shakes hands with Minister of Handicraft H.E. Dr. Fatima Marouane after signing an unprecedented agreement. 

After two and half years of writing proposals, meetings and hard work, the Anou Cooperative has finally signed an unprecedented agreement with Morocco’s Ministry of Handicrafts, Social Economy and Solidarity. The agreement elevates The Anou Cooperative to an official partner of the Ministry — a status traditionally reserved for government agencies and large international organizations.

More specifically, the agreement creates the framework for the Ministry to include members of The Anou Cooperative in its programming and initiatives, share data and research on Morocco’s artisan economy with Anou’s artisan leaders, and work closely with Anou’s artisan leaders to create policy that better enables artisans of the Anou community to grow their businesses, such as streamlined customs and export processes. Even more exciting is that through the agreement the Ministry has officially endorsed the Anou Cooperative as one of its preferred means to buy from artisan associations, cooperatives, and small businesses across Morocco.

It is truly difficult to underscore the importance of this agreement. After traveling across Morocco and meeting with hundreds of artisans over the past several years there is a tangible feeling of shared helplessness amongst the artisan community who feel they have little control over their future. What often frustrates and isolates artisans the most is the feeling that those elected and chosen to represent their interests in Morocco’s government fail to do so and rarely interact with artisans as serious stakeholders.

Enabling the Moroccan artisan community to build the future of the artisan economy in their country starts with instilling the belief that they actually can. Nothing is more powerful in creating this belief than when Brahim El Mansouri, the president of the Anou Cooperative, a woodcarver, is able to sit down at a table with the Minister of Handicraft as equals and sign an agreement that will alter the future of artisan craft in Morocco.

None of this would have been possible without the tireless efforts of the visionary support of those at the Ministry such as Boubker Mazoz, Nada Baâl, Adil Ibnoutalib, Abdelkarim Azenfar and of course H.E. Minister Dr. Fatima Marouane. This agreement is a testament to how committed the current administration is to building the artisan community and social economy of Morocco.

With an inspired community of artisans empowered by an endorsement and a true partner in their government, it is clear that the best days of Morocco’s artisan community are ahead of it.

The Future of Moroccan Artisan Design

 

Part I: Traditions

Anou Artisans Morocco Fair Trade Rugs

Fatiha (right) sits alongside Brahim El Mansouri of Association Ighrem to create some of her first sketches. 

Fatiha Ait Ouagadir of Cooperative Tifawin, just before becoming an artisan leader, sat in Anou’s office with an unusual request: use colored pencils to sketch out a new idea for a rug. Fatiha sat in her chair struggling to put a pencil to paper. She eventually sketched a design she had woven many times before. When pressed to create something new or simply rearrange the design she had sketched, she struggled more and eventually gave up. It just wasn’t possible, she said.

Fatiha’s story points to the widely held idea that artisans are not designers. Research artisan businesses and you’ll see an economy that embodies this. It may be easy to conclude that artisans can’t design because they’re not capable, but it is actually the result something much more systemic.

Most businesses design products and then have artisans make the product. Rarely, if ever, are artisans truly consulted on design work. Generally, a Moroccan artisan’s input goes only as far as a designer gaining inspiration from the artisan’s culture and traditions. Outside designers then drive innovation and change by refreshing, revitalizing or incorporating a western twist on artisan traditions. The language of innovation and change is often used to describe the outside designer, but rarely the Moroccan artisan. This is because if artisans were to drive change, the traditions they represent might be lost forever. Instead of change and progress, the language that surrounds artisans focuses more on preservation and tradition.

The artisan sector as a whole seems to have accepted all of this as a natural symbiosis between a designer and artisan. Yet this relationship is structurally flawed. The reason is that the artisan and designer are not equal in today’s economy. The designer, who normally controls market access, has full control over the design and can dip into an artisan’s tradition as much or as little as she/he wants.

The less obvious reasons can be uncovered by asking what traditions are artisans expected to preserve? As Ashley Miller, a PhD candidate of art history at the University of Michigan writes in Negotiating Design, “We commonly imagine tradition as a fixed, unchanging set of practices or beliefs; it is something that can be contained, something already complete.” But the reality is many traditions, as Ashley goes on to write, may appear to be timeless but in fact can be dated to a specific time not that long ago. A great example is this rug, which is commonly sold as a vintage, tribal Berber rug, when in fact it is commonly known amongst artisans that it was first designed by a European artist in the 1990’s.

In fact, it is not difficult to argue that most traditional Moroccan designs that many gain their inspiration from aren’t even firmly rooted in the history and culture of Moroccan artisans. In 1914, the French Protectorate initiated a massive campaign via what was called the Native Arts Service to revitalize Morocco’s craft industries. Through their efforts, Moroccan artisans produced work that largely embodied a French colonial notion of traditional Moroccan craft. Even to this day, revered publications on Moroccan design follow the language and structure that the French Protectorate created to preserve what was ultimately their perspective of Moroccan craft and tradition.

If we continue to believe that the purpose of the artisan community of Morocco exists to preserve tradition, then we have to ask if what they are expected to preserve is truly theirs. And if we continue with the belief that artisans can’t design, how will artisans ever be able to drive the progress of their own traditions and craft? If we accept that artisans can’t design then we must accept the incorrect museumification of artisan craft through the sale of vintage products, which omits today’s artisans from the economy completely.

This deeply matters to Anou. Our vision is to create a growing, vibrant, inclusive community of all Moroccan artisans. How can a community possibly grow if it is restricted to a fixed idea of tradition and the creativity and ideas of others? You only need so many artisans to recreate what exists. And in an increasingly mechanized world, it’s not hard for some to question whether artisans are needed at all. In this context, it is unsurprising that the number of Moroccan artisans has decreased from 1.2 million to 400,000 in a very short period of time.

For us at Anou, it’s a false question to ask if artisans like Fatiha are capable of design or if they even should. Rather, Fatiha represents the actual questions that must be answered: How can an economy be created that is capable of unlocking the creative potential and evolving traditions of Moroccan artisans? This is the heart of our vision in creating the future of artisan design in Morocco.

Coming Soon

Part II: Artisans, Designers & Customers: At the Center of Innovation

Part III: Anou’s Collaboration Tool

Refining the Vision of Anou

In 2012 Brahim El Mansouri and I set off with the intention to transform the artisan sector of Morocco by creating a marketplace where any artisan, regardless of literacy, could sell their products directly to their customers. After an exhausting year, we finally completed and released the first iteration of Anou’s marketplace at the end of 2012.

The first year challenged many of our assumptions about the artisan sector of Morocco, many of which were pretty naive. We had thought that ensuring equal access to the global marketplace for artisans was really all that was necessary to transform the artisan sector in Morocco. In fact, our original vision statement simply focused on connecting artisans directly with their customers. But after building what we thought was an innovative site that reduced the barriers for any artisan to sell directly to their customers, artisans didn’t exactly line up to join and we definitely didn’t find many customers.

The first year of Anou felt like a failure because we had changed very little despite our bold ambitions. In retrospect however, the struggles of the first year were crucial because it was the beginning of our understanding about the fundamental problems that affected the artisan community — ones that far run deeper than just access to market or fair wages.

The problems we began uncovering were big, and we were hesitant to continue working on Anou. Morocco, as anyone who has tried to change things here knows, is like a black hole. Once you decide to change something here the work will consume you whole. No matter how knowledgeable or hard working you may be, it is seemingly not up to you as to when, where or what form you’ll come out as on the other side. Brahim and I had many conversations about whether we should push forward or not. Were the problems we kept running into solvable? Could we really do anything about it? We were either going to commit or not at all.

We decided to commit.

Building Community

Of all we learned in the first year, the most important was the necessity of community. The challenges Moroccan artisans face are simply too vast for a small team to tackle: many start-ups and companies flush with cash and good intentions have failed to crack the artisan market in Morocco. For Anou to succeed in addressing myriad challenges of the artisan community, we would have to create an environment where all artisans have a shared purpose in addressing them. The desire to establish this community, one powered by the marketplace we had built, pushed us to commit to seeing the work of Anou through.

In the beginning of 2014, Anou’s focus and vision zeroed in on community, and we implemented several sweeping changes to how Anou worked. First, we began to ensure that a team of artisans from the community could manage all the trainings and onboarding of new artisans on to the site. Toward the end of 2014, we radically restructured Anou’s leadership structure to enable several artisans to gain the experience in managing Anou. Further, we made all of our expenses public so that all artisans could see exactly where Anou’s money was going with the intention to increase buy in from the team and wider community. Then, after a year’s worth of work, we finally incorporated Anou as Morocco’s first national cooperative in June of 2015.

These changes were not easy to realize. In the midst of these adjustments, we were faced with difficult challenges that resulted from bad decisions to other setbacks that were beyond our control. But through all these struggles, Anou’s artisan team developed resiliency — the foundation required to bring our community together.

Today, we now have a team of six artisan leaders who can manage all the daily operations of the site, including payments, fulfillment, troubleshooting, and much more. Such tasks that have traditionally been outsourced to fair-trade organizations or middlemen are now being completed by a team with an average middle school education. During this time, our sales increased from a thousand dollars a month back in 2013 to a new record setting month of nearly $31,000 USD in May of 2016 — putting $500,000 in annual sales within reach. 83% of that revenue went directly to the artisans who made and listed the sold products, with the remainder going towards Anou’s budget. Last month, nearly 50% of our operating budget was used to pay artisans from the community to maintain and grow Anou.

Anou’s Vision

Several years ago, while sitting in a presentation by the Ministry of Handicraft, an official noted that there were 1.2 million artisans in Morocco. A couple of months ago, the Ministry informed the Financial Times that there are now 400,000 artisans in Morocco. While the wide difference in numbers may be likely the result of a new way of categorizing artisans, the decline is real. We’ve heard unofficial statistics that the number of artisans in Morocco decreases by 17% per year, and our observations support these numbers. Meanwhile, the Ministry also reports year over year increases in overall sales of the artisan sector of Morocco. In addition, the rate of new fair trade retailers only seems to increase. These trends represent an alarming dissonance that points to the fact that the existing model of the artisan marketplace is not working.

These numbers make us feel as if we have accomplished very little since we launched Anou over four years ago. But similar to the end our first year of work, the past three years have been an immense education for us on the challenges that face the artisan sector in Morocco. We’ve learned that in the midst of the multitude of challenges artisans that face, there is only one systemic problem: artisans have no voice or power to address any of these issues for themselves.

