Why do Moroccan wool rugs shed? Everything you ever wanted to know about wool, shedding, Moroccan rugs, and more.

One of the more common questions we receive is do the wool rugs artisans list on Anou shed?  If so, how much? And lastly, is there anything that can be done to minimize shedding? Since we’ve launched the Atlas Wool Supply Co, we’ve invested an immense amount of time researching and testing various wool samples from across Morocco to find actual answers to these questions.

The first thing to know is that most natural fiber rugs will shed and all wool based rugs will shed to some extent. This is normal. Wool is a great fiber because it has a natural crimp, which the enables the wool fibers to interlock with each other and limits the rate in which individual fibers to be pulled from the yarn. The crimp and spinning technique with other natural fibers may increase or decrease the shedding of a rug, but wool is always a great option.

When it comes to a wool rug, the most important factor to consider is how the rug was made. Most cheap rugs are often mass produced using machine tufted techniques where wool is punched through a latex base. Initially these rugs may not shed but as these rugs get older (starting at about a year or so), the latex begins to crack and the shedding will increase over time until every thread of wool falls out. In incredibly rare cases a company that produces machine made rugs, like Stitch in Casablanca, will use quality tufted bases made from natural materials that will extend the life of the rug immensely and minimize shedding. Again, such companies are few and far between.

All of the rugs artisans list on Anou’s marketplace are woven by hand which ensures that wool yarns are integrated into the very structure of the rug itself and not just tufted. This substantially reduces the rate of shedding and outright eliminates shedding over time. Moreover, the wool yarn Anou artisans use is also spun by artisans from the Anou community. This ensures that each thread is inspected and the integrity of each thread is considered and spun just right to limit shedding.

What You Need To Know About Moroccan Wool

When considering a handmade Moroccan rug, there are important things to think about when it comes to shedding. The first is that you must absolutely know where the wool that was used to make the rug came from.  If you’re buying from middlemen in Fez or Marrakech or from a reseller on Etsy, this is critically important because the sheep breed and the location where the sheep live all have an effect of the quality of wool in Morocco. For example, sheep in lower altitude areas (like Marrakech) have minimal crimp, have a higher likelihood of containing kemp (hairs that can’t be threaded into wool), and feature a very short fiber length. This is important because if the wool has minimal crimp and or fiber length, it will shed incessantly. And if kemp is present, the amount of shedding will push you to throw away the rug.

All rugs made and sold in the Moroccan medinas (old cities) or by middlemen on Etsy, use wool from local markets. And unfortunately, local market wool comes from one of two places. The first place is from tanneries. This is more of an issue if buying a rug in Morocco in a medina, but it is not uncommon to have rugs made with wool chemically stripped from the hides of dead sheep. Why? Because it is widely available in the cities and is often free. If you bought a rug while in Morocco and seemed fine initially, but several months later it is shedding to a point where the rug is falling apart, you probably have dead sheep wool. We get an email about this about once a month from someone who bought a rug on their vacation and it’s so sad to break the news to them.  

The second place, which fortunately deals with live animals, are sheep from the plains of Marrakech, known as Sardi sheep. Sardi sheep have high proportions of kemp, super short fibre length and don’t take dyes very well. Often times Sardi wool quality is so poor that it can’t be mechanically spun so mills in Marrakech/Casablanca will mix in cotton, synthetics and actual plastics to make the wool thread functional. Because of all the these impurities and improper cleaning (and dye chemicals used in local dye markets), local wool is more likely to attract moths and larvae.

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Marrakech wool we had stored at our office for testing became infected with moths and larvae after a couple of months. The larvae completely ignored properly cleaned wool we sourced and cleaned ourselves that was stored in the same area.

The reason why this wool is so frequently used in Morocco is because it’s cheap, accessible and is the only wool that exists on the market.  When the only incentive is price (and not even paying artisans an actual wage) there is no incentive to change anything. It’s so prevalent that even middlemen like Illuminate unknowingly advertise it as the best quality wool they source:

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Most middlemen in Morocco and resellers on Etsy can’t verify where their materials actually come from.  This is a picture of kempy, poor quality Moroccan wool.

 

Anthropologie, is another great example of just how pervasive this problem is. They work with middlemen in Marrakech and therefore it should be no surprise that their Moroccan rugs not only fail to pay artisans well, they routinely get poor reviews for massive shedding problems. Check it out for yourself. And to answer NYCmom15’s question: no, the shedding won’t ever end.

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Customers leave complaints about shedding on Anthropologie Moroccan Rugs.

