The Atlas Wool Supply Co: Building a Modern Craft Material Market in Morocco

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Not only was this rug designed by Kenza of Association Tithrite, it was the first rug made using Anou’s own in house sourced wool and non-toxic, environmentally friendly dyes. 

This past winter, a cooperative within the Anou community received a large order and they struggled to meet timelines that they had set themselves. Each time a weaver began on the order, they’d get sick, and another artisan weaver would begin working. The weavers said that they just all happened to get subsequent colds but it was clear something was a little off. Whatever was happening, it seemed to go deeper than an excuse. Curious, we decided to bring the weavers to work on the order at our HQ so we could better monitor the progress of the order and see what the real issue was.  Within 24 hours of having the weavers at our office, the artisans eyes started to swell and if we had not stopped them from weaving their eyes would have swollen shut. The artisans were sick alright, but it wasn’t from a cold. They were having severe allergic reactions from the materials they were weaving with.

We have always felt that artisans were sick more often than the average population but we never had any data to prove it. Perhaps it was the result of a wide range of challenges often faced by those in rural, poor areas.  But after bringing the weavers out to our office it was clear that materials artisans use, whether they realize it or not, seems to play a significant role in the quality of their health. And what it certainly proves is that there is something severely wrong with the craft material market that is literally and figuratively killing the artisan community of Morocco. To ensure that we can build the future of Moroccan craft in Morocco, we can no longer overlook the lack of safe, natural, quality materials in Morocco.

Familiar Problems

Ensuring that artisans have access to quality materials may seem like a simple problem to fix, but like many things, the problem is the result of a vast range of complicated problems. And yet after nearly a year of immersing ourselves in the material market of Morocco the source of all these problems find their roots in how the Moroccan artisan economy is structured.

As we’ve wrote many times on this blog before, middlemen keep on average 96% of the final selling price of products on the artisan market. We’ve come across groups where middlemen don’t even pay artisans in cash, and simply pay artisans in more material to make them more product. Middlemen in many cases have optimized the labor cost to zero. Yet there is still cut throat competition, so materials becomes the next place of focus to maintain margins. Therefore, every decision made by middlemen is focused on eliminating any costs and cutting any possible corner to get the cheapest material available. Since middlemen control the majority of the market, their demands dictate what artisans largely buy.

One of the most prominent sellers of craft material in Morocco now sells more than 90% synthetic material imported from India and China. When asked why he didn’t sell authentic material that could theoretically be sourced locally, he said that middlemen don’t buy natural products, and the artisans don’t earn enough from their work with middlemen to ever afford natural products themselves.

Domestic Demand & Confusion

What is odd is that Morocco is flush with natural materials — the same natural materials that gave rise to the artisan sector of Morocco to begin with. It isn’t impossible to find natural materials like wool but it isn’t so straightforward sourcing it. In some cases, sourcing natural materials can be worse for an artisans’s health than a synthetic. For example, groups who use wool instead of acrylic threads take the wool to dyers in Marrakech and Fez to create the colors they want. To properly dye 1 kilogram (2 pounds) of wool and chemically bond the dye to the wool while ensuring no environmental impact can take up to two hours of work. After working in the dye tanneries for several months we were shocked to learn that the dyers were using cheap dyes and cutting corners by skipping the chemical bonding process by ‘gluing’ the dye the wool using heavy concentrations of toxins like formaldehyde. This process only takes 20 minutes to dye several kilograms of wool. Not only does this dye become incredibly prone to bleeding, it affects the health of anyone who comes in touch with such wool including the end customer. If you ever wondered why Morocco’s souq and markets have a reputation for bleeding rugs or causing allergies, here’s your reason why.

What makes this even more difficult to navigate is that it is nearly impossible for anyone to find out information about the true source and make up of such materials. For example, wool dyed with formaldehyde may bleed in seemingly sporadic number of washes, not necessarily the first wash. So a wool seller or dyer can tell an artisan that the wool is safe and non-bleed, run it through a basic bleed test in front of the artisan, and then the material will bleed after the artisan already sold a product to their customer. In some cases, the stories sellers tell take on a life of their own. For example, the incredibly popular material cactus silk locally known and sold as sabra isn’t even grown and processed in Morocco. In fact, all locally available Moroccan sabra is a semi-synthetic that is imported from India. Even after months of research we cannot find any evidence that sabra is or ever was commercially grown and processed in Morocco.