Despite the endless institutions, organizations and businesses designed to support artisans, no initiatives take empowerment to the level where artisans actually gain power or a voice in how the artisan sector should work. There is a fundamental assumption that artisans should just create and leave the rest of the work like design, selling and business development to others because they cannot do it.  The problem is that the ‘rest of the work’ is where influence, creativity and wealth is created. The ‘rest of the work’ is the only way that artisans can create value that goes beyond the low ceilings of fair and living wages defined by others. Enabling artisans to own the ‘rest of the work’ is the only way that the status quo will ever change.

Four years since we began Anou, we’re at a crossroads once more as we ask ourselves what is the vision of Anou? What do we want Anou to be? We could simply be complacent in where we are today and accept there are certain things aren’t just meant to be changed. But everyday we wake up driven by the belief that Anou, powered by its community and marketplace can enable all artisans to become masters of their craft, design, business, and ultimately the artisan economy in Morocco. Through Anou, we believe that artisans will bring themselves in from the fringe of their economy to the center of it and shape the trajectory of Moroccan craft in the 21st century. We will know when we have succeeded when there is no longer an annual decline of artisans in Morocco because Morocco’s youth pursue craft not out of necessity, but because of the future it represents.

By no means will realizing any of this be easy. None of the work thus far has been.  But as we sit at a crossroads today, the decision to pursue this vision could not be any more clear.

Anou’s New HQ in David Beach, Morocco!

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Anou’s new HQ in David Beach. 

We’re so incredibly excited to announce our new HQ in David Beach, Morocco! This move has been a couple of years in the making. Through 2014-2015, we have been building a decentralized leadership team and structure for the Anou community.

This structure created deep bench of six artisan leaders that could help manage many aspects of Anou’s operations. However, by the end of 2015 our decentralized structure could no longer effectively meet the growing demands and complexity of Anou’s operations.

In December 2015, we launched a pilot and brought out artisan leader Rabha Akkaouai to work full-time at our office in Rabat. After the first month of full-time work, Rabha was able to get one on one attention and training that should couldn’t receive remotely. As a result, her ability and knowledge increased exponentially. For example, after one month of full-time work at Anou’s office in Rabat she was successfully managing all payment transfers that are required to send the money from a customer to an artisan’s bank account.

We eventually brought out all artisan leaders to work in full-time shifts of either two weeks or one month at our Rabat office. Like Rabha, all artisan leaders had huge jumps in knowledge and an increased ability to manage Anou’s operations.

As a result, we prioritized finding a HQ that could enable a large number of artisan leaders to live and work full-time on Anou’s operations. We also wanted a space where the artisan team and artisans from the community could receive tailored support across all critical areas that the Anou community faces.

Our new place in David Beach will enable us to do exactly that. Our new HQ includes an office, a large design studio and a dormitory that can accommodate artisan leaders, visiting artisans, and soon, leading experts from around the world. It is also only 30 minutes from Rabat and Casablanca so that the artisan team can manage our shipments and other necessary parts of our operations.

Over the next several months we will begin sharing how we will be putting our new space to use. We have no doubt that our new HQ will accelerate the growth of Anou’s artisan leaders and the rest of the artisan community in Morocco!

 

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Rabha Akkaouai of Cooperative Chorouk and Mustapha Chaouai of Association Nahda manage orders and payments from Anou’s office. 

 

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At the new design studio, designer Sabrina Krause Lopez provides visiting artisans with design support on their new product ideas. 

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Anou’s HQ is a short 4 minute walk from one of the most beautiful beaches in Morocco — a source of endless inspiration for all visiting artisans. 

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Anou’s team and artisan leaders set up a bonfire on the beach to celebrate the end of another successful work week. 

 

 

From Prehistoric Rock Carvings to New Designs

 

Touda lives in Ait Bouli and is only a 25 minute drive to the near by prehistoric rock carvings. Last month, she visited for the first time ever to gain inspiration for new rug designs rooted in the culture of Ait Bouli.

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The picturesque and mysterious Tizi N’tighrst rock carvings of Ait Bouli are relatively unknown except to the local villagers of Ait Bouli. The carvings sit on a pass between two villages of Ait Bouli, often only frequented by shepherds and villagers traveling to the weekly souk. Little is known about them, but many say they are over 3,000 years old and may have been an important religious site. This is not lost on Touda, who believes that these carvings are an important part of Ait Bouli’s culture.

 

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Touda photographed her favorite symbols from the carving site with her smartphone. When she returned home sketched them in her drawing book. Here are a several of her favorite:

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After a week or so, Touda had developed over 20 designs and worked hard to integrate the symbols into her sketches:

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Touda thought hard and received feedback from Anou’s artisan leaders and team and eventually selected her favorite design to weave. After a month of weaving, her newly designed rug was complete!

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You can now find it on her online store at:

www.theanou.com/product/5800

Making a Post Office Profitable, For the First Time

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The small, yet booming post office of Oued Ifrane, Morocco.

About 400 meters up the road from the Association Nahda’s workshop is a small, aging post office. But don’t let the modest exterior fool you, this post office has the highest volume of outgoing shipments of all post offices in the Ifrane Province. In fact, in 2015, the Oued Ifrane post office was profitable for the first time in its entire existence — a rare feat for a rural post office.

The anomaly caught the attention of a senior executive of the Moroccan Post. Earlier this year, he opened up a fact finding mission to determine why a post office in such an unassuming place was doing so well.

The executive traveled to Oued Ifrane to interview the post office director. The story goes that when the executive asked the director why the post office was doing so well, all the director had to do was point because at that exact moment a group of women from Association Nahda were walking in with another packaged rug, ready to be shipped.

Oued Ifrane is not unique. An increasing number post offices in Anou artisan villages are processing the most outgoing shipments in their province. The post office in Tabant, Ait Bouguemez processed more outgoing shipments than any other post office in the Azilal Province beginning in late 2014.

All of this activity transforms each post office’s bottom line. And as each post office’s revenue increases, so does the budget they have to hire more people and provide better essential services to the local population. Everyone in Oued Ifrane depends on the post office for one thing or another, whether it be pensions or state subsides for school supplies. Post offices with an Anou artisan group near by are often better equipped to provide those essential services, benefitting the community at large. The post office in Tabant, Ait Bouguemez now has enough cash on hand to pay out pensioners in a timely manner, rather than having villagers come back everyday for a week or two to see if the post office has received another cash transfer from Rabat.

Stories like these bring light to the often overlooked benefit of buying direct from artisans and the effect it has on the wider communities in which they live. As Anou grows and scales, we aim to integrate as many local institutions as possible so we can cast the largest ripple effect in all communities across Morocco. With your support and purchases this is not such a distant reality.

When the women finished shipping their rug at the post office in Oued Ifrane, the senior executive ordered the director of the post office to “take care of these women — they are important.” Indeed, they are.

April’s Featured Artisan Group!

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The members of Association Nahda pose with a newly woven boucherouite rug in front of their new workshop.

We’re excited to announce our first ever featured artisan group: Association Nahda. The weavers of Association Nahda were one of the earliest groups to join the Anou community and have since become one of its biggest, most successful groups. Throughout the next couple of weeks, we will be sharing behind-the-scene looks and stories about the association, its members, and the impact they are all having on their local community of Souq El Hed.

During this time, all of our supporters will be offered a 10% discount off all of Association Nahda’s listed products and custom orders. Find something you like or want to have made by Association Nahda? Just contact us at hello@theanou.com for the discount code!

 

 

Shipping From Rural Morocco to Any Country in 5 Days

Last October, we were excited to announce that all shipments above 5kg would begin to be shipped by DHL.  Prior to working with DHL, our average shipping time to the United States was 3-5 weeks. Now our shipping average is down to just 5-13 days with shipments delivered by DHL.

Yet we know we can do much better. Our goal is to ensure that orders fulfilled by any artisan in Morocco will arrive at their customer’s address in 5 days flat. This means the waiting time for someone in Los Angeles who is buying a rug from a remote village in Morocco would be the same as if their friend sent a letter to them from New York via USPS standard mail.

To do this though, Anou and the artisans of our community have to overcome numerous, complicated, yet solvable challenges. As such, we wanted to give all our supporters a look behind the scenes of what it takes for artisans to fulfill orders and how all of us are working to reach our goal of a five day delivery timeline.

What it Takes to Ship From the High Atlas 

One reason why the logistics of shipping orders in Morocco is so complicated is that each artisan within the Anou community faces unique challenges, all of which require unique solutions. Association Timdokkals, one of the best selling groups of 2015, was in the unfortunate position of facing the majority of challenges that artisans across Morocco face when shipping products. Fortunately, their challenges make for a great case study.

Every time a customer purchases a rug from Association Timdokkals, the women receive a text message containing the address where to ship their order. Within 24 hours, the women prepare the order and package it for shipment. The women typically work in shifts at the association — half the women work in the morning and half the women work in the afternoon. So whenever a sale is made, a designated woman from the active shift packages the order.

 

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Sana, (left) is one of the weavers who helps with packaging Association Timdokkals’ orders.

 

 

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In the beginning of 2015, the president of Association Timdokkals or its members took their shipments to their local post office, about 5 kilometers away. However, their orders began to overwhelm the post office. By mid-2015, the post office, which has no paved road to it and is one of the most isolated post offices in Morocco, was shipping the highest volume of national and international shipments of all post offices in their province. In fact, many other post offices where artisans within the Anou community operate, have become the highest volume shippers in their respective provinces as well. Even better, because of these shipments, some post offices have become cash flow positive for the first time since they opened — decades ago.

However, this success brings additional complexity.  Timdokkal’s post office, since it used to ship so little, previously contracted a local taxi driver to ship out their mail. But the taxi driver could no longer fit all the shipments into his trunk. The driver eventually grew frustrated that he was no longer delivering a small bag of mail every week and eventually quit and refused to ship artisan products. Now, the Moroccan National Post Headquarters is rumored to have approved a shipping van for Timdokkal’s post office, but it may not arrive until next year. As a result, Timdokkals and two other artisan groups (The Imelghaus Cooperative, and Touda Bous-Enna) in the area that share the same post office have collectively begun paying a local taxi driver to drive their shipments to the Moroccan Post’s regional distribution center in Azilal until the new van arrives.

After the women of Timdokkals package their order, they now walk it over to their local village store and they call their local taxi driver who comes and does one pick-up per day, if the mountain weather permits.

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The local taxi driver stops by the village store to pick up people, and rugs.

 

The taxi driver then drives two hours over two mountain passes and drops the shipments off at the Moroccan Post Office’s distribution center in Azilal, the capital of the Azilal province:

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Once the order is dropped off at the distribution center, the order is then either shipped to directly to the customer or  to Anou’s office in Rabat.

