Design Spotlight: Zahra of Association Afous Gafous

Association Afous Gafous weaves uniquely beautiful rugs. Their rugs are always handmade, and almost always dyed with natural dyes. The group is one of the most active groups on Anou, working hard to try and develop new designs and ideas to evolve their craft.

One of the Afous Gafous’ rising stars in design, Zahra Amzil, was watching a traditional Amazigh film where the protagonist tries to set up a cooperative and visits many shops in their pursuit.

Inspired by all the rugs shown, Zahra came up with an idea : mixing in designs from the film with inspiration of her own and a new technique (Zanafi style) she learned from a recent custom order. She immediately began to sketch the idea out on paper:

She took the initial design and worked the Anou’s artisan mentors to figure out sizing and colors.

She decided on using leftover yarns first to try out the idea. She ended up going with grey yarn for the design and a naturally dyed brown from onion shell for the base.

With the specifics now figured out, she immediately got to work and made this first prototype at home: 

A couple of weeks later, she finally finished the rug and posted the finished rug on Anou:

More photos of Zahra’s new creation.

Zahra is already thinking about making a variation of this rug using new colors. Encouraged by her first creative experience, she is already envisioning new designs which we are sure will make for beautiful rugs.

Congrats Zahra on your beautiful new design ! We can’t wait to see more from you.

Explore all creations from Association Afous Gafous in Ouarzazate, Morocco.

The Anou Artisans

The Artisan’s Store


Artisans Brahim El Mansouri, Mohssine Benjalloun, Rachida Ousbigh, Kenza Oulaghda, Mustapha Chaouai, work with designer Matthew Long to design Anou’s new artisan store in Fes.

We launched Anou many years ago in order to rethink how the craft economy in Morocco should work. What has become increasingly clear since those early days is that to create a craft economy that works for all artisans we would eventually have to rethink the role of retail as well. Now after a year of planning we’re incredibly excited to announce that we will be opening Morocco’s first artisan run store in Fes in early 2020, and then a second store in Marrakech in 2021.

Our vision isn’t just to create another store. In fact, there almost seems to be an inverse correlation between the number of new stores in the old cities of Marrakech and Fes and the number of artisans that still live and work there. Instead, our vision is to create a space that reflects the wider values of The Anou Cooperative and ensure that authentic artisans will always have a place in the increasingly gentrified medinas of Fes and Marrakech. 

To realize this, we are aiming to build a creative space where customers can not only buy products directly from artisans but explore craft first hand and learn about the people, design, materials and processes that go into everything displayed. The space will enable visitors to sign up for workshops with artisans or schedule visits to artisan workshops across the country. Further, the stores will be staffed by artisans from the Anou community because who else would be better to learn about a product than the artisan who made it. 

The store will be directly connected to Anou’s artisan office, so customers can see first hand the work artisans do to make Anou work. The office will be built so that customers and designers can sit down and collaborate with artisans to create new ideas and products. Equally exciting the store will also be connected to Anou’s dye house and yarn shop so that all visitors can see the materials being made first hand while having every color imaginable at their fingertips.

We hope that through the store we will be better able to educate visitors on craft and increase sales for artisans. Similarly, we hope that the store will serve as a live training ground for artisans so that in the near future Anou will be able to send highly capable artisans abroad to run pop up shops and directly communicate with customers no matter what country they are in.  

Ultimately, by pursuing this vision we hope we can create an artisan run store that all artisans are proud to be a part of. We’re excited to have you all on this journey in making this a reality. 

Realizing our upcoming Fes space would not be possible without Cafe Clock. Cafe Clock has provided Anou rooms and the roof of a riad that is currently under renovation. We are also indebted to Matthew Long, a furniture and store designer, who graciously volunteered to help design the space for Anou. 

Over the coming months follow us on Instagram and Facebook as we chart the progress until the opening day of Morocco’s first artisan store. And as always help us spread the word about Anou this holiday season as each purchase not only benefits artisans, but makes visions like this a reality.

The Truth About Moroccan Sabra: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About the Mythical Cactus Silk Agave Fiber

The new big thing in Morocco is Sabra, or more often referred to as cactus silk. You can’t scroll for too long on an a social media hashtag for Morocco before seeing a pillow or rug made out of sabra. From small shops all the way up to  massive companies like Restoration Hardware, everyone is scrambling to pull together their product lines.