Launching The Atlas Wool Supply Co

What we have learned early on in building Anou is that if you want to do something right in Morocco you just have to do it yourself. As such, since the Fall of 2016, we’ve been learning and testing ideas and processes to develop our own in house material sourcing operation for the Anou community. And after many months, we’re excited to announce the launch of the Atlas Wool Supply Co, Morocco’s only source for quality craft materials. Our vision is to revive supply chains of all traditional Moroccan materials and provide them at cost to artisans of the Anou community.

Since the majority of our artisans are weavers, the first material line we have developed is for wool. We have set up full vertically integrated, environmentally sustainable, wool sourcing operations in both the Middle Atlas and High Atlas Mountains. Anou artisans are employed via living wages to identify shepherds and sheer wool directly from sheep as well as scour and spin wool. When the wool is spun, it is shipped to our HQ where Anou’s artisan team is trained to dye wool in thousands of colors using premium non-toxic synthetics and locally sourced natural dyes. Anou artisans can now simply pick up the phone or send a Whatsapp message and place an order for any color they wish, whether it be for a new design or for a custom order, and have their requested materials shipped directly to their village. For the first time artisans who are a part of Anou can guarantee that their materials are of high quality and free of toxins that are harmful to the health of people and the environment. No one else in Morocco, middlemen or otherwise, can guarantee this simple important fact. Knowing this, why put your health and the health of artisans at risk when buying products from people who cannot guarantee where their materials came from?

Get Involved and Support Anou

We’ve received so much initial excitement from our sample materials that we’ve made our materials available for purchase at www.atlaswoolsupply.co. We plan to catalogue ever color we have ever dyed in order to create the most comprehensive collection of wool colors online. So even if you are not in the market for a rug just yet but you are a knitter or a weaver, you can now support the Anou Cooperative by purchasing materials from the Atlas Wool Supply Co. All proceeds generated from each sale goes towards Anou’s general budget to onboard and provide further training for artisans in the Anou community. Already, companies like The Citizenry and organizations such as Turquoise Mountain have already begun to source from us for their projects. And starting next month, all major yarn shops in London will be carrying our materials for sale.

With your support, we’ll never have to worry about whether artisans are getting sick from the materials they are weaving nor will materials and colors ever be a limit to the creativity of Moroccan artisans.

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Mustapha Chaouai of Association Nahda gathers wool samples from shepherds from around the Middle Atlas mountains. The samples wewre sent to labs for quality and fineness tests. 

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At Anou’s HQ, Rabha Akkaoui trials wool scouring techniques  learned from studying the processes of New Zealand wool companies. 

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Anou provides scoured wool to cooperatives from across the Middle Atlas and High Atlas, like Imelghaus,  to thread. The cooperatives use the income to supplement their income from their sales on Anou. 

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At Anou’s HQ, Kenza of Association Tithrite dyes wool that was requested by members of the Anou community. Anou ships the dyed wool directly to artisans across the country. 

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Brahim El Mansouri uses Anou’s color coding system to identify the dye mixes to create specific colors required for a custom order. 

Export Reform & The Artisan Lobby

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Mustapha Chaouai of Association Nahda discusses challenges and potential solutions to Moroccan artisan export policies at the US Department of Commerce and Ministry of Handicraft Forum on Artisan Exports

One of the most shocking things we’ve learned since launching Anou is that artisans in Morocco are not legally able to sell their products directly to customers abroad. Yes, you read that right.

To simplify an incredibly complicated subject, a law passed in 1974 creates a legal structure in which makes it difficult for artisans and easier for middlemen to ship internationally. In addition to this, there is no official means for a cooperative to register for an export number, which is required for any export from Morocco. If artisans want to sell and ship their products internationally, they must do so in a way that is illegal or sell to a middleman.

This may probably come as a confusing contradiction because our platform enables artisans to ship their products directly to their customers anywhere in the world. What that means is that all of artisan shipments that Anou has facilitated since the day we made our first sale in 2013 have been illegal. This definitely was not the empowerment we were thinking of when we began working on Anou many years ago.

