The Economics Of A Single Moroccan Reed Basket

One of Tigmi Bag's many bags.

One of Tigmi Bag’s many bags.

By Dan

The reed of each bag is meticulously collected by hand from a near by river. The artisans weave the reed strands together with palm rope on a horizontal loom to create panels of reed. The bag takes its final shape when the families sew the reed panels together and attach handles made of genuine leather. The process takes hours of skilled work. It is no easy task.

With the amount of work it takes to create one of the bags, it might be a surprise to learn that the families of Tigmi Bags make a whopping $0.24 in profit for each bag they create.

Yeah, that’s right. The material costs for one bag is around 10 Dh, or $1.16 US. The artisans then sell their work to Moroccan resellers in a near by city for 12 Dh, or $1.40 US. The artisans, for obvious reasons, prefer to sell their product in huge quantities — it’s the only way they can make a living from the products they create.

The resellers in near by cities willingly buy in such huge quantities because the products are immensely popular and profitable. Take a short walk through any souq in Morocco and you’ll find these baskets for sale starting around 200dh ($23 US). The families of Tigmi Bags keep about 6% of the selling price. It is not hard to see why artisans remain so poor even when their products proliferate across the country.

Limitations Of Current Fair-Trade Models

It is this environment that has given rise to fair-trade, a movement focused on ensuring artisans are paid a fair-wage for their work. But even this movement has its limitations.

In the case of Tigmi Bags, fair-trade organizations pay around $4 US for a bag at

wholesale costs. While that is a substantially larger sum than traditional middlemen, it is not uncommon to find the same bag for sale for $50 on socially focused e-commerce sites. Again, the end result isn’t much different than working with traditional middlemen as Tigmi Bag families keep around 8% of the final selling price.

The fact that artisans make a fraction of the final sale price isn’t always because resellers and organizations are exploitive; it is just that the sellers have their costs to cover, too.

But that’s where the actual problem starts to emerge. The value chain that connects the families of Tigmi Bags to their customer both domestically and internationally is long and at best convoluted. The average international value chain for artisans like Tigmi Bags runs five links deep. And according to flagship fair-trade organizations, it is acceptable for each chain to add a percentage of varying costs to each product as shown on the right.

After reviewing hundreds of e-mails that are sent to artisans in Morocco from their fair-trade partners, it was common to find e-mails filled with complaints anytime an artisan tried to raise their prices. The e-mails frequently accuse artisans of being ‘unloyal’ or ‘unprofessional’ when artisans were simply trying to price what they thought was fair compensation for themselves.

The e-mails were hardly surprising. With so many links in the value chain and a hard price ceiling customers are unable to exceed, there is continuous tension as to where the ultimate value of the product stays. And because artisans like the families of Tigmi Bags have little leverage, they get stuck with the smallest percentage at 8% of the selling price.

Eliminating The Value Chain

Anou changes the very structure of the value chain that separates you and Moroccan artisans. With Anou, artisans finally have the ability to directly connect with their customers, select their own prices and gain valuable skills in the process. Anou’s mobile platform fosters transparency and ensures that the artisan who made the product is paid the price they selected. And better yet, each product is labeled with the picture and story of the artisan who made it. Quite a bit better than a opaque network of wholesalers selling to other wholesalers and then to retailers. Buying through Anou keeps things simple, where the ‘value-chain’ consists of you and the artisan.

There is no better way to explain the impact that Anou has than how Tigmi Bags sells their products.  With Anou, the families of Tigmi Bags sell their work at their ideal price of 100 Dh ( $12 US), nearly three times as much as the fair-trade price they were once paid, and even with direct shipping from their rural village in Morocco included in the price and the addition of Anou’s selling fee of 15%, their prices are equal to or cheaper than typical fair-trade prices.

After a quick search for Tigmi Bag’s items online, I was able to find one of their products for sale by another merchant. The following two screen shots sum up the difference between Anou and other options quite nicely; which would you rather purchase?


Handwoven Moroccan Straw Wine Holder for sale by Traders and Company
$36.50 US Including Shipping

Wine Basket From Essaouira for sale by Tigmi Bags

$35.00 US Including Shipping

It is a pretty easy decision, if you ask me.

Building Up the Photography Skills of Artisans on Anou

Taking great pictures is hard, isn’t it? There are numerous variables you have to contend with to pull off the right shot: lighting, focus, background, angle, the list goes on. This is all a little overwhelming, particularly if you’re a rural artisan who has never used a camera before.

Despite this, we believe that remote artisans can learn how to take stunning pictures if given right tools and guidelines to follow. So how do we bridge the gap between the initial photography skills of Anou’s artisans and the pictures that will help their items sell? By providing simple photography trainings and continuous feedback.