Sabra products are incredibly popular because they embody the imagination of what people perceive Morocco to be. Simply look up descriptions of sabra product and foreign sellers via their Instagram account who dote wistfully about divorced or widowed nomadic Berber women who search the expanse of the Saharan desert for the finest cactus. And then when the perfect cactus is found under a hot Moroccan sun, the Instagrammers continue, the women undertake the painstaking work of extracting vegan fiber thread by thread only before dyeing it using hand crushed natural dyes via Indigo mud cloth techniques. Beautiful.

At a certain point though when it starts to seem that not only is such a popular product the embodiment of Morocco but also every artisan technique ever known to humankind all available in pillow form for less than $50 USD including shipping on Etsy, you gotta wonder: is any of this even true?

Finding Sabra

About a year and half ago we started getting a spike in requests for sabra product. The first clue that something might be amiss was that even though we worked with hundreds of weavers across the country none of them had ever posted a standard sabra product online. Nor were there any pictures of this process anywhere online. Many cooperatives said they could easily make the product if asked, but did not have a desire to make it on their own. Association Nahda volunteered to create some samples but first we had to find sabra.

To get started, we first visited the plentiful shops that sell sabra across the country. You’ll instantly recognize the shops with stacks upon stacks of small spindles of sabra thread. But every shop we went to in the Middle Atlas purchased their sabra in bulk from a supplier in a major city and when we met with the supplier, they told us their sabra was imported from India. When we asked to see the packaging, it was all clearly labeled as a cheap rayon. The distributor just said he supplies to small village shops and that real sabra, the sabra for weaving, was found elsewhere.

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Stacks and stacks of…cheap rayon.

Shocking as that was we reached out to some of the more well known artisans who work with sabra. All of them, who have worked with sabra for many years, claimed that it was fiber from cacti that grew on farms, much like the stories people tell online. We worked with these artisans to trace the full supply chain of their material to the source, hoping it would lead us to these all female farms, but we found ourselves in Spain instead. Much of the high end sabra sold in major cities is sourced through a manufacturing company located on the outskirts of Barcelona. Spanish sabra? Sure, why not? We eagerly got in touch and the company responded by saying that they were rather incredulous anyone could extract a useable fiber from a sabra cactus, but that they wouldn’t know because they exclusively sell acetate filament threads. We brought this information back to the artists who use this product and they said it wasn’t true.

Through our research that led us to Spain, we had also found the supposed source of the actual sabra in Morocco that is most commonly used for pillows and rugs. The location is in a small, wind swept town just outside of Marrakech. We found the largest cluster of sabra cactus we had seen after months of looking that could have resembled a farm, so we assumed we were getting close. We found the owner of the land, and when we asked if we could take some sabra cactus stems, he said no because that cluster was on the land of a grave site. He had some sabra cactus in front of his house and bemusedly let us take as much as we wanted curious as to why anyone thought they could do anything with it.


While in the town, we met with nearly 100 weavers of sabra product and distributors of sabra. The distributors, primarily the most well known, were all incredibly frank in that sabra had never been produced in Morocco and that their businesses started importing rayon fibers because it was shiny, relatively cheap and sold well. We were surprised that they spoke so honestly, but they said it was the first time someone had asked them such specific questions.  

We have since tested the fiber and have confirmed that it is in fact rayon. Further, we’ve extensively tested contemporary and traditional techniques to extract the fiber learning from techniques used on similar fibers in Algeria, Mexico and the Philippines. So far all have failed. It’s not even clear if sabra fiber could even be used for basic rope. As a result, we can definitively conclude that sabra as of today is not real, and it’s story just as manufactured as the rayon that it is.

The Economics and Abuse of Sabra

We’ve written extensively on the economics of a lot of products in Morocco and as always the result is the same: artisans are paid next to little while middlemen take extensive mark ups. But in a land where exploited artisans is the norm, the scale of exploitation with sabra was unmatched.

The sabra product made in those windswept towns are places where middlemen in Marrakech set up their workshops and where most products you find on Instagram or in the Marrakech medina are made. The areas are out of the eye of tourists as well as the clients of middlemen and much too inconvenient for buyers to visit for themselves. The artisans are simply too far away to know what is actually happening in the market and are largely unaware. It’s a perfect environment for a made up story to thrive.