Shipping Directly to Customers

If an order is under 5 kilograms, the artisans will ship it directly to the customer via standard international priority from their local post office (or regional distribution center in the case of Azilal). When an order is dropped off, it usually takes anywhere between 2-5 days for an item to arrive at the Moroccan Post’s international distribution center in Casablanca, where it is then immediately forwarded to the country where the customer lives.

Currently, 70% of the Anou community’s orders are destined for the US and this is where it gets complicated. Once orders arrive at the USPS distribution center in New York, an order can sit for a day, or weeks, and we won’t know because the USPS won’t register the shipment until they move it, not when it arrives. The reason why standard shipping takes 3-5 weeks, is because of the USPS, not the Moroccan Post as is commonly believed. Other countries, including those as far as Australia and New Zealand, only take 10-15 days to arrive.

Anou’s Office in Rabat

It is because the uncertainty of the delays with standard shipping that prompted us to begin working with DHL. Our goal in the near term future is to have all artisans ship their orders directly to DHL’s warehouse from their village, but we’re not quite there yet. As of today, all of our DHL shipments are sent to Anou’s office in Rabat instead.

Shipping from anywhere in Morocco to Rabat takes between 2-5 days. Once the shipment arrives at Anou’s office, Anou’s artisan team inspects packaging and opens up select packages for artisans who may previously have received complaints to ensure an order’s quality before it is shipped shipped on. Most importantly, routing orders through our office is enabling us to standardized our labeling process and troubleshoot problems that may clog up our soon-to-be full integration with DHL (e.g. artisans improperly weighing their items or poor packaging for fragile items).  As we find problems with a shipment, artisan leaders, such as Rabha and Mustapha (pictured below) call up the artisans who shipped the item and teach them how to fix the mistake. Because of their work, the artisan leaders are significantly reducing the amount of errors made by the artisan community.

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Artisan leaders Rabha Akkaoui and Mustapha Chaouai inspect shipments before DHL picks them up.

Once all the items have all been cleared at the office, the artisan leaders call a DHL courier, who then swings by our office and whisks off all our orders to DHL’s warehouse.

 

Abdullah, DHL's amazing courier, picks up shipments from Anou's office.

Abdullah, DHL’s amazing courier, picks up shipments from Anou’s office.

DHL normally ships a package immediately and it arrives anywhere within the world within 72 hours. However, until we’re able to standardize all artisans shipments,  DHL can only send our shipments on Saturdays. So with 2-5 days local shipping, and depending on the day it arrives in Rabat, items currently take between 5-13 days to arrive at their final destination.

With the hard work of artisans in their workshops and Anou’s artisan team, we are quickly reducing our error rate and will integrate the community’s shipment within the next couple of months. And once we hit that milestone, all items shipped by the community will reach any corner of the world within just five days!

 

 

 

 

The Anou Community Now Ships With DHL Express!

dhlIt goes without saying that the logistics of enabling a community of hundreds of artisans to ship from medinas of the imperial cities or from villages in the Atlas mountains directly to your door are incredibly complicated.

Over the past several years, we’ve learned a lot to ensure that your orders arrive as affordably, safely and quickly as possible even in the most difficult conditions. During this time we’ve learned obvious truths like fragile things can and will break in the mail. And as a result, we’ve adapted to these challenges like making sure artisans are better trained in packaging and ensuring customers are promptly refunded if their orders are damaged.

But we’ve also learned some not so obvious truths that are much more difficult to solve. Like the United States Postal Service, which delivers all our shipments in the United States. At the beginning of this year, winter storms paralyzed USPS’ distribution facilities affecting over 30% of the community’s orders to the US. Nearly $2,000 in product was lost and many shipments arrived over four months late. Meanwhile, the Moroccan Post dealt with similarly large storms and flash flooding, and yet they did not lose a single shipment. If we could not fix the problem of the USPS, which was then processing over 70% of our orders, it would likely put Anou out of business.

As a result, last summer we began discussing potential solutions with DHL in Morocco. Excitingly, over the summer we had artisans send some of their shipments from their village, via the Moroccan Post to a regional DHL distribution center. The initial tests were promising as the shipping times dropped from the average of 3-5 weeks with the USPS to 5-14 days with DHL. Best part? We were able to negotiate unique rates for the Anou community that are cheaper than the rates provided by the USPS and the Moroccan Post.

So now we’re excited to announce all orders that weigh more than 5 kilograms will automatically be shipped to you via DHL at no extra cost if you are in the United States or Europe. For our customers in Asia, Australia and New Zealand, we will also have your orders shipped via DHL, but as always there might be a little extra cost to cover that extra distance. If the item is below 5 kilograms (11 pounds), you can have items shipped standard or pay a little extra for DHL express shipping.

We’re still compiling data to create accurate delivery estimates, but it will likely take around 10 days for shipments to arrive at your address, regardless of where you live in the world.

If you want to know if a product you’re interested in will qualify for DHL Express shipping, or if artisans can ship to your country, or if you have any questions regarding shipping at all, just reach out to us at hello@theanou.com!

Anou Just Became Morocco’s First National Cooperative

After a year of intense wrangling and hard work, we’re finally excited to announce that our community has been incorporated as Morocco’s first national cooperative. We have been waiting for what has seemed forever to announce this exciting news because this is a big deal.

The vision behind Anou has always been clear: enable the artisan community in Morocco to establish equal access to the global market. But if there is anything we’ve learned since we began our work is that to fully realize this vision we must ensure that community, meritocracy, and ownership are woven into every aspect of how we operate. Our cooperative status enables us to do exactly that.

Community

There are only two conditions to join the Anou Cooperative. First, an individual must be a motivated, Moroccan artisan that makes the products that she or he sells. Second, they must agree to Anou’s transparency requirements. Any artisan that meets these conditions can reach out to us and request to join the cooperative. Artisan trainers and leaders will then meet with the prospective artisan in person at their workshop and if everything checks out, we’ll open their online store and provide them with a basic training so they can hit the ground running. This ensures that every artisan in Morocco can both benefit from and contribute to the community.

Meritocracy

Once an artisan’s store is opened, our platform will soon automatically rate an artisan’s performance managing their online store through key performance indicators such as their product ratings, order fulfillment speed, custom order accuracy, among many other important factors. Performing at a high level will soon enable the artisan to lower the fees added to the products they list on their online store. Additionally, when artisans reach a high level of performance they will be eligible to become a trainer for the cooperative.

Trainers are those the cooperative relies on to either verify and train new artisans interested in joining our community or provide support to those artisans who may be struggling with aspects of their online store. Through this work, a trainer can earn additional income and skills to supplement their sales. But most importantly, the experience as a trainer serves as a rich, real-time training in understanding the aspirations and struggles of artisans across the country. This understanding serves as the foundation for each trainer to develop a voice and a vision for the Anou Cooperative, and in essence, the wider artisan community in Morocco.

Ownership

Trainers who then have a long track record of success trainings and have consistently volunteered to support other artisans or help complete daily operational issues of Anou can then become a leader. Leaders are those in the community who have at every level proven their commitment to supporting the artisan community. They are those who were eager and quick to master the tools on their online store and then just as quick to help others learn as they did by becoming a trainer. Because of their rise through the cooperative, leaders possess a deep understanding of the needs of the community and embody the best of what Moroccan artisans are capable of.

Therefore, those who become leaders earn the responsibility to make the decisions that will shape the future of their community. And this is exactly what Anou’s national cooperative structure enables. Each leader gains one seat on the cooperative board, and with that, gets one vote to cast on any critical decision the cooperative faces. Decisions that were once the domain of others trying to help artisans are now fully in the hands of artisans themselves. How should the cooperative spend its profit? What rules should be implemented that foster a safe, vibrant community? Leaders will have the full ability to decide. No more gimmicky artisan advisory boards for western non-profits. No more for-profit businesses that act in their own interest and then ‘donate’ to the artisan community to compensate. The Anou Cooperative enables true ownership.

Establishing Equality

Creating equal access to markets doesn’t start with developing sophisticated technology or overpriced fair-trade certification. It starts with ownership. Without real ownership of the Anou Cooperative, no artisan would want to spend any of her or his time helping another artisan. And if no artisan is willing to help another artisan, no artisan will develop leadership skills or new ideas that come from teaching and working with others. And with no skills and little incentive to work together, the artisan sector would continue to look as it did prior to when our community began: a powerless group of 1.3 million individual artisans trapped in a zero sum game waiting for their next savior who controls all access to opportunity.

Yes, we understand the concern of whether or not artisans can actually manage and set the direction of an increasingly complex organization. But while creating equal access starts with ownership, creating equal access ends with you. You play an important role in the growth and success of our artisan led community. Each time you tell a friend about your experience buying directly from artisans on Anou, it might just drive that much more traffic to the site and encourage more artisans to reach out and join the cooperative. Each time you like a new product an artisan lists on our Instagram account, that artisan may just gain that extra burst of confidence to believe they can help other artisans in their community. And every time you make a purchase, it gives the artisan leaders validation that their work and effort matters, fueling their ability to make the prescient decisions that will grow their community.

With our cooperative structure and your support, the dream of creating equal access to global markets is quickly becoming a reality for all Moroccan artisans.

Launching the Second Edition of the British Council Common Thread Program!

British Council Anou At the end of last summer, we concluded the first edition of the Common Thread Program with the British Council. The program brought British designer Sabrina Krause Lopez out to Morocco to teach, learn and work with Anou’s artisan leaders in Morocco. Then, all artisan leaders flew out to London with Sabrina to showcase their work at the London Design Festival and visited with leading designers, studios, schools and artisans in London. To say the program was a huge success would be an understatement. The experience exposed the artisan leaders to a wide range of new designs and ideas and the people behind them, fundamentally altering how the artisan leaders think about and value design. Since the artisan leaders returned, some have launched new product lines for 2015 and others began creating drafts of their new ideas for the first time. The program was most successful in the more complex questions it provoked from the artisan leaders: What constitutes a design? How does one continually innovate and evolve their design? How can one’s design be protected? Having the knowledge and exposure to develop, much less answer these questions have long been elusive for the artisan community. That is until now. It is in this context that we are excited to announce the second edition of the British Council Anou Common Thread Program. Our vision with this program is three-fold. First and foremost, we want to continue exposing artisan leaders to as many ideas as possible so they can accelerate the development of their craft and the wider artisan community. Second, we hope that the topics covered will provide the artisan leaders more insight into how they can build the rules and policies that will help further Anou’s evolution into a vibrant community that fosters both skill development and creativity. And lastly, to ensure continuous exposure for the artisan community, we want to continue closing the gap not only between Moroccan artisans and British creatives, but also between Moroccan artisans and Moroccan creatives of the nascent design scene rapidly expanding in Morocco’s urban centers. Starting on August 10th, we will gather six artisan leaders alongside British creatives and three Moroccan creatives to gather for three weeks. Each person selected to attend will be asked to develop a small half-day workshop focused on questions artisan leaders developed after their time in London and/or their creative processes. These workshops will be presented in the first week and will all serve as the foundation for developing a theme that all the participants will each design a new product idea around. Once a design theme has been established, each artisan leader will be paired with a British and or Moroccan creative and will host them in their village and workshop for two weeks. There, artisan leaders alongside their partner will each develop their own product that will eventually be added to a special collection on Anou. We hope that by bringing together designers and artisans from many different backgrounds, it will create a nexus of creativity that will not only transform each person who takes part, but also ripple across the entire Anou community. Does this excite you? Are you a design minded person? Take a look at the call out and submit an application by July 6th! To learn more take a look at the British Council’s Open Call Announcement! https://vimeo.com/106479121

Artisan Leader Rabha Akkaoui Wins GroupX Business Innovation Competition!