 

 

Wool Types: Middle and High Atlas Wools

Fortunately, there are sheep in Morocco that produce high quality wool that is equal or exceeds the quality of internationally known gold standard of New Zealand wool. These sheep live throughout the Atlas Mountains in higher altitude areas. Prior to starting Atlas Wool Supply Co, many of groups within the Anou community used their own flock of sheep, but this didn’t guarantee quality and we began to notice infrequent inconsistencies with rugs that they produced and we started these removing them from the site years ago. This is because it is becoming more common that villagers in the mountains will keep a Sardi sheep or two in their personal flock and just mix in Sardi wool into their materials. Most cooperatives that work with middlemen simply buy market wool spun with poor quality Sardi wool and explains why you can find dirt cheap rugs on Etsy, Ebay and in Marrakech. This is why we’ve had to build out the entire supply chain ourselves as it’s the only way to ensure the best quality wool for rugs that the Anou community produces.

Currently, we’ve tested and built two supply chains of wool from the High Atlas and the Middle Atlas, and you’ll see these listed on Atlas Wool Supply Co. High Atlas wool generally comes from sheep in higher altitudes, which creates a longer fiber length to the wool, and decreases the amount and duration of shedding. Further, cooperatives in the High Atlas Mountains traditionally use 2 ply, or double spun wool for their rugs. Pile knot rugs (or Beni Ourain rugs) with double spun High Atlas wools actually yield minimal to minor shedding that clears up after around a month after purchase. Moreover, these types of rugs tend to hold form and their look does not change over decades and can tolerate heavy foot traffic.

Groups that make 2 ply yarn rugs with High Atlas Wool are:

Association Timdokkals

Cooperative Talsanant

Cooperative Imelghaus

Cooperative Ixf N’ghir

Cooperative Tifawin

 

The alternative is Middle Atlas wool. With Middle Atlas wool, the fibre length is slightly shorter than High Atlas wool. Further, weavers in the Middle Atlas tend to use 1 ply, single threaded wool. With these two factors combined, rugs from the Middle Atlas tend to shed a little more than rugs produced with High Atlas wools. Why then continue using Middle Atlas wool and not encourage groups to always use 2 ply High Atlas wool? First, because it is traditional and artisan leaders from this area felt that this was worth preserving. Second, and more important to customers, is that single threaded, Middle Atlas wools tend to age into those classic vintage, shaggy rugs over time. The moderate shedding is a part of that process and can take at least 3 months for shedding to clear. This look is very important to a lot of supporters of our community as well and is why we’ve prioritized such wool.

Groups that weave 1 ply yarn rugs with Middle Atlas Wool are:


Association Nahda

Association Tithrite

Cooperative LFarah

Cooperative Azta

 

Rug Maintenance

We understand the importance of having a rug with minimal shipping immediately after a rug arrives. As such we’ve begun importing rug rakes and have made them available for artisans within the Anou community to purchase. We encourage artisan groups to use the rug rake to remove any excess wool and accelerate the shedding process before we send it out. If a group does not do so, the artisan team will rake the rug at our HQ as part of our quality control process so the rug arrives with minimal shedding. This won’t prevent shedding out right, but will make having a Moroccan wool rug a great experience from day one.

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Members of Association Afous G Afous, Association Tithrite and Association Nahda use techniques we’ve developed to remove excess wool and minimize shedding upon arrival at a customer’s home.

After your rug arrives, there are more things you can do. First, is to ensure that you clean it often as we described on a previous post about how to clean your rug. Cleaned rugs mean less damage to the wool fibers and in turn results in less shedding. Second, we’d recommend purchasing a rug pad. This will help reduce any damage to the fiber so broken fibers don’t fall out over the course of the rugs life. This is in addition to how a rug pad makes a rug feel even more soft. Lastly, we recommend getting a rug rake of your own and brush the rug once a week until the shedding stops. Even after the rug stops shedding, an occasional comb over with a rug rake can keep the rug plush and prevent it from matting. 

Picking the right rug with authentic materials from your preferred region, combined with these proper cleaning as described above, will minimize unwanted shedding and ensure that your rug outlives your great great grandchildren. 
This is admittedly a lot of information so if it feels a bit overwhelming just give us a shout at hello@theanou.com and we’ll help you make a great decision based on your needs.  We’ll look forward to hearing from you!

Artisan Led Quality Control

The initial idea behind Anou was to enable customers to buy directly from artisans and have artisans fulfill those orders themselves. This was a pretty common sense solution to a lot of the inefficiencies that define the artisan sector and fair trade industry today.

This was also in retrospect rather bold. Getting artisans to ship products abroad and assume there would be little issue without oversight might be perceived as a bit naive.

Unexpected Surprises

That said, from Anou’s launch til mid 2016, our error rate or return rate of items artisans shipped directly was a low 3-5%. Such an error rate was satisfactory and even though the occasional return or problem would really take a bite out of our budget and bandwidth, it was manageable.

Starting in mid 2016 though, our error rate ballooned to 25-40%. The reasons for this are complex but it was a combination of several factors. The initiating factors was that our team was consumed with the implosion of an artisan group and spending immense time battling archaic custom rules that prevent artisans from shipping their products directly.

With these issues eating up all of our time, it required the artisan team be primarily responsible with following up artisans after sale. Not only did the team do a marginal job, the artisan community felt they would be able to get away with more with simply artisan oversight alone versus if a follow up call or visit came from a foreigner like myself. There’s more to this, but this is the basic idea for purposes of our blog.

As problems grew, we didn’t have the bandwidth to deal with the increasing amount of upset customers and problems exponentially grew from there. In short, the past several months were nothing that no sane person would describe as a good time.

Turning Problems Into Assets

On the subject of sanity, no sane business person would ever take on a business model where there is even a remote potential of a 40% error rate in orders. This explains why the existence a status quo in Morocco where artisan businesses are never fully artisan led. If Anou were primarily a business, we certainly would have taken proof of the last several months as reason to go a more traditional route. While we operate as a business, it’s not our primary raison d’ être.

Anou exists to enable artisans themselves to shape the future of Morocco’s artisan economy so that it works for them, rather than against them. As such, this is a problem that simply needs to be addressed, not avoided. If artisans cannot learn how to ensure quality and accuracy of their shipments, they’re not going to change how the economy works in Morocco. And let’s be real, if you start with the assumption that artisans aren’t capable of this, why bother working in this space?

The status quo deals with such issues by drawing up grants and doing trainings and workshops. In Morocco, those don’t work. Therefore our starting point in solving a problem is not workshops, but creating real-time learning experiences for artisans. How, for example, do we turn problems into a continuous stream of learning experiences where we can train hundreds of artisans at a fraction of a cost of a workshop all while building both our bottom line and a critical mass of artisans that have a nuanced understanding of quality control? Over the past, several months we’ve been working closely with our partners at Amana (Morocco’s national post system) and DHL to do exactly that.

An Overview Of Our Updated Quality Control Process

We’ve been testing this new process over the past month and we now project that we’ll be able to decrease customer side issues and stateside returns below 1%, if not 0%. Now in the majority of cases artisans ship their orders and Amana delivers directly to our office.

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Members of Association Tithrite working at Anou’s HQ receive shipments from artisans across the country and prepare them for inspection.

 

The artisan leaders then open and inspect every shipment and look for common errors such discrepancy between dimensions listed on the site vs the actual item, stains, bleeding dyes (if wool was not purchased through our Atlas Wool Supply Co initiative), color discrepancies between the listed image and the actual order, among other potential issues.

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Artisan Leader Mustapha Chaouai walks Rachida of the Khenifra Women’s Cooperative through quality control on a weeks worth of orders. Members of Association Tazrbit observe and eventually step in and try their hand. 

 

If the issue can be fixed on the spot, the artisans at the Anou HQ will fix it. If not, the artisans get experience using professional grade cameras and learn photography techniques to better show the product and errors to the customer, all while learning skills they can apply to their own photography when they are back at their cooperative in their home village.

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After the pictures are complete, the artisans use a small app that we built to enable the artisan team to fill out a simple form about the product using Tashelheet/Arabic, and once submitted, sends an e-mail directly to the customer in English notifying the customer of the problem with detailed pictures. It is best to never pass up an opportunity to enable artisans to feel the direct discomfort of informing customers of a problem. The customers can accept the order as is or they can request a refund and we’ll ship the rug back to the artisans.

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New tools enable Anou’s artisan leaders at HQ to send important information to customers directly. If you purchased an item from Anou recently, you likely received e-mails from members of Anou’s artisan team. 

This process is very much in the testing phase but initial results are incredibly positive. Instead of having a customer get an unexpected surprise and putting Anou on the hook for a several hundred dollar return, we can teach artisans how to address problems and improve their skill set all while creating a better customer experience at a max cost of about $12 USD per order affected by an error — a price that most artisans can generally afford to cover.

We’re incredibly excited about refining this process and making it live. It is important to note that none of this would have been possible without the incredibly understanding, patient customers we’ve had over past several months. Without their patience and support, we would not have had the space to fix these issues.

If you have any questions about this new process and want to learn more about this to ease any concern if you are on the fence with a potential order, give us a shout at hello@theanou.com