During the process of bringing a new artisan online, an Anou Trainer will teach the artisan basic photography skills that familiarizes the artisans with the basics of a camera and how to take a picture. This focuses on basics of every picture such as centering objects and making sure objects aren’t cut off in the view finder.

Once they start feeling comfortable with the camera (usually right around when they figure out the difference between the subtle focus button and the full take-a-picture button), the Anou Trainer will start to slowly immerse the artisans into the details that make up a requirements for product pictures.


Annemarie, RPCV, teaches Fatima Haddu how to take her very first picture.

Add MediaWhat we’ve learned from teaching many Moroccan artisans is that the quickest way to start teaching such a complicated skill is to create basic, yet strict, guidelines that apply in every product photo they take. The guidelines create a predictable pattern for artisans to follow, which in turn helps them navigate the endless list of variables by focusing on a single core task for each picture they take.

If you’ve browsed through Anou already, you may have already deduced what we require for each picture. They include the five following types of pictures that must be taken outside in the late afternoon (courtesy of ):

Picture #1: Full Product Shot


       Picture #2: Close Up Shot


Picture #3: Alternative Side Shot


Picture #4 Surrounding Environment Shot


Picture #5:  Artisan Who Made It Shot


The Anou Trainer will work with the artisans until they can take each picture and can easily recall the five types of photos. Once they do a satisfactory job, the training moves on to other topics.

The training isn’t designed to turn artisans into professionals overnight (well, some seemingly do, as was in Cooperative Chorouk‘s case); rather, we use the trainings to equip them with the basic skills and tools so they can improve on their own with continuous feedback. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of artisans post some pretty poor pictures in the beginning! But that is where Anou’s feedback feature comes into play.

Once artisans start posting products online, they immediately receive visual feedback on their products from prospective customers like yourself, which includes a rating for their product’s photography (learn more about Anou’s rating system here). Again, the feedback keeps a complicated topic simple by providing them with a shaded color (red = bad; green = good) to convey whether their pictures are good or not. If they get dark green stars they’re doing great. If they get dark red, well, back to the drawing board. If they’re receiving poor ratings, they can browse and compare their ratings to the ratings of other artisans on the site to visually see what they could be doing better. If they still wish for more help, they can call Anou’s free support line for more specific feedback.

Just how much can artisans improve on their own with some feedback? Let’s check out Cooperative Atma‘s first attempt at taking pictures and adding them onto Anou. Cooperative Atma is lead by Fatima, who had little to no experience using a camera when she first started. After completing the initial training, Anou’s team left Fatima with a homework assignment: post one item on Anou the day after  our team left. Check out how she and her cooperative did with a collection of samples:

Example Set 1:

Ouch! Atma’s pictures were pretty poor. Red felt background for a green and white rug? Uh-oh! Worse, they only posted one picture for this rug. They pretty much broke every guideline we discussed during our photography training.

We gave Fatima and Cooperative Atma a call and reminded them about the guidelines we discussed and how the quality of their pictures would impact their future sales. They politely brushed off our critiques and did not seem motivated to change their pictures. As a couple days went by and they received their ratings, they wound up with a dark red camera (a one star photography rating):

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 11.47.17 PM

Shortly after, we got a frazzled call from the president, “We got a star!? I will go back immediately and take a better picture!” An image of a single star had made much more of an impact on Fatima than our nuanced explanations as to why she needed to post better pictures. A few attempts later, Cooperative Atma posted the following photos:

Example Set 2:

8f9f19476187186779b7e303696c920e 370cd9393495c6aa9bbdd80dac6ece50 28736a1f87ed6457b4ab6113a8b2ad4c 45990d05195a6d9032a1b725f66959e0 9001253c3275cb313065e367086ebb7b
Much better; they were now following the guidelines even though it was clear that they were still struggling to hold the camera still and they did not realize how it was affecting the clarity and color of their images. What would you have rated their photo? They wound up with a light red camera ( a three star rating):

Screen Shot 2013-08-29 at 12.14.15 AM

Fast forward to today, and their pictures are even better. Check out this item they posted a this past week:

Picture #1: Full Shot


Picture #2: Close Up


Picture #3: Alternative Side


Picture #4: Environment Shot


Picture #5: Picture With The Artisan Who Made It


What would you rate it? They received a perfect 5 stars. As a result, it was posted automatically posted on Ebay and Etsy and the rug sold within 48 hours after it was posted.

Cooperative Atma’s development demonstrates that if artisans are given the right tools, simple guidelines to follow, and continuous feedback, they can improve their skills. Currently, many more artisans are posting their products on Anou and could use your feedback. Be sure as you browse through the site to give them your honest opinion — it’ll only help them as they continue to become better product photographers!