In one of the most well known towns where sabra product is made there isn’t one single official cooperative. All the women work as individuals, who middlemen pit against each other to extract the cheapest price and turn around times. When we talked to the women, they laughed at the thought that they could sell their sabra pillows, which take them 5 days to make, for more than 50 MAD ($5 USD). That is 10 MAD a day ($1 USD per day) in a country where the minimum agricultural wage is 70 MAD per day. Oftentimes, the women are expected to pay for the material which comes out of the 50 MAD price they are paid. A middleman likely tells their buyers the artisans are happy with what they pay, and the women may very well be because they do not know any better.

One of the more expensive parts of this process is dyeing the fiber. Sabra rayon comes in large tangled hanks and it is incredibly difficult for the dye to absorb quickly and evenly. We did extensive testing on best ways to properly dye sabra rayon, and because of the physical state of the fiber, it takes about two hours of manual work and extensive amounts of dye and water to complete one kilogram. To reduce the overall amount work, traditional dyers cut down the dye process from 2 hours of manual labor to 20 minutes using formaldehyde based mordants. So instead of 200 MAD ($20 USD) for 1 kg of sabra rayon, you can get away with paying as little as 20 MAD per kg ($2 USD) while pushing any adverse health effects on to the dyers and artisans. When the product is woven by the women, the product is passed on to another person, often times the middleman, who applies a bleach wash to fade and turn the product ‘vintage’. Bleach is key because there are no vintage sabra products since they only showed up on the market within the past 15 years.  All in all the final material cost of imported rayon and dyed with formaldehyde comes to about 50 MAD ($5 USD) for a standard size sabra pillow.

Collectivco (and we can list many other similar companies) just recently launched their new line of Sabra pillows for just $50 USD each. You can assume that they’re at least working with a margin of at least 50%, so they paid at most $25 USD for a pillow in the Marrakech medina, which falls in place with the break down above. To any ethical seller, you’d know that something isn’t quite right with a handmade product of such detail price at just $25. At that price either artisans are getting exploited or the material isn’t what the customer thinks it is. In the case of sabra rayon products it is both. While people in Morocco may just not know any better, that excuse does not extend to many foreign companies who benefit most from the deception and often drive such trends.  And let’s be real: if a company like Collectivco is selling you sabra is anything else they say legitimate?

An Alternative?

We’ve heavily debated over the past year what exactly we should do about sabra rayon as we figured out that nothing about it is real. Calling it out likely won’t stop people like Collectivo from marketing a fake product — there’s too much money to be made. It’s also not clear if customers care. When we reached out to a customer of a sabra product their response was, “Don’t bother me about it, bother the seller. I think it looks pretty”.  Further, by outing the material, we eliminate the ability for artisans within the Anou community to sell it and we may harm genuine cooperatives and artisans that do use sabra rayon in one way or another but are simply not aware or afford to believe in its actual origins.

We decided we wouldn’t make this information public until we could research and develop a better alternative to sabra rayon. And with our partners at Stitch (, who have led our research into better, more sustainable fibers, and bamboo has heavily emerged as the best replacement so far. Bamboo is ideal because it’s more environmentally sustainable, it’s less complex to dye nor does it require as much water or dye, and it is much much softer and stronger. Bamboo can be used for both warp and weft, where sabra can only be used for the weft (and is why it is most often paired with a cotton warp) because it is just too weak. Ultimately, bamboo yarns feel and act as you would expect from something called vegetable silk. We’ve spent the last several months working closely with Stitch to develop the dye systems to consistently dye bamboo fiber in a wide range of colors all in an environmentally sustainable way while ensuring good wages for artisans who take on the dye work at Atlas Wool Supply Co.

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Several shades of blue and brown bamboo, drip drying in the sun.

Once we perfected the dye system, we brought out several cooperatives to Anou’s HQ to run side by side tests of Bamboo and Sabra and the results were stunning. Bamboo proved much easier to weave with, dropping the weaving time by about 20%. Further, the bamboo is luxuriously soft unlike the coarse, rough cotton sabra mix of most sabra products that you find on the market. From a purely aesthetic perspective, bamboo is just better.


Starting today, Cooperative Tiglmamin, Cooperative Tithrite and Cooperative Nahda will begin taking orders on bamboo sabra. And while we predict in a couple of months middlemen will start to say they have bamboo, it won’t be true, because Stitch and Anou are exclusively importing it.