When we first launched Anou, we started with the naive assumption that solving market access would address the primary ills of the artisan community in Morocco.  Since those early days our views have evolved extensively. What we’ve learned, and blogged about in the past, is that market access, design, and management all play important roles in creating a robust artisans community in Morocco. But importance of these components can quickly be made negligible if the laws and policies that underpin the craft economy in Morocco are designed in a way that work against artisans.

The 1974 law was created at a time when the places where artisans lived had no roads or electricity and internet had yet to be invented. At that time it truly was not practical for artisans to sell their products from the middle of the Atlas mountains. It comes as no surprise then that the law focuses on the regulation of middlemen and omits the possibility that artisans might one day be able to sell directly. You cannot fault law makers in 1974 as it is doubtful that they would have ever considered that rural artisans would have the means to sell from remote villages via pocket sized, globally connected computers. Today, this law leaves artisans stuck with no legal way to ship their products. Morocco and the world have changed. So must policy.

The Trouble With Change

If these policies do not benefit artisans, why haven’t they been changed? The obvious answer might just be inertia. It’s hard to change old laws. But this would be incorrect. New laws are frequently passed that still continue to overlook the true needs of artisans. For example, policy implemented at the end 2016 requires all legal entities in Morocco to have an export number from Morocco’s national export office. Government agencies, associations, non-profits, you name it, can fairly easily apply for an export number to comply. But curiously, cooperatives were left off the list. There is no formal process for a cooperative to apply for an export number. It seems as if the government simply forgot about cooperatives even though cooperatives employ a substantial amount of Moroccans.

The short answer to this complicated question is to simply follow the money. Currently, middlemen only pay artisans 4% of the final selling price of products they create. Non-profit organizations or social enterprises, even those that market themselves are unprecedented for paying artisans paying artisans high wages still only manage to pay artisans 25% of the final price. Maybe 25% puts food on the table for an artisan, maybe gets their children some school supplies, but they are still poor and work exhausting day to day existences. This leaves them little room to develop a voice and advocate for themselves.

Therefore, it is contingent on those who earn a significant portion of the final selling products to advocate for artisans. With such profit comes great responsibility to those they profit off of. Yet, middlemen are certainly not going to push through a change to policy that they seemingly exclusively benefit from. That leaves non profit and ethical businesses but they have gone missing when it comes to systemic problems, like outdated policy, that hold the artisan community back. The 1974 law is proof of this. No one has tackled these issues because it is easier find work arounds than it is to invest the long game of changing policy. From 2010 to 2016 alone, work arounds of such outdated policy that only large businesses and organizations have the capability to develop directly contributed to an astounding 76% decline in legal artisan shipments from the the Fez province (as cited from a recent presentation by the Fez Artisan Delegation).

The Artisan Lobby

The average length of a donor-funded project is about a year. Businesses that sell artisan products focus on what affects their immediate bottom lines. Moroccan government and staff turn over regularly. Meanwhile, it takes a minimum of four years for Moroccan government to modify an existing law. Artisans, on the other hand, will always be artisans. Time is on their side. Therefore, it is up to artisans to hold their government accountable and advocate for the future they want to see.

When you purchase through Anou, this is exactly what you enable artisans to do. Artisans in our community earn 80% of the final selling price. The remaining 20% funds go to hire the best and brightest of the community, Anou’s artisan leaders, to travel the country talking with artisans and work directly on high level problems that affect the artisan community at large. Anou artisan leaders gain the experience, and financial stability, to critically think about the problems and solutions that matter the most to them and the wider artisans community.

For the past one and half years, Anou’s artisan team has been at the forefront of challenging these outdated policies that prevent authentic artisans from legally exporting. We have spent considerable time and resources on these issues, more so in the past six months. We could continue with workarounds but we have decided that now is the time to bring these problems into the light due to the long-term damage they inflict on the artisan community.

As such, we’ve begun to ship our products through formal channels, even though our products can be seized due to these existing policies. In fact, in the past three months alone, we’ve had over $20,000 USD in shipments held and delayed by customs causing immense amount of frustration for our customers. Despite the stress and frustration of these delays, they have provided us with knowledge, space and leverage to implement needed solutions.