Rabha on the stage at X-Maroc!

Rabha on the stage at X-Maroc!

Earlier this week, we were surprised to learn that we were selected as a finalist for Morocco’s Group X Innovation Competition. So with little time to prepare, Artisan Leader Rabha Akkaoui (Cooperative Chorouk) volunteered to represent the Anou community. The requirements were tough: 3 minutes pitch followed by 4 minutes of Q&A in front of an audience of business and policy experts, including the Moroccan Minister of Industry and Comm erce at one point. Anou’s artisan leaders have pitched Anou several times before, including Rabha, but the shorter the pitch, the bigger the crowd and the better competition, the more difficult the pitch becomes for the leader to pull off. Rabha spent the previous 24 hours developing her script trying to distill the message of Anou up until a couple of minutes before the competition began. So when Rabha took the stage in front of 200 people, she was understandably nervous. She started off strong — her hard work was paying off. Towards the end of her pitch though, Rabha forgot her last couple of sentences and froze — but it didn’t matter as the crowd gave her the loudest applause of the day. Rabha left the stage disappointed that she had forgotten forgotten the last sentence, but that disappointed faded when later that day GroupX announced that Rabha had taken first place in the competition! We’re incredibly excited for Rabha. She displayed the best of what the artisan community in Morocco is capable of by competing against some of the best companies and start ups in Morocco. And better yet, she won a prize of 30,000 MAD ($3,000 USD) that will be used to grow the Anou community! Congrats Rabha!

" Quote"

” Rabha is the symbol of the bold Moroccan belief that every morning everything is possible. “

FastCompany: How An Online Artisan Marketplace Wants To Upend The World Of Fair Trade

FastCompany Anou Artisans“Anou developed a language-free interface for artisans to add their own products to the site and handle their own business operations. The process works like this: Anou employs “artisan leaders,” who are artisans themselves and are also literate. These artisan leaders act as managers and trainers for Anou.

Artisans can access the site over computers in internet cafes or on their cell phones, as 2G and 3G service is becoming ubiquitous in Morocco. Once they are set up, artisans only need to take pictures of the good they want to sell and then click the appropriate icon to categorize it as a bag, a rug, a pillow, a bracelet, a necklace, and so forth. They can also set the price and list the dimensions and weight. All of this is done in an icons-based interface with no written words, but the end result as a products page that a consumer in the U.S. would expect to read.”

We’re very excited for the write up by FastCompany’s Coexist about Anou’s platform and community led structure. Head over to FastCompany Coexist to read the whole piece!

Anou Featured By NPR’s Marketplace

NPR Marketplace“Etsy is great for the small-time crafts-person to reach new audiences. But there one problem: If you’re among the millions of artisans around the world with limited reading and writing ability, it won’t help much. Anou, a new website launched in Morocco, helps rural artisans cut out middlemen. And you don’t have to read or write to use it. The Anou site addresses the technological hurdle of posting to the web — but that’s just the first step in a much bigger process of becoming actual business owners.”

NPR’s Marketplace ran a great piece that got to the heart of what Anou is all about. Listen to the whole piece at Marketplace!

Anou Nominated for E-Commerce Site of the Year!

Maroc Web Awards We were excited to learn that Anou was nominated as Morocco’s e-commerce site of the year! In order to make it to the finals, Anou must generate enough votes to finish in the top five. From there a committee of heavy weights from Morocco’s start up and business communities will select the winner based on criteria such as innovation, impact and originality.

So in order to get Anou to the finals, all you have to do is vote for us on the Maroc Web Awards site. It’ll take 30 seconds of your time and three clicks of your finger!

Vote below!

http://marocwebawards.com/mwa8/anou/

PCV Rebecca Levy: The Azlag Dagger Cooperative is going to America!

Note: We’re excited to have our first guest post on Anou’s blog by Rebecca Levy. Rebecca is a currently serving Peace Corps Volunteer working in Kala’ Magouna. During her service she has been working extensively with the Azlag Dagger Cooperative and is now fundraising to bring the Azlag Cooperative to America! Learn more about this trip and the work she has been up to below!

A 10 foot dagger commissioned by the local government, made by the cooperative this past year, a welcome sign as you enter the city of Kelaat M'Gouna (the city of Roses and Daggers)!

A 10 foot dagger commissioned by the local government, made by the cooperative this past year, a welcome sign as you enter the city of Kelaat M’Gouna (the city of Roses and Daggers)!

It’s been a busy couple of months for the Azlag Dagger Cooperative, a unique dagger making cooperative in southern Morocco, in the town of Kelaat M’Gouna.  With opportunities to attend two festivals in America this coming year, their efforts to make “English-friendly” advertising and sales has been upped.  The cooperative has attended the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, in Santa Fe New Mexico in both 2012 and 2013 — with the help of Peace Corps volunteers.  After sales were not as high the second year they attended, the cooperative decided to take a year off of applying to the market and work to diversify their product line as well as improve their international selling skills. In the new year of 2015, we are pleased to announce that the president of the Azlag Dagger Cooperative will be attending a 2-week jewelry and gem show/exposition (JOGS) in Tucson, Arizona from January 29th-February 9th, 2015 and then again the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market in July 2015.   Although, these international fairs are great selling and learning experiences for the cooperative, the cost of travel and lodging is quite a huge investment for the cooperative.  To help cover the costs of these trips, I have launched a crowdfunding campaign to help fund the trips: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/azlag-dagger-cooperative-artisan-fairs-in-usa/x/5471909 Furthermore, in order to help explain to international buyers the unique nature of the traditional Moroccan dagger, the dagger workers and I worked with an amazing film producer from Ouarzazate eNews to create a short promotional video for the Azlag Cooperative.  Since the Azlag Dagger Cooperative is working hard to expand their presence online, the video was a great way to help international customers see how the daggers are made.  The video shows in detail the handmade nature of the craft, explains the different types of daggers, and tells customers about the uses of a dagger.  The Azlag Dagger Cooperative has a Facebook page, their online store on Anou, and a website. With over 60 customers working at the cooperative it is vital that they expand their market and sell their craft to the larger international market.  The daggers they make are well known throughout Morocco and the cooperative is one of its kind!  In addition to daggers, the men at the cooperative are skilled metal workers, making anything and everything from jewelry to lanterns to mirrors to beautiful tables.  A new cooperative building is hopefully going to be built in the coming year and the executive team has big dreams for the expansion of their trade.  Welcome anytime to Kelaat M’Gouna to visit this amazing cooperative!

Making Anou’s Expenses Publicly Accessible

Recently, a fair-trade business owner visited one of the cooperatives Anou serves looking to purchase several “fair trade” rugs. The artisans told the fair-trade business owner that their prices were the same in their workshop as they are on their Anou online store. The fair-trade owner complained that the prices listed online were too expensive and that they expected that prices would be cheaper at the workshop. However, all prices on Anou are set by the artisans that made the products. The difference between purchasing from an artisan workshop in person or via their store page on TheAnou.com is essentially zero minus the shipping costs.

Undeterred, the owner began to increase the pressure, refusing to buy anything if the prices were not reduced to a level the owner deemed acceptable. Since it was only two days before the biggest holiday of the year in Morocco, and a holiday for which everyone saves their money to buy food and gifts (Eid Kabir), the women of the cooperative panicked and gave the owner a 10% discount on their rugs, amounting to about $5 USD discount per rug.

We contacted the owner directly about sourcing products through Anou in the past, but they said,  “the prices listed on Anou are too expensive and I have business costs to meet.” One month later, the $45 rug was listed on their website for $366. A description of the rug stated, “with the purchase of this rug, you directly support [artisan’s name] so she can better support her family.” This begs the question, was discounting the artisans by $5 really necessary? And does an 813% retail mark-up really follow the fair-trade business owners claim that their fabrics are “fair and honest”?

A Lack of Transparency

The challenge of finding an answer to the question of whether a $5 discount was necessary points to the significant and troubling lack of transparency within the fair-trade industry.

Unfortunately, there is no incentive or even a remote expectation for fair-trade businesses to be completely transparent about their costs. Customers must simply trust that a business is fair and practices what it markets. This holds true for established fair-trade organizations as well. Their slick websites display dazzling statistics about their operations, such as impossibly low overhead costs so artisans can get the “fairest” price. But dig a little deeper and you often find that fair-trade marketing focuses far more on evocative photos than on substance.

To glimpse beneath the surface, track down an organization’s 990 report (you can do that on www.guidestar.org). 990 reports are where tax exempt organizations in the US are legally required to publicly list their expenses and revenue. While 990 forms don’t provide that much clarity on an organization’s budget, they’re clear enough to see some pretty big red flags. For example, the two founders of one artisan focused organization collectively earn over $200,000 in salary annually. These two salaries account for nearly 50% of their entire annual budget and is likely greater than the value of all products purchased and sold in the same year. To cover these “overhead” costs, the organization raises funds through charity. Do their donors understand how much of their donation is going towards initiatives that may or may not benefit artisans or follow “fair trade” principles? Do their donors know how much artisans really make working with this organization? Without full transparency we are left to simply trust the information they market.

This lack of transparency always leaves artisans in Morocco with the short end of the stick. Artisans are regularly coerced into giving much more than $5 discounts because of someone else’s business’ costs, fair-trade or not. The worst part? The end customer never even knows. As long as this continues, artisans will remain disenfranchised and poor, which only provides the fuel for the endless parade of organizations trying to save them.

Opening Up Anou’s Expenses

Anou is breaking this monotonous cycle by empowering the community of artisans in Morocco to drive their own growth and development. Naturally, financial transparency has become the backbone of ensuring this community is capable of establishing equal access to the free market on their terms.

IMG_0192

When Anou’s artisan leaders input their expenses, they’re automatically categorized on our public budget.

This is why, starting today, Anou is making its real time data for expenses publically accessible. Next, we will begin building the tools to publicly display the revenue of our community in real time. This way when purchasing from artisans in the Anou community, customers will know exactly where their money is going. No need to take our word for it or believe that “all money goes to the artisan!”, you can simply see it for yourself. This document is what we use internally to record and track our costs, so you see what we see in realtime.

While this decision uncomfortably challenges the status quo, we believe it is absolutely necessary for us to do. We cannot create the trust needed for the artisan community to coalesce if only a select few can view Anou’s expenses — it is the artisan’s money after all. Nor can we create the expectation for artisans within the community to become more transparent if we do not set the example ourselves. Lastly, if we do not do anything, there is no incentive for anyone else in the fair-trade industry to ever change.

At first glance, full transparency might be perceived as naive, idealistic, and/or unrealistic. But is it really? One business in the US, Bufferapp, recently made all of their salaries and sales data open to the public in real time. The move was heralded as ground breaking, signaling a new era in how businesses are run in the 21st century. This company isn’t a social enterprise, nor does it have a traditional altruistic mission. Bufferapp simply develops a software application that enables people to easily manage multiple social media accounts. If a private for-profit company with no direct purpose in helping marginalized populations can execute transparency better than everyone in the fair-trade industry, it is naive and unrealistic to believe that fair-trade should remain the same.

As we continue our push to full transparency, we ask that you join and support Anou to realize a marketplace that works for both artisans and their customers. You can show this support by spreading the word about Anou’s work, purchasing through Anou, or doing something as simple as asking a question about our budget in the comments below so that we can make our budget more understandable. With your help, artisans will no longer settle for $5 discounts and customers around the world can buy with the knowledge that their money is going where it is meant to go. 

View Anou’s Real-Time Expenses:

English & Arabic 2014/2015/2016

Note: We’ll be exploring our budget more in depth in forthcoming blog posts. In the mean time, ask us any questions you have below!

Sustainable Tourism: Journey Beyond Travel and Anou

One unexpected lesson we’ve learned building Anou’s online store is just how many customers find us before — or after — a trip to Morocco wanting to buy directly from artisans. We used to put any visitor on TheAnou.com in touch with artisans in the community, but we ended that as soon as people started showing up extracting discounts and their guides started taking commissions from artisans.

Instead, we thought the more sensible way to address this demand was to partner with socially conscious tour agencies and operators. We could provide them with all the information required so their clients could visit the artisans in the Anou community in person — something that we can attest there is a huge demand for. In return, partner tour agencies would help us explain the values of the Anou community to their clients during their trip. Most importantly, these tour agencies would not take commissions for any sales their clients made from artisans within the Anou community. We ended up pitching this idea to ten socially focused tour agencies in Morocco.

But this led us to another unexpected lesson: just how difficult it would be to pull off. All but one agency gave us an immediate no. According to several of these agencies, many guides supplement their standard pay with commissions and would never agree to giving them up. This partially explains all those awkward experiences customers had with their guides on their trip to Morocco. Moreover, as per Moroccan law, tour agencies in Morocco hire guides or drivers as contractors, not as full-time employees. So even if the tour agency wanted to agree to our conditions, they wouldn’t have the ability to hold their contractors accountable.

One tour operator, Journey Beyond Travel, agreed to at least meet with us to discuss the challenges in realizing such a partnership. The owners, Thomas and Fazia, had a lot of knowledge to share on the topic because their guides had already rejected their efforts to eliminate the practice of commissions from their business years ago. The owners said their motivation in trying this was because commissions negatively affected the experiences their guests had on their trips. They also felt that the commissions didn’t line up with the ethics of their business. Despite all of this, they were still pretty hesitant to address this topic again with their guides and drivers.

But what makes Thomas and Fazia different from other owners we talked to was that they had an impressive understanding of how things in Morocco work on the ground mixed with an unyielding desire to build a great tour agency that gives back to Morocco and their clients. This might sound like a marketing shtick, but when you consider that Thomas was a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco and Fazia is just about to complete certification in sustainable development, well, it all just kind of fits together. Perhaps then it wasn’t so surprising when they decided to go all in and see if they could find a way to work with Anou.

Over the last several months, Thomas and Fazia took the time to meet with all of Anou’s artisan leaders in person to learn about the needs of the artisan community. Similarly, they explained to the artisan leaders the needs of their guides. Throughout it all, they tried to find a middle ground that could work, which included ideas like increasing pay for their guides (which is already well above normal market pay). These efforts all culminated in a meeting last month where Kenza Oulaghda of Association Tithrite (http://www.theanou.com/store/13) presented Anou and our proposal to the guides of Journey Beyond Travel. The guides were initially skeptical of the agreement but Kenza, with the support of Thomas, Fazia and Aicha (JBT’s cultural coordinator, who previously was a program assistant for Peace Corps for ten years), was able to win the support of all of JBT’s guides and drivers. Their approval of this agreement is truly unprecedented and we believe it will serve as a significant first step in ensuring that artisans can benefit from tourism in Morocco.

Journey Beyond Travel, Anou, Sustainable Tourism, Responsible Tourism

Kenza, bottom left, takes a picture with Thomas, Fazia and Journey Beyond Travel’s guides and drivers after their meeting.

As such, we’re incredibly excited to announce Journey Beyond Travel as the Anou community’s first official tourism partner. From here on out, we’ll be recommending any guests to our site who want to visit artisans within the Anou community to Journey Beyond Travel (Full Disclosure: Anou will receive no commission for anyone we forward to them). We are now working on developing a comprehensive guide that will enable JBTs guests to select which Anou artisans they’d like to visit as part of their tour in Morocco. And of course, 100% of the money from any purchase you make during your trip stays entirely with the artisan.

If you’re interested in learning more about the specifics of this partnership and Journey Beyond Travel, please reach out to us directly at hello@theanou.com or visit JourneyBeyondTravel.com.

Suspending a Cooperative From Anou’s Online Store

This month we decided to suspend the account of one of the most well-known cooperatives in Morocco. While the decision was difficult to make, particularly during the holiday rush, it was necessary because we believe that transparency is a cornerstone of Anou’s community.

As we’ve written about many times before, access to limited resources coupled with illiteracy and low-education levels all contribute to the challenging and opaque environments in which artisans frequently work. As a result, many artisans have little awareness of what happens within their own artisans groups, associations or cooperatives. Even when artisans have the awareness to see something wrong, they’re often too afraid to expose the issue so it can be resolved. This makes it frighteningly easy for artisans to be taken advantage of by anyone, including members of their own cooperative.

Sadly, this  was occurring in the cooperative we suspended. We had long suspected that a small group of women within the cooperative were embezzling money, or depending on your perspective, covering the ‘costs’ of operating the cooperative. However, we never had evidence that proved beyond a reasonable doubt that money was in fact being stolen. 

Increasing Transparency

During the last several months, we have continued to tighten up our transparency efforts. This has included actively reaching out via phone calls to artisans tagged as the maker of specific sold products to confirm how much they had received as a result of their sale. In addition, multiple cooperative members became comfortable enough to reach out to Anou artisan leaders and alert them to problems within their cooperative. All of this enabled us to paint an accurate picture of what was happening within the cooperative.

The first thing we found was the true story behind two slightly incorrect custom orders the cooperative had recently made. The president told us that the incorrect designs were the result of having the items handmade. The customer of the rug graciously accepted them as they were.  However, in reality, the president instead bought similar rugs from a local market and pocketed a 400% markup.

We also learned that the members within the cooperative were unaware that they were only being paid 50% of the price listed on their online store on Anou. The officers claimed that the other 50% went to cover the costs of the cooperative. While it is none of our business how a cooperative distributes their revenue, it becomes a problem if none of the members are aware of this information nor agree to it. In this case, the members never knew about this information nor could they, or the officers, clearly explain what the costs were of the cooperative. As the officers fumbled trying to sort out their finances, it was discouragingly obvious that the 50% was exclusively going to three members of the group.

Anou’s Values

These actions not only violated the values of Anou’s community, but threatened the trust the community has built with the thousands of customers who have purchased from Anou’s online store. Anou’s artisan leaders quickly decided to suspend the group.

In preparing to suspend the cooperative, we investigated the situation further to outline what conditions they would have to meet if they wanted to rejoin the community. During our investigation, we found that the cooperative had not held a general assembly in over two years. Annual general assemblies are a legal requirement for Moroccan cooperatives. It is at these meetings where members agree on how payments are distributed within the cooperative. With no general assembly, there was no clarity on where their sales money was going and no one could be held accountable. This makes it incredibly easy for money to disappear.

We decided that if the cooperative wanted to rejoin the Anou community, they would have to hold a general assembly and establish, in writing, what percentage of their sales from their online store would go to cover the cooperative’s expenses. All the members would be required to sign it, and an Anou artisan leader may be present if requested. After a rather intense meeting, the artisans finally agreed to meet these requirements. Once this occurs, we will reopen their store on TheAnou.com and follow up with every artisan after they make a sale to hold them accountable. At the time of writing, the artisans still have not held their meeting but they have told us it will happen soon.

The Deeper Problem

Perhaps the saddest part of this story is that this cooperative is not the only cooperative where similar problems may be occurring. In fact, it is fairly easy to find these groups. We have learned that cooperatives where members are exploited often sell via fair trade businesses where honesty and equality are never measured and enforced down to the member level.

One of the challenges then is how do we continue to grow  transparency across Anou’s community if the cooperatives that have the most connections with fair-trade businesses will be the ones most likely to leave the community rather than to reform how they work. We’ve reached out to some of these fair-trade businesses to discuss having them source their orders through the Anou artisan community where transparency is enforced. Doing so would enable the business to guarantee that their payments were getting where they are supposed to go.  However, a recent fair trade business declined.  They said that by teaching artisans to sell independently instead of through intermediaries, Anou is teaching artisans how to “work outside the system rather than within it.”

When you Google the name of the cooperative we just suspended, you’ll find several articles written by fair trade businesses that canonize its female members. The articles paint the members that were embezzling money from the cooperative as examples of leadership and the steady hands that are working to preserve their craft and heritage. These statements are not false, but they generalize artisans into simple caricatures who need to be saved. This isn’t surprising because when you combine limited on-the-ground knowledge with the primary motivation of driving sales at incredibly marked up prices, these fair-trade businesses tend to gloss over the fact that artisans are no more or less human than the people who purchase their products.