Bamboo Tests


An Artisan Centered Craft Economy in Morocco

After researching this for one and a half years, we can certainly conclude that sabra does not accurately represent Morocco nor the hype in everyone’s imagination. What rayon sabra does embody, however, is how artisans are harmed when sellers and buyers don’t do their due diligence and devalue the worth of artisans. What is most striking about rayon sabra is that it just goes to show what happens in a middleman centered economy. Only when every last cent is squeezed from artisans’ actual traditional products would everyone open their arms to entirely made up story about a product to extract even more from artisans.

Bamboo yarn isn’t a cure all solution to the sabra rayon problem. It’s not made domestically, if it isn’t made mechanically or in a closed loop system it can have more environmental cons than pluses, and Morocco has no real history with bamboo yarns. But it is now a known product, with room to improve immensely. And when you buy bamboo sabra products via artisans within the Anou community, you’ll know exactly what is in the product you bought and you’ll know exactly how much is going to the artisans who made it. And as more artisans earn more than just a fair wage for their work, it will enable artisans through the Anou Cooperative to do the real work of  much needed research, experimentation and sourcing of  new materials, of which we aim to be rooted in Morocco’s culture and environment. And perhaps artisans may just find a way after all to incorporate actual Moroccan sabra into beautiful products in the future. This is what an artisan centered economy in Morocco looks like.

Realizing this future starts with you, the customer. Ensure that you or your friends do their due diligence whenever they’re buying their next artisan product. Encourage people to buy direct from authentic artisans and not from just middlemen who say they’re helping. With your support, artisans can create the future of craft in Morocco and ensure that all Moroccan products resemble the best of what the country and people of Morocco have to offer.

bamboo 8


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.



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.



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:


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


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!



You can now find it on her online store at:

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

Custom orders on 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. 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 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 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 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

What is the Difference Between a Flatweave, Pile Knot and Beni Ourain Rug?

A customer recently wrote in and asked us what exactly is the difference between a flatweave, pile knot and Beni Ourain rug? We thought there would be no better place than to provide a quick answer to this question than on our blog!
To talk about Beni Ourain rugs, we first have to sort out the difference between flatweave and pile knot rugs. Flatweaves and pile-knot refer to the way the rug is woven on the warp. The warp is the foundation for every rug and consists of the strings (often white cotton) that run the length of a rug. One of the first steps of weaving rug is getting the warp set up on the loom, pictured below:

Photo Credit: Association Tithrite

Photo Credit: Association Tithrite

With the warp set up, the artisans can begin filling out the rug with what is called the weft, the thread which is woven in and out of the warp. Rugs that are solely woven with the warp and weft are flatweave rugs (local dialect: hanbel). In the following picture, a weaver from Cooperative Tisseuses of Ain Leuh weaves the weft (the color thread) through the warp:


Photo Credit: Cooperative Tisseuses

The weft is what gives the flat weave its design. Here is picture of the rug from above in its final form:


Photo Credit: Cooperative Tisseuses

However, not all rugs in Morocco are woven this way, nor is it the most common weaving technique. The most common technique is called the pile knot, which has a little similarity with a flatweave. On a flatweave, and artisan threads the weft back and forth through the warp continuously until the rug is complete. On a pile knot (local dialect: zrbya) however, the weft is separated with rows of knots tied around the warp.  It is up to the artisan how many rows of weft they will weave between the rows of knots. Many rugs are woven with a little weft woven in between the knots, which creates a pretty dense rug. Others, like this one, have a little more weft giving the rows of knots room to breath and provides a bit more texture. This picture below of a member of the Women’s Cooperative of Imelghaus illustrates this pretty well. The woman is threading a weft between the warp before tying in another row of knots:

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

To get more of a feel of this process (which we’ve drastically simplified above), you can take a look at the following video which shows a weaver from the Imelghaus Cooperative tying knots and pounding them with her taska to lock the knots with the weft:

So where does a Beni Ourain fit within all of this? Technically, it doesn’t. A Beni Ourain is not a weaving technique. In fact, a Beni Ourain is always woven in a pile knot weave as described above. What separates Beni Ourain’s from every other rug is where it was woven, who wove it, and its design.  Authentic Beni Ourain rugs are those woven by the Beni Ourain tribe or those who have lineage to the tribe that resides/resided in mountainous areas south east of Fez. Proving lineage is difficult, obviously.  I am sure every vintage rug seller has an elaborate story about their rugs or will claim personal lineage to the tribe, so take it all in with a grain of salt. As for the design, there are no set rules as to what defines a Beni Ourain design but many would agree that their designs are almost always a pile knot rug with a cream, ivory, (read: natural wool) base with distinct black geometric designs.