Our efforts reached a new peak yesterday where the US Department of Commerce and Ministry of Handicraft hosted a forum to discuss the challenges facing artisan exports. Artisan Leader Mustapha Chaouai of Association Nahda gave the most compelling presentation of the forum in which he clearly articulated the problems of Morocco’s export policies and presented his solutions on how they could be fixed. People were shocked to learn that he was actually an artisan. The presentation was a watershed moment for Anou as it demonstrated for the first time that artisans themselves can truly influence and contribute to policy development in a way that no one else can.

While the challenges that face Moroccan artisans and Anou face still remain unresolved, we are optimistic that with the continued support from you, our customers, artisans will be able to see this all through. Further, we are fortunate that there is a Ministry with the decree to specifically support the interests of Moroccan artisans and countless individuals within the Ministry truly committed to the well being of authentic artisans. Anou’s artisan team is excited to work with the Ministry to create smart, effective policy to resolve export problems and more in order to support the growth of Morocco’s artisan community. Whether it takes months or years, your support will enable us to change policy for the betterment of all Moroccan artisans.

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.

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. 

 

 

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

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.

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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.

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

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“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.

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

— Mustaph Chaouai

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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.

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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!

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

 

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.

Common Thread (Part 1): The Design Workshop

On August 6th, designer Sabrina Kraus Lopez (www.sabrinakrauslopez.com) and photographer Simon Mills (http://photosby.si) arrived in the Ait Bouguemez Valley and launched the first part of the British Council/Anou’s Common Thread project. The launch capped several weeks of preparation by Sabrina to create a workshop that would benefit Anou’s artisan leaders, and by extension, the wider artisan community in Morocco.

Design workshops for artisans are inherently difficult to pull off and almost always have mixed results. Generally, such workshops focus on showing artisans a current trend and then dictate what kind of designs artisans should make. While such workshops had their place when artisans had no access to global markets, this is no longer the case. Unchanged, these workshops may help artisans in the short-term but ultimately ensure that artisans remain dependent on the ideas of others to develop their craft in the long-term. Unfortunately, many workshops forget that artisans are designers, too.

In this context, Sabrina’s took an entirely different approach to designing a workshop for Anou’s artisan leaders. Instead of dictating design, Sabrina developed a truly impressive curriculum that integrated Anou’s online tools the artisan leaders were familiar with and taught them new design techniques aimed at enabling artisans to create new designs that were inspired by the artisan’s own imagination, story and community.  The overall goal was simple: get all the artisans to look at everything in their environment just a little bit different than they normally do. The end result was impressive.

Take a look below at the pictures Simon (http://photosby.si) took of Sabrina’s design workshop. We’ll release the artisan leaders’ final designs later in the month!

Sabrina started off the workshop with an introduction to color theory. She then asked artisans to use Pinterest to identify images they liked and use the colors from within the images to create a color boards.

Sabrina started off the workshop with an introduction to color theory and asked all the artisan leaders to use Pinterest to identify images they liked and use the colors from within the images to create color boards.

The artisans then selected five of their favorite colors from their favorite photo found on Pinterest and used them to create their color board.  Here, Fatima of the Imelghaus Cooperative creates her color board.

The artisans then selected five of their favorite colors from their favorite photo found on Pinterest and used them to create their color board. Here, Fatima of the Imelghaus Cooperative creates her color board.

After selecting the images and their colors, each artisan explains their selection to everyone else. Here, Fatima Ouakhoum of the Cooperative of Imelghaus explains her choices.

After selecting the images and their colors, each artisan explains their selection to everyone else. Here, Fatima Ouakhoum of the Cooperative of Imelghaus explains her choices.

After the artisans created their initial color board, they went outside in search of physical objects to complement their color board.

After the artisans created their initial color board, they went outside in search of physical objects to complement their color board.

Kenza Oulaghada of Association Tithrite used a picture of a tropical beach as the source of her color board and then matched it with a pen cap, used battery, and leaves. A huge benefit of this activity was that it helped artisans match colors from their screen to their actual environment -- a challenge many artisