Sustainable Vintage Rugs & Sustainable Dye and Washing Techniques

Since the very early days of Anou demand in the Moroccan rug sector has heavily focused on vintage rugs. Vintage rugs are generally defined by rugs that have faded colors with high organic color palettes. Most of what you find on Instagram or Etsy are of this ilk. 

Anou hasn’t focused on selling vintage rugs for four good reasons. First, we focus on living artisans and use craft to promote/increase artisan prosperity. Second, our focus is to instill a design culture within the artisan community that inspires artisans to create and design for the future. This is the opposite of the status quo which imprisons artisans to the past and tradition which leaves middlemen or non artisans to ‘contemporize’ their culture for market fit. Third, vintage rugs have no clear supply chain, meaning they can’t really be traced back to the actual artisan who made it despite what other people might post online. And lastly, if not most important, vintage rugs don’t really exist in the way that you think they do.

When you see something labeled as vintage, what you’re often seeing are chemically washed rugs that use chemicals that have been banned by US rug washing facilities since the 1980’s. Chemicals that caused massive lung complications in workers in the US 40 years ago are still being used today in Morocco and no one really knows. As a result of this,  harsh non-degradable chemicals are poured right into the rivers and streams artisan communities depend on. An increasing number of streams in the Khenifra region, a large center of middlemen trade, now run with brine and are no longer potable. Is rug washing the reason for this? Not really because we can look to global warming for the cause. But what we do know is that year over year there is less potable water to go around, and we as a society have decided it is ok to pour harsh chemicals into the water that is left to meet market demand driven by the aesthetics of Etsy and Instagram. 

As a community owned and managed cooperative, we know all too well that the biggest problems facing vulnerable communities can genuinely only be solved by those very vulnerable communities. Vintage rugs are a case in point. Until now, there has been no change driven by middlemen or foreigners in this space because there are no financial incentives for them to change a really good business model. So, as with many problems facing the artisan community, it is up to artisans to solve it and Anou and the artisan community must do the work if we ever want this to change. We look forward to seeing captions of Instagram posts start to change as soon as we post this, but don’t let that fool you, words on Instagram aren’t change.

So today we’re incredibly excited to show a sneak peek at some of the research and development behind the scenes at the Anou community & our partners at the Atlas Wool Supply Co. Cooperative Lfarah took the lead on this and has produced the best trial rug created thus far by the community and we felt the time was right to share the progress to date. When the rug arrived at Anou’s Fes store for inspection, artisan leaders Rachida (Cooperative Tiglmamin) and Naima (Cooperative Tighdouine) went to our friends at Riad Mabrouka to photograph this beautiful rug. Here are some of our favorite images: 

Photos by Naima of Cooperative Tighdouine (left) and Rachida of Cooperative Tiglmamin (right)

Cooperative Lfarah created the fades and gradients of vintage rugs through the use of full exhaust dyes, sustainable mordants, and no chemicals. Further, this rug used pilot washing techniques to reduce water consumption by about 50% off of standard middlemen practices.  Even better, with our control over the dye process and color system, LFarah will be able to remake a nearly identical rug for any commission request if their customer requests it. Interested in placing a custom order of this rug? You can do so at Cooperative Lfarah’s online store.

There is still an immense amount of work to be done to perfect this process. We’ve put a call out to Anou’s design mentors from around the world to help provide mentorship and guidance for groups across the community to practice and implement some of the techniques. This way we can ensure the dissemination of these techniques across the artisan community so there is no risk of such skills being used as leverage by middlemen over artisans.  Further, we’ve used our research to inform how we’ll build Moroccos’ first zero impact, closed loop rug washing facility at the Atlas Wool Supply Co mill (hint: the facility will be built on top of the factory.  As we make progress, we’ll be sure to announce it all here. 

A huge thank you is in order for everyone who has made a purchase from Anou and those who will make purchases in the future, this includes our individual customers as well as our larger partners. Each order you place, through the order itself or the contribution made from any purchase on Anou’s marketplace, enables the artisan community to make progress in this research…and hopefully, god willing, solve this problem once and for all. 

The Women of Cooperative LFarah at Work

Custom Dye Work @ The Atlas Wool Supply Co Studio
Figuring out how to blend gradient dyed wool.
Fatima, President of Cooperative LFarah Leading the Way