If you’re interested in having a custom order Beni Ourain style rug, the Cooperative of Imelghaus is becoming the go-to coop that uses Anou’s online store.

For pile knot rugs from the highest rated artisans in the Anou community, check out:

Association Timdokkals

Association Afous G Afous

For flatweave rugs from the highest rated artisans in the Anou community, check out:

Cooperative Chorouk

Cooperative Tisseuses 

For all the other groups, just do a search on!

Have any question you’d like us to answer? Want us to go more in depth on this topic? Let us know in the comments or e-mail us at

When Orders Go Terribly, Terribly Wrong…

We manage to make mistakes fulfilling orders every now and then. Rarely, we’ll have an order go terribly wrong. This past month, we’ve had two orders go terribly wrong:

A Custom Order Comes Out Completely Reimagined

A customer recently sent in an image of a rug that they’d like to have made and it looked like this:

The artisans started to work on it and submitted a progress photo, which the customer was incredibly excited about:

Then, the president of the Cooperative of Imelghaus, who oversees the rugs as they are made, suddenly left for a week because her sister was having a baby. As a result, the women just decided to wing it without any instruction or guidance and came up with something complete different but totally awesome:

The customer asked to have the rug remade since it was so radically different. But the rug which became known as the ‘mistake’ sold to another customer within a week. It then got two other custom order inquiries a week later. We ended up referring to this order almost everyday during our recent design workshop when discussing the benefit of trying new ideas inspired by traditional designs.

When Rugs Destined for New York Arrive in the  Philippines

Early last month, we had a customer from New York (who we’ll call ‘N’) order two rugs from the women of Cooperative Tisseuses in Ain Leuh and another customer from California (who we’ll call ‘C’) who bought rugs from the women of Association Timdokkals in Ait Bouguemez. Immediately after his purchase, ‘C’ informed us he wanted to change his address.

Since the artisans didn’t ship the order yet, we sent the new address to the artisan director. However, for whatever reason, the artisan director sent the new updated address to Cooperative Tisseuses, not Association Timdokkals. Last week, ‘N’ notified us that his rugs hadn’t arrived. It wasn’t until we investigated the shipment and found that it the shipment had arrived at ‘C’s address did we realize the incorrect address was sent to Cooperative Tisseueses.

When he reached out to ‘C’ about the mistake, he told us that when he received his package (the incorrect one) he didn’t open the package, safely assuming it was correct and had the package forwarded to the Philippines. With the package en route to an entirely different country, it would prove to be incredibly difficult to get them rerouted to the original customer. But since all of our customers are awesome, C decided to keep the rugs so we wouldn’t have to ship them all the way back to New York, and N decided to have the rugs he purchased remade. We’re so sorry that this happened C and N!

Fortunately, the last two terribly wrong orders and two incredibly positive outcomes — phew!

The Last Generation of Metalworkers


Mohssine Benjalloun’s unassuming metal workshop can be found in one of the most visited alleyways of the Fez medina. The presence of his workshop in such a popular area is unique. Today, Fassi artisans are almost exclusively found in corners deep inside the medina or on the distant fringes of Fez’s suburbs. Rarely are artisans found where tourists often visit. Such popular places are now filled with whom Mohssine describes as “bazarists,” those that sell Moroccan crafts, but don’t make them.

Mohssine recalls that the alleyways of Fez didn’t always look like they do now. Decades ago, when Mohssine was just a teenager, he began learning metalwork from his father. Demand for his and his father’s metalwork was booming, just as much as it had for his grandfather. Before, Mohssine, recalls, artisans earned enough from their craft that they were able to innovate and design new products and ideas. He now only has memories of all the shops that lined the alleyways of Fez which were filled with artisans teeming with work.