The artisans that contributed to their cooperative’s suspension are not criminals nor saints. Rather, their actions were simply the result of the opaque, challenging environments they work in. Creating transparency in these environments is complicated, so complicated that the only individuals capable of setting the rules to create transparency is the artisan community leaders themselves. This is why having artisans leading the Anou community is so important. Even today, Anou’s  leaders are still sorting out how to create a truly transparent platform that works for all artisans. While it will take the community time to perfect the Anou platform, we couldn’t dream of a better system to create.

Remembering Fadma of Cooperative Taytmatine

Fadma Cooperative Taytmatine

Note: We were sad learn of the passing of an artisan in the Anou community and the people who knew her best asked if they could write a short note about her. We posted it below in English and in  Arabic. 

مجتمع أنو حزين حزنا عظيما بخبر الوفاة المفاجئة للسيدة فاضمة التويمي من تعاونية تايتماتين بسبب مضاعفات صحية. نتقدم بهده المناسبة الحزينة باحر التعازي لعائلة الفقيدةواصدقاءها و نساء التعاونية و كل من المه فراقها.لقد كانت فاضمة دوما الصدر الحنون و الصديق الصدوق، محبة للغير بشكل كبير، توثر الاخر على نفسها. لقد امضت حياتها مع كل من اخيها ووالدتها في منطقة توامة على سفوح جبال الاطلس.

 كانت  فاضمة، دات الاحتياجات الخاصة مند الولادة، في في صراع دائم مع المرض، فلم تستطع التمدرس او العمل خارج البيت. لم تتدمر يوما مما اصابها بل كانت دوما سعيدة باعمالها التقليدية. و لتساعد في اعالة عائلتها و دفع ثمن ادويتها كانت فاضمة تصنع و تبيع زرابي ودمى و بعض اعمال التطريز اليدوية.وكانت تستفيد من بعض التداريب المتوفرة في اماكن مجاورة إلى أن انضمت الى تعاونية محلية حيث تميزت بافكارها الخلاقة.

كانت حرفتها المفضلة حياكة الزرابي، تحيك وتصبغ الصوف المجزوز من الاغنام المحلية لتنسج اشكالا خاصة بها، وفي وقت فراغها كانت تساعد على تعليم الامهات و النساء الاخريات كيفية صنع الالعاب لمساندة التعليم الاولي في توامة.لطالما حلمت بان تسافر يوما الى الرباط.

 ان لله وان اليه لراجعون

The Anou community is sad to hear the sudden passing of Fadma Etouimi of Cooperative Taytmatine due to health complications. We want to send our condolences to her friends, family and the women of Cooperative Taytmatine. Her community describes her as a person who warmed the hearts of all who knew her and quick to smile and welcome new friendships. She loved people and was known to give what little she had to those she felt had a greater need. She lived with her mother and brother in the small rural village of Touama in the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains her entire life.

Born with a disability, she struggled with her health and was unable to attend school or work outside her home.  Fadma never complained about her life though, and found joy in making traditional crafts.  To help support her family and pay for her medicine, she made and sold carpets, dolls, and crocheted items.  She attended trainings offered nearby and joined a local cooperative where she was known to be full of creative ideas.

Her favorite craft was carpet weaving. She spun and dyed the wool sheered from local sheep and wove unique designs into her carpets.  In her spare time, she helped teach mothers and other women how to make toys to support preschool education in Touama.  She dreamed of one day traveling to Rabat.

Revealing Common Threads: Mustapha Chaouai

Learn more about the rug Anou Leader Mustapha Chaouai’s designed during the British Council’s Common Thread Project below! These rugs can be purchased online at: http://www.theanou.com/commonthread

CT_Ammyili_2_72dpi

“Co-Existence” by Mustapha Chaouai
2.3m x 1.6m
Mustapha’s rug is available for purchase at:

www.theanou.com/commonthread

All proceeds will go to Mustapha’s association (Association Nahda) and cover the costs of future artisan-led trainings to grow the Anou community in Morocco.

201408 BC Common Thread Project 275

“The design I created represents Morocco — a country where all people and religions co-exist despite different languages and cultures.”

— Mustaph Chaouai

201408 BC Common Thread Project 290

About Mustapha:

Mustapha’s works as a metalsmith in the small town of Oued Ifrane where he earns his income repairing metal doors, trucks, axles and pretty much any other metal object villagers bring to his shop. It might seem peculiar to many that an established metalsmith would establish a female weaving cooperative, but that is exactly what Mustapha did by founding Association Nahda.

Mustapha, as one quickly learns after meeting him, is an anomaly in Morocco. When he was younger, he was always near his mother and grandmother while they weaved. Just by observing he became skilled in a craft that is reserved for women. With this rare skill set, he thought that he could help create jobs and opportunity for his wife and the women of Oued Ifrane.

Today, Mustapha serves as the artisan director for the Anou community.

DSC_0159
Mustapha’s rug on display at the Common Thread Exhibition at the London Design Festival.

The Common Thread Exhibition Launch!

On Wednesday evening at Design Junction’s VIP and Press opening, the British Council and Anou’s artisan leaders launched the Common Thread Exhibition! The launch kicks off the third part of the British Council and Anou’s Common Thread project. The British Council flew all the artisan leaders to London just in time for the launch. The artisans knew their rugs would be on display but were kept in the dark as to the final design of the exhibition. Needless to say they were shocked to find their rugs amazingly displayed in the middle of a bustling festival!

Anou's artisan leaders after finding their rugs on display!

Anou’s artisan leaders after finding their rugs on display!

The exhibition, in line with the Common Thread project, places its focus on the artisans leaders and their personal stories that inspired all their designs. The feedback so far has been outstanding. Many VIP and press visitors noted that in a festival of designers talking about the obscure artisans they source from, it was refreshing to learn about and see the artisans who made the products on display. And of course, many of visitors were in disbelief when they found out that the artisans designed the rugs themselves while working with designer Sabrina Kraus Lopez.

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Each of the rugs the artisans designed will be on sale throughout the Design Junction event. To order one, just go to our Common Thread page at www.theanou.com/commonthread. The first person to buy a rug will be receive the rug on display, orders after that will be custom made and shipped from Morocco. All revenue from the sales will go directly into the artisan community!

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The exhibition was the result of many months of hard work by the British Council as well as Moira and Kieren of the Faculty, who designed the exhibition. We can’t thank all the individuals and organizations behind making the Common Thread exhibition a reality!

To see more pictures of the exhibition, take a look at our Facebook album of the launch! 

Come See the Common Thread Exhibition In London!

Common ThreadLast week, all the artisan leaders completed their rugs they designed during part one of the Common Thread project and shipped them to London. The rugs will be the centerpiece of the Common Thread exhibition, which will detail the design process the artisans used creating their rugs during the project.

We got a sneak peak of the exhibition designed by Moira and Kieren of the Faculty and it looks outstanding! More excitingly, all of Anou’s artisan leaders will be making appearances at the exhibition to answer any questions you have about the Common Thread project and the Anou community. If you’re in London, we’d love to see you in person!

Here’s everything that you need to know if you’re in the area! 

  • The Common Thread Exhibition will take place at Design Junction from September 17th-21st. Anou’s artisan leaders will be present at the exhibition on the 17th from 4-6pm. All days are free and open to the general public, the 17th however requires registration in advance (register here)!
  • On the 21st at 12pm , the leaders will be taking part in a panel at the Design Junction. Admission to the panel is free and open to the public!
  • Design Junction is located at 21-31 New Oxford Street and is within a short walk from the British Museum. Here’s a map.
  • Learn more about the London Design Festival and Design Junction.

As always, send us an e-mail at hello@theanou.com if you have any other questions! We’ll look forward to seeing many of you there!

Want a Custom Made Rug or Craft? Learn How With Anou!

Custom orders on TheAnou.com are easy. All you have to do is find any product that you love on the site and look for the “Request Custom Order” on any product page.

Request Custom Order Anou

You’ll be given the option to change the dimension or the quantity of the item. The site will then use the prices the artisan has listed on their store to provide you with an estimate. (NOTE: The estimates for currently listed products are accurate. Previously made products may have updated prices — we’ll let you know if this is the case.)

Tip #1: When changing quantity, the site will automatically calculate bundled shipping savings for you! For example, ordering two items will likely cost less than just one due to savings in shipping. Note: This only applies when purchasing from the same association/cooperative.

Once you perfect your custom order, enter in your e-mail and submit the request.  Anou’s community supporter will follow up with you to confirm your order and answer any questions you have. If all is good, the community supporter will submit your request to the artisan who will then provide their official quote. If the artisan’s quote is different than the estimate we provided, we’ll let you know and you can confirm whether you’d like to proceed with the order or not.

If you’re happy with the artisan’s official quote, we’ll ask that you provide the full payment upfront via a Paypal invoice. TheAnou.com will hold your payment as a deposit until the artisan completes the order.

Tip #2: If you’re in Morocco, you can send the payment directly to our account at any Moroccan Post Office so you don’t have to pay any credit card/Paypal fees!

Once the artisans begin we will provide you with weekly updates on the status of your custom order via e-mail. The artisan will do his or her best to take progress photos as they make your custom order request and we’ll e-mail you when they are submitted.

Tip #3: Artisans add progress photos via the community’s Instagram account. Follow the community’s account if you want to the progress photos as soon as they are posted!

Once the artisan finishes the custom order, they will post the item on their store on TheAnou.com for you to review. If you’re happy with the custom order the artisan will send it directly to you! If there is a problem with the order, we’ll promptly refund you your order!

Custom Orders for Products Not on Anou

If you have an item that you’d love to have but isn’t listed on Anou, we might be able to help. Send us an image or description of what you would like at hello@theanou.com. Anou’s community supporter will see if the the design matches up with any existing cooperatives skill sets, designs and/or materials. If there is a match, we’ll submit it to the artisan and get a quote.

Keep in mind that artisans do not create copies of images submitted from other websites. Depending on the situation, we may forward images to artisans so they can serve as inspiration for a new product, but we will never ask an artisan to recreate an item unless it is something that they designed.

Tip #4: Have a product idea that you’d love to see on TheAnou.com? Add it to the community’s Pinterest research board! All items listed on the community’s board serve as inspiration for future products.

Read more about custom orders on Anou: 

Making Custom Orders Work For You And Artisans

The Perils and Promise of Artisan Custom Orders

Common Thread (Part 2): In Sabrina’s Words

The core experience of the Common Thread project is rooted in collaboration, understanding and the exchange of ideas. After the completion of the design workshop led by Sabrina Kraus Lopez (www.sabrinakrauslopez.com), Sabrina accompanied Rabha Akkaoui back to Tounfite where she stayed for three weeks working and living alongside the women of Cooperative Chorouk (www.theanou.com/store/3). In this album, Sabrina reflects on her experiences through pictures taken throughout the three weeks.

 

 

“It is hard to believe that this small mud hut sandwiched in this incredible landscape will now be my workspace for the next three weeks.”

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans

 

 

“The first few days at the cooperative consisted of me staring at the women weave, trying to take in all their movements in order to understand how their looms worked. Once we set up my loom I was ready and excited to begin weaving my own rug.”

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Fatima Haddu,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Looms, Moroccan Weaving, Moroccan Artisans

 

 

 

“At the moment when the women and I realize that I have been weaving, unaccompanied and successfully for the last 30 minutes, there is a loud applause, as only now have I finally earned my place in this remote village cooperative!”

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans , Sabrina Kraus Lopez

 

 

 

“There are two other looms in the Chorouk Cooperative, each carefully shared and cared for by ten women, each of whom can be found preparing, cleaning and spinning wool for weaving, but most importantly, laughing and telling stories.”

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans, Designer Sabrina Kraus Lopez

 

 

 

“I was taken by the individual artisans themselves and their situations, sometimes funny, sad and occasionally touching; each of them has a story to tell.”

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans, Fatima Haddu, Flatweave, Hanbel

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans, Flatweave, Hanbel

 

 

 

“From collecting and spinning the wool, to picking and hand dying the yarn, it soon became clear to me that for the artisans this is not simply a livelihood but rather an intrinsic part of their culture and everyday life.”

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans, Fatima Haddu, Flatweave, Hanbel, Family

 

 

 

“Intensely proud of their heritage and traditions, the Amazigh believe that these carpets have been crucial in keeping their cultures alive. Even today, some tribal women still carry these symbols and motifs tattooed on to their foreheads, chins and arms, in days gone by this would have distinguished them during times of war.”

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans, Fatima Haddu, Flatweave, Hanbel, Fatima Haddu

 

 

 

“After two weeks, I begin to feel settled in Tounfite. Every morning I wake up to Rabha’s amazing mint tea and breakfast, all of which is loaded with sugar to get me through each day of weaving.”

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans, Fatima Haddu, Flatweave, Hanbel, Design Explore, Moroccan Food, Moroccan Cooking

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans, Fatima Haddu, Flatweave, Hanbel, Design Explore, Moroccan Food, Moroccan Cooking

 

 

 

“Later, I finally know how to ask for bread, water, phone credit and make it to the closest store on my own. I also know that the Hamam is one of the best things in town and that Sundays at the souq are priceless.”

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans, Fatima Haddu, Flatweave, Hanbel, Design Explore, Moroccan Food, Moroccan Cooking, Tounfite Souq, Tounfite Market

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans, Fatima Haddu, Flatweave, Hanbel, Design Explore, Moroccan Food, Moroccan Cooking, Tounfite Market, Tounfite Souq

 

 

 

“At the end of my time in Morocco, I have learnt how to say “Hello”, “thank you” and “I am full”, in Amazigh. I am also now familiar with sleeping on layered carpets, having bucket showers and eating with my hands at almost every meal. However, it is exactly these new experiences, sharing of cultures and most of all friendships that I will miss most and what makes collaborations like this so special.”

Anou, Family, Community

Sabrina Kraus Lopez, Rabha Akkaoui, Common Thread, Design Explore, Design Junction, London Design Festival

 

Are you a retailer? Want to support the artisan community in Morocco?

Through Anou’s online store, you can expand your business all while making a real impact in the lives of artisans across Morocco. Learn more about the exclusive benefits of becoming an Anou retail partner.

Exclusive Benefits of Becoming an Anou Retail Partner

Bundled Shipments Multiple orders from the same association/cooperative can be bundled into one shipment to reduce the listed Anou price anywhere from 9-60%. Anou’s artisan leaders will provide added support for your orders to ensure that you get the cheapest (or fastest) shipping option for you!

 White Labeling Create added value for your products by white labeling all of Anou’s information and pictures for each product on your own marketing collateral.

Invoicing Select the products you want to purchase and pay via a single digital invoice.

Order Support Anou’s artisan team can provide added support throughout the custom order process or larger orders for added peace of mind.

 Meet Artisans In Person If you have plans to travel to Morocco, Anou’s artisan team can help arrange your next visit and provide you with on the ground support.

Exclusive Shipping Rates Anou has been able to negotiate reduced shipping costs via DHL and we pass these savings on to you!

Alternative Payment Options You can pay via multiple payment options, even via Transferwise (www.transferwise.com), which can reduce the listed price substantially.

Why Source Products Through Anou?

 Artisan Verification Nobody knows artisans better than artisans themselves. Artisan leaders in Anou’s community travel to the village or workshop of each artisan on Anou to ensure that they are the ones who make the products they sell. Learn More.

Know Who Made It Every product purchased on Anou is tagged with information about the artisan who made it. You can now confidently tell your customers exactly where a product came from and the story behind it.

Transparency Through Anou’s innovative technology, your payment will go directly to the artisan who made it and not the hands of middlemen or other organizations. Learn More.

Artisan Owned  Anou is a registered cooperative in Morocco whose board is entirely comprised of top performing artisans that use Anou. All decisions regarding Anou are made by the artisan board and all profit (which comes from a ~6% fee from each sale) is reinvested into the artisan community.

Artisan Managed  All the operations of Anou, with the exception of customer service, is handled by the artisans themselves. From trainings, to follow up visits, to troubleshooting, stand out artisans in the Anou community fulfill all the core operations of the site. This provides artisans with the opportunity to gain advance skills and work outside of their cooperative, which they can reinvest back into their local communities. Learn more. 

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Does TheAnou.com offer wholesale pricing? TheAnou.com itself does not offer wholesale pricing because we have no control over the prices artisans set for their products.  However, some artisans have provided discounts to customers buying in bulk. If you see an item that you would like to purchase in bulk, submit a custom order request and select the quantity that you want (or if you have something more specific in mind, e-mail us at Hello@theanou.com). The artisans will submit their price for the order, which may or may not include a discount.  TheAnou.com will calculate the estimated shipping cost for your request and combine it with the artisan’s price. Note that bundled shipping products can make items cheaper than a wholesale discount.

I would like to purchase from artisans I know, but they do not use TheAnou.com. Can the artisans I know join the Anou community? Of course! As a retailer, you should encourage any artisans not within the community to join so they can benefit from being a part of the Anou community and so you can be assured that your money is going to the artisans transparently.

There are three requirements to join the community and sell on Anou’s online store. First, the artisans must make the products they sell. Second, they must be motivated to sell their work independently.  Three, they must agree to use TheAnou.com’s transparency tools. If they meet these requirements, all they have to do is reach out to an Anou artisan leader and let them know they are interested. They will then be added to the artisan leaders’ training list.

How Do I Clean My Moroccan Rug?

When we were first asked how to clean and take care of Moroccan rugs, we simply asked the artisans who made them. “Well,” they said, “every month or so just take the rug outside and shake it, rinse it off in the river, then place it over a small shrub to let it dry.” This works so amazingly well that artisans have been doing this for centuries.

But what do you do if you don’t have a fresh, mountain spring-fed river in your backyard, much less in your apartment in New York? The answer, like many things when it comes to best care practices, is preventative care.

Preventative care doesn’t mean you have to tackle anyone who wants to walk on your rug or hang it up on a wall so it is never touched. In fact, it’s kind of the opposite. What surprises many customers is that it isn’t exactly heavy foot traffic that ruins a rug, it’s the dirt that accumulates and embeds itself in the rug over time as a result of the foot traffic. On a micro level, dirt shreds the fibers of the rug and causes it to degenerate over time. The longer the dirt is left in the rug, the deeper it becomes embedded, which exponentially increases the damage.

The key then is to regularly clean your rug so dirt doesn’t have time to make your rug its home. The easiest way to do this is to take your rug outside and shake it out at least once a week. As the artisans always suggest, shaking out the rug frequently is their go-to technique and is a large reason why the rugs they keep in their homes last decades. If this is impractical, you can clean the rug on a weekly basis with a canister vacuum side to side (not end-to-end) with the beater bear set high. This can be equally if not more effective than shaking out a rug. Combining these techniques on a routine basis is ideal.

After several years though, we recommend getting the rug properly washed, particularly if you have pets in your home. Do a quick Google search and you’ll find a lot of advice on DIY rug washing. We simply can’t endorse many of these simply because each rug is so different. If you spent a significant amount of money on a rug from an artisan, it’s best to continue to protect that investment in it with a professional cleaner who can dial up the perfect way to wash your rug to make it new again and ensure it lasts.

When we looked for a professional cleaner to recommend, we tried to find someone who was truly passionate about what they do. It didn’t take us long to find Lisa at RugChick, who has an amazing blog about rug care and maintenance. No really, the blog is so good that it landed her in the New York Times. Lisa, who runs trainings for professional rug cleaners, personally knows an extensive network of cleaners and has an extensive list of cleaners she endorses and we are certain you can find one near your home. Take a look at her endorsed rug cleaning directory.  

Lastly, for any questions that this entry doesn’t answer e-mail us or take a look at Lisa’s blog. Here are some of our favorite posts of hers:

Buying Rugs: Tips for the Nervous Rug Shopper

Shag Rugs: What You Need to Know

How Do I Vacuum My Rug?

Moths, Bugs and Rugs: What You Need to Know

Pottery Barn: Rugs to Run From

 

Does the Anou Community Ship To Australia?

Australia, Shipping to Australia, Shipping Costs to Australia

Cooperative Lfarah (http://www.theanou.com/store/55) ships another rug to Australia!

Yes! In fact, artisans that use TheAnou.com to sell their work frequently fulfill orders from Australia. In terms of sales volume, Australia is second only to the United States in orders that the Anou community receives.

Right now, the prices artisans list on TheAnou.com include shipping to the United States and Europe. In the near future, we’ll ensure that if you’re viewing from Australia, you’ll see prices that include shipping to Australia.

In the meantime, all you have to do is send us (hello@theanou.com) the links of the products that you like and we’ll provide you with the price that includes shipping to Australia.

Here are some other things you might want to know about shipping to Australia:

Shipping costs to Australia are about 2.5-3 times more expensive than shipping to the United States or Europe. So expect a bit of a jump in price.

Shipping times vary, but the average fulfillment time is about three weeks. Orders have arrived faster (10 days) and have sometimes taken longer (5 weeks! Agg!).

The international standard tracking numbers the Moroccan Post Office provides artisans do not work in Australia. We’ve contacted the Australian post about this and they’ve confirmed that standard tracking does not work in their system. Tracking numbers for expedited shipping options (EMS, DHL, FedEx) are the only numbers that work.

Even though tracking numbers do not work, 100% of the items artisans have shipped to Australia arrived safely. If there is ever a problem with a lost order, our partners at the Moroccan Post Office have the means to help us trace it for you.

Do you have any other questions about Morocco, artisans, and Australia? Comment below or write to us at Hello@theanou.com!

Introducing Anou’s Artisan Leader Mentors!

The key to the long-term success of the Anou community depends on whether the artisans and artisan leaders can develop the vision for their own community’s future. As we’ve written before, the more artisans are in control of managing Anou, the more experience they’ll gain in overcoming obstacles. This struggle creates the foundation for artisan leaders to evolve the community as their market changes in the years to come.

While all this makes sense on paper, it gets a bit blurry on a practical level. Many of the challenges artisans will face developing the Anou community are likely to be completely new and very complex. For example, how will artisan leaders continue to maintain and build a collaborative culture amongst themselves and their community? How do they better understand and respond to their customer’s needs and concerns? How can they deal with rapidly increasing sales volumes and improve the community’s logistics?

The answers to all of these will come to the artisans leaders with time. But they shouldn’t have to go at all their future obstacles alone. In fact, there are many successful leaders in Morocco that have already overcome many of the challenges the artisans will soon face. So why not put these leaders in touch with artisan leaders to help mentor them as they continue to build Anou’s community? Starting late September, this is exactly what we are going to do.

Over the past two years, I have been fortunate to meet amazing entrepreneurs in Morocco, many of whom have since become my go-to people when I am need of advice or support. Two of them I believe can be an equal resource to artisan leaders and have excitingly volunteered to become mentors for two artisan leaders.

TFatim_Biaz_1he first mentor is Fatim-Zahra Biaz. Fatim-Zahra was a management consultant in Paris and worked for a wide range of multinationals and focused on areas related to customer experience. Today, she is the founder of the New Work Lab in Casablanca, the most successful co-working space in Morocco. Fatim-Zahra has agreed to meet with Rabha Akkaoui once a month to discuss and share their respective challenges and successes within their businesses.

Hmall_largeThe second mentor is Kamal Reggard. Kamal is widely regarded as the most successful tech entrepreneur in Morocco. After studying and working in the US, Kamal returned to Morocco and soon after launched Hmizate.ma (a daily deals site) and then eventually Hmall.ma, the first e-commerce market place in Morocco. Artisan leader Brahim El Mansouri will meet up with Kamal once a month to discuss their respective challenges and successes. Brahim will also be interning for the day at Hmall.ma, helping out where ever needed to learn how the most successful e-commerce marketplace in Morocco operates.

We’re excited to have the immensely talented duo of Fatim-Zahra and Kamal working alongside Anou’s artisan leaders as mentors. By sharing their experience and wisdom, they will ensure that Anou’s artisan leaders can address the most challenging problems that will come their way in the coming years.

A huge thanks to Kamal and Fatim-Zahra for their support of Morocco’s artisan community!

Anou’s Community Led Structure

Summary: Starting on October 1st, Mustapha Chaouai of Association Nahda (http://www.theanou.com/store/9) will become the Anou community’s second director. This is one of the most important steps in ensuring that the Anou community is always led and managed by Moroccan artisans. The post below discusses Anou’s current and future community structure in detail and why it is so important.  

In January 2014 we officially transferred over the operations of Anou’s online store to leaders within the artisan community and wrote the following on our blog:

“While Anou can now sustain itself independently, can it grow, adapt and thrive independently? Can Anou’s artisan team, with some members who lack even an elementary education, develop the vision required for Anou’s long-term success?”

In the months after Anou’s artisan leaders took responsibility for managing the operations of the online store, there was a mix of excitement and worry. We were excited because, well, the site didn’t implode. We had our fair-share of issues (e.g. failing to follow up orders, wrong orders shipped, poor communication between artisans, leaders and even myself, among others), but it was clear the artisan leaders could manage the Anou community as it was. Realizing our long-term vision of making Anou fully artisan run was tangible for the first time. But we quickly sensed something was off.

Growing Pains?

A lot changed as we moved from 2013 and into 2014, namely that the community nearly doubled in size. The issues we were experiencing after the handover in control turned out not to be just growing pains, they were red flags that the Anou community wasn’t structured in a way which could handle any more growth. If we grew any larger, the problems we experienced wouldn’t melt away, they would be exacerbated.

During a meeting with senior members of the Ministry of Handicraft, they said to us that it was great that Anou was fully artisan run but were skeptical of Anou’s impact since it only reached a couple of hundred artisans. They asked us whether Anou could truly remain artisan managed while having an impact on 1.3 million Moroccan artisans. We understood their skepticism. Ultimately, we don’t want to scale for scaling’s sake, but we cannot create equal access to markets for Moroccan artisans if Anou remains as a small niche community.

The easy answer to this is to simply bring in outside help, whether it be more fair-trade middlemen or volunteers, to scale Anou. But anything that isn’t truly artisan led is not sustainable. The solution to this can only be found within the artisan community itself.

How the Anou Community Has Operated

Brahim El Mansouri, the Anou community's first artisan director.

Brahim El Mansouri, the Anou community’s first artisan director.

Since the beginning of 2014, our structure has been pretty straight forward. Brahim El Mansouri, a woodcarver, served as the director of the Anou community and was the point person for almost every action of Anou. Payments, trainings, outreach, were for the most part managed by Brahim. In addition to him, there were trainers Rabha Akkaoui, Mustapha Chaouai, and Kenza Oulaghda who handled trainings and follow up visits. If a new artisan requested to be trained, or an artisan needed some additional in-person help, Brahim would send out one of the trainers or go himself. Lastly, there was myself. I managed quite a large number of roles, but if I had to pick a title, it would be most akin to a community supporter. I principally oversaw how Brahim and the trainers were doing and would step in to advise when something was amiss. I also dealt with the community’s customers and would simply relay comments, requests and complaints of customers back to Brahim, who would then be responsible for addressing them. I was prohibited from calling artisans myself and had to work through Brahim, who would then address any issues that came up himself or delegate it out to the trainers. This was important because it provided Brahim the crucial experience grappling with and solving the common problems the community faced.

Community Structure August 2014

But this is where the cracks emerged. Brahim could really only handle so much in addition to his work as an artisan and apple farmer. My job turned into constantly reminding Brahim of all the things he had to do, and then occasionally jumping in and take over certain problems because they’d might not ever get addressed. The issues weren’t major, but they clearly demonstrated that if changes weren’t made, the artisans weren’t going to be able to scale the community any larger. We needed to rethink how Anou’s community was organized.

The Challenge of a New Leadership Structure
To create a structure where Anou’s community could scale while remaining artisan led, we needed to find a way to enable existing and future trainers to step up and help manage Anou. The current trainers, Rabha, Mustapha and Kenza, were ideal candidates simply because they have clearly demonstrated their commitment to growing the Anou community. However, at our size there isn’t enough work or funds for four director positions, and at this point, it is too difficult to ask a trainer to work part-time because a) they would never get the opportunity to understand all the operations of the site, and b) it would just be another person for Brahim to manage.

Instead, what became clear is that we needed to find a way to get the trainers to have the same experience Brahim has had this year managing Anou. We discovered that the ideal situation would entail a trainer becoming the director for a set period of time; something along the lines of a director-in-training. If all the trainers had the same experience managing the operations of the site, the trainers would be that much better in supporting the director because they will have a fuller understanding of director’s needs. No longer would the director have to micromanage each trainer. This would go a long way in resolving the recurring issues at our current size. Most importantly, as Anou grows, there would always be a fully qualified pool of artisans ready to step up and take on the management tasks whenever more full-time work becomes required.

The challenge then was getting Brahim to temporarily step down from his position to let the other trainers rotate through his position. When I first proposed this at the end of 2013, he said he would rather quit than relinquish his role. His frustration was understandable, if it wasn’t for him, Anou wouldn’t exist. Moreover, he worked incredibly hard the first year of Anou and much of that time was spent trying to get the now trainers to even consider trying Anou’s online store.

The reality of the suggestion, I explained to him, is that it is not a demotion or promotion of any sort, it is simply a part of a longer strategy that will enable the Anou community to always be fully artisan run. If we didn’t do this, Anou’s future as an artisan run community would be in jeopardy. With time, Brahim understood the importance of the decision and warmed up to it. With Brahim’s consent, Anou’s community structure was set to take shape.

Anou’s Community Led Structure
At our last Anou leadership meeting that took place last in the beginning of August, Brahim and the leaders agreed that on October 1st, Mustapha Chaouai will become Anou’s artisan director for a period of approximately two months, or until Mustapha is fully comfortable in the role. Brahim will work with Mustapha to learn the ropes and adjust to the pace of working with the community supporter (what has been myself until now). Brahim will then assume the work as a trainer alongside Rabha and Kenza. When Mustapha has fully adjusted, he will then step down, and Rabha or Kenza will step up to assume the responsibilities as Anou’s director.

 

 

 

Community Structure October 2014a

The strategy to cycle trainers into the the director position is one of the most challenging decisions we have had to make since beginning Anou. You don’t have to look much further than the nine months it took for us to develop the structure and agree on it. Yet the struggle will be worth it as the new structure will prove to be the most defining decision of the Anou community.

Since we launched Anou, we’ve been driven by the belief that solutions to complex problems that afflict vulnerable communities can only be developed from within. While everyone can unanimously agree that artisan communities around the world are at risk of disappearing, there seems little consensus on how to revive them. Sadly, artisans are rarely a part of this discussion. Artisans, many say, are too poor, too uneducated, or simply that they just aren’t capable of taking part in defining their own future. On the surface, those people may be right. One does not need to look any further than the fact that every effort to support Moroccan artisans is always initiated and managed by foreigners. But this the root of the problem. If artisans aren’t given the opportunity to step up and take control in addressing their needs, then nothing will change. They’ll remain poor, voiceless and reliant on the good intentions of outside organizations.

Anou’s community structure changes all of this. Now, all Moroccan artisans who are willing to work hard and are committed to the growth of the artisan community in Morocco now have the chance to gain the experience and skills necessary to meaningfully contribute to Anou’s vision. Eventually, the Moroccan artisan community will have a voice and presence strong enough to independently shape their community. This is what we mean when we say Anou is community led and managed.

We couldn’t be more excited for this phase of the Anou community to begin.