Mohssine painfully remembered that as he grew older, the demand for his and all of the other artisans’ craft in Fez began to slow. “Cheap imitations from China,” he says, forced many artisans to close down their shops and either relocated to the suburbs of Fez, or simply quit craft all together.

Mohssine continued to ply his trade even as all the shops around him filled up with bazarists, reselling similar products at prices that barely sustain the artisan that made it. Over time, his sales dried up. Determined to keep his workshop, he began spending less time on his craft. In order to continuing earning an income, he has filled most of his time with making simple board games that he sells for $3. He also handles the occasional repairs for metal pieces people bring to his store and dabbles in cutting glass for picture frames. He earns enough to keep the shop open and to support his family. A picture of Mohssine’s grandfather, who bought the workshop nearly 100 years ago, hangs on the wall behind him where he works everyday.

Everyone once in awhile, when money and time allow, Mohssine pulls out large copper brass sheets, his old metal cutting scissors, and a torch and begins working on the craft he loves. His ten year old son, who often sits at the door of the workshop, watches as his dad begins to immerse himself in building craft by hand. “I hope my son never goes into craft,” Mohssinne says as he begins work on a new lantern, “There is no work left. He is better off doing something else.” His son silently looks on.

Mohssine acknowledges that the artisan sector must change and innovate if it is going to survive beyond his generation. He laughs as he recalls a recent TV documentary he watched about rockets that fly into space, “It takes hundreds of people, a community of people, working together to build a rocket.” The effort and focus of many is what is needed to revive the artisan sector. To build a future where his son can become an artisan, Mohssine says, will take the collective effort of an entire community.

Visit Mohssine’s online store and view his newest item. 

Mohssine talks about his workshop and craft as his son sits at the door and listens in.

A picture of Mohssine in his early years.

A picture of Mohssine in his younger years.

A picture of brass lantern made by Mohsinne's grandfather.

A picture of brass lantern made by Mohsinne’s grandfather.

Two recently made lanterns hang above Mohssine's shop. A board game Mohssine made hangs on the wall.

Two recently made lanterns ordered through Anou hang above Mohssine’s shop. The board game Mohssine makes and sells hangs on the wall behind the lanterns.

Mohsinne's son holds up a lantern recently made by his father.

Mohsinne’s son holds up a lantern recently made by his father for a custom order on Anou.


The Economics Behind Moroccan Beni Ourain Rugs

As we noted in a recent blog post, the Women’s Cooperative of Imelghaus became one of Anou’s top selling artisans. With more sales combined with encouragement from Anou’s community leaders, the women finally started to record all of the material costs and time spent on the rugs they make. The women were shocked at what they learned.

The first rug they began recording on was a beautiful, custom ordered 10’ x 8’ Beni Ourain style rug. The artisans listed the price on Anou for $380. Since the rug weighed over 21 kilograms, the cost to ship it to the US came to $260. Anou’s community fee, which is about 6% of final listed price, added $43 to the price.The credit card payment company we use to process credit cards added $21, or about 3% of the final price. All of this combined set the listed price on Anou for $712.

The Imelghaus Cooperative listed their Beni Ourain rug for $712 on Anou.

The Imelghaus Cooperative listed their Beni Ourain rug for $712 on Anou.

Providing this much detail in how prices are calculated is unprecedented in the fair-trade industry, but we can learn even more by breaking down the $388 the artisans earned using the material and labor information they shared with Anou. The cooperative recorded that they spent $125 for the wool to make the rug leaving them with a total of $236 for their labor. The women recorded that it took over 280 total hours of weaving. This puts the cooperative’s hourly wage at $.93 USD/hour, or $7.44 for an 8-hour work day. This wage is less than what a day laborer makes in the rural valley where the cooperative is based. It is also below the Moroccan minimum wage for agricultural workers, which is the equivalent of $7.50 per day (learn more about Moroccon minimum wage on Wikipedia or

The women recorded that it took a total of 280 hours of weaving time to complete their Beni Ourain rug.

The women recorded that it took a total of 280 hours of weaving to complete their Beni Ourain rug.

The time spent creating the warp (pictured above) or preparing the wool was included in the 280 hours the cooperative recorded.

The time spent creating the warp (pictured above) or preparing the wool was NOT included in the 280 hours the cooperative recorded.












The numbers are surprising because they are incredibly low. So low, in fact, that you might think the wages couldn’t get any lower. However, cooperatives are regularly faced with buyers, both fair-trade and regular retailers alike, who request prices lower than what they list on Anou. Worse, it is not uncommon for women’s cooperatives to unknowingly sell their products at price that only meets a quarter of their material costs when selling to traditional middlemen. This is largely why it is not hard to find rugs for sale in the Marrakech medina for prices cheaper than what is listed on Anou.

Take a moment for that to sink in. 

With no other sales avenues other than local craft fairs, artisans, much like the Women’s Cooperative of Imelghaus prior to Anou, never have had the knowledge or incentive to push back when buyers want lower prices.

For the first time, the women met and decided that they wanted to increase their pay to $1.70 an hour, or $13.60 a day. This new rate would exceed the Moroccan minimum wage for industrial labor, a big deal in rural Morocco. As such, similarly sized rugs the cooperative produces in the future will now be listed on Anou for around $912 USD, an increase of $200 from their previous price.

The Cooperative's rug at its new home in Brooklyn, New York. Is there a need for high end boutiques to make these rugs look great?

The Cooperative’s Beni Ourain rug at its new home in Brooklyn, New York. Rugs purchased directly from artisans look just as great, if not better,  than the ones purchased from high end resellers.

Recently, Anou was featured in an Apartment Therapy blog post in which they discussed where to buy Beni Ourain rugs because their “popularity…shows no signs of flagging.” The average price of similarly sized rugs listed on their blog (minus the product listed from Anou) was $2,564 USD. This number serves as a good indicator of the average market value for these type of rugs. Imagine the impact a sale would make if the women of Imelghaus could sell their rugs at that price or even half that price. The only way this is even possible is if the artisans are able to sell directly to their customers and customers are knowledgeable about whom exactly they are buying from.

The cooperative’s new price is a lot higher than before but still much cheaper relative to the other products listed on Apartment Therapy. Time will tell whether the cooperative will be able to continue their recent pace of sales at their new price. If they’re not able to, you only have to scan to the bottom of the Apartment Therapy article to see what the future of artisan craft in Morocco looks like if artisans aren’t empowered to sell directly to their customers: 10ft x 8ft West Elm “Moroccan” rugs made in India. Perhaps the trend of Beni Ourain will never “flag”, but it is obvious that the culture and artisans behind this craft surely will if artisans remain dependent on others to sell their work for them.

The Potential of Djellaba Button Jewelry

Since the beginning of Anou, the Women’s Cooperative of Khenifra has been one of the site’s top sellers. This is no surprise given that the cooperative’s jewelry, made of traditional djellaba buttons, strikes the perfect blend of contemporary and traditional Moroccan design. Despite their tiny size, the djellaba buttons used to make the jewelry have the potential to make a huge impact on the lives of many women across Morocco.

The Labor and Background of a Single Button


A standard Moroccan djellaba. Djellaba buttons can always be found vertically lined up beneath the djellaba’s collar. Photo credit:, a socially conscious retailer.

While the exact origin of the popular djellaba button is unknown, many trace it back to the Jewish communities that used to reside in Fez. The buttons may have originally been used as actual buttons for clothing, but today, they are used as decorative pieces for djellabas, Morocco’s ubiquitous traditional dress.

As the demand for djellaba clothing continues, so does the demand for djellaba buttons. Many women in towns across Morocco, most notably in Sefrou and Khenifra, eagerly fulfill the demand to earn any income they can.

The process women go through to create djellaba buttons pays little and is time consuming to say the least. To start the process, the women go to a local store to buy sabra, a thread made from agave plant fiber that is traditionally spun and dyed in Fez. Using a simple needle, the women thread sabra into incredibly intricate buttons. It can take a weaver four to ten+ minutes per button depending on their skill level. Once a weaver completes about 400 buttons — the approximate amount of buttons that can be produced from one 3 dirham ($0.36) spool of sabra — they take it to the local dealer and sell their bundle of buttons for $0.015 per button.  (Note: all prices and times listed are approximate as there a numerous buttons with varying complexity and material).


Members of the Women’s Cooperative of Khenifra buy spools of sabra at a local store. Photo credit: Christine Carlson-Aljani

Expanding on these numbers provides a glimpse at the income of your typical button maker. For example, it would take a relatively fast weaver (5 minutes per button) a little over 33 hours to complete a bundle of 400 buttons. When the weaver sells a bundle to a local dealer, they’ll earn a total of $6. Push these numbers through’s fair wage calculator and puts the wage of such a button weaver 31% below the $2/day poverty line and 88% below Morocco’s minimum wage.

The Slow Evolution From Laborers to Creators

In 2007, a Peace Corps Volunteer named Linda Zahava began working with a talented group of button makers in Khenifra in order to find a way for them to earn more for their work. The weavers and Linda experimented and eventually repurposed the djellaba buttons to make jewelry with the belief that it could command a much higher price for the weaver’s work. To say their experiment was a success would be a gross understatement. Since the founding of the cooperative, the women have sold tens of thousands of dollars in jewelry in local and international markets.  Their success has even spawned numerous other djellaba button cooperatives and associations across Morocco.

Yet over the years the cooperative began running into the ceiling of their potential. As recently as 2012, the cooperative heavily depended on a revolving door Peace Corps Volunteers to facilitate orders from a small group of resellers both domestic and international. Since the resellers held near exclusive access to the popular jewelry via relationships built with volunteers, resellers were able to sell the artisan products to other resellers at prices five times more than the cooperative’s original price.


Djellaba button jewelry for sale by fair trade certified Global Goods Partners: $69 (including shipping). Photo credit: Global Good Partners

After seeing the high prices their ‘partners’ were able to command for their work, the artisans decided to raise their prices. However, they were quickly met with resistance. Resellers, even fair-trade certified organizations, told the cooperative that by increasing their prices they would be unprofessional and violate the loyalty that they had demonstrated to the cooperative. In addition, the resellers cited that their mark up enabled them to help market the products and provide access to markets the women wouldn’t have otherwise. With no other means to sell their products, the cooperatives only marginally changed their prices. As a result, artisans continued to sell their standard necklaces for $15, while their partners resold the same products for $69 (including shipping).

To put such prices in perspective, each $15 necklace takes the cooperative about 21 hours to complete. Pushing these numbers through the fair wage calculator (, the cooperative earns a wage that is 59% lower than Morocco’s minimum wage and 62% below the recommended fair wage pay. To be clear, the $15 necklaces are resold as fair-trade certified products that are branded with buzzwords such as female empowerment when the artisans aren’t even earning a Moroccan minimum wage, much less a fair wage.

Evolving From Creators to Independent Businesses

When Anou artisans first started talking with members of the cooperative, they expressed that they no longer desired to depend on volunteers to sell their work. Instead, they wanted to sell independently, if not for a better wage, then at least for a more dignified way to sell their products. But they didn’t know how. Anou finally offered them this chance.

With Anou’s platform, the potential of the women is now only limited to the amount of work they are willing to invest in their business – not what resellers deem is ‘enough for them to get by’. Over the past several months the cooperative has invested an immense amount of time into their online store by adding a diverse range of products and relentlessly improving their photography. In fact, their photography is improving so much that many consider their photos to be better than the professional organizations that resell their products. Based on the increasing amount of sales they’ve generated on Anou, their hard work is literally starting to pay off. In short, they are beginning to operate as an independent business.


Djellaba button jewelry for sale on Anou by the artisans who made it: $36 including shipping. Photo credit: Fatima Nouaman (djellaba button weaver)

Today, the weavers sell their standard necklace for $19 on Anou. Adding in costs of shipping from Morocco, Anou’s 10% fee (and other fees such as credit card fees) you can find the product listed for $36 on Anou. Putting these numbers through the fair wage calculator, and the artisans still have work to do so they can continue to raise their prices. To earn a fair wage, the cooperative will need to increase their prices for $50 on Anou – still cheaper than what fair trade organizations currently sell their work for.

Redefining Fair Trade

If anything, such numbers prove that the only way artisans can actually earn a fair wage is when they do the work themselves. Fair trade organizations today simply manage the entire value chain process in the name of good will, while artisans just provide the labor. As such, artisans don’t just get paid poorly, they don’t gain any skills either.

Because of the members of the Women’s Cooperative of Khenifra, the djellaba button has become a source of wealth for many women in Morocco rather than a symbol of their poverty. However, much more work needs to be done in order to ensure that women can gain the full value of each djellaba button they create. With Anou, it is entirely up to the artisans themselves to fully realize the potential of each djellaba button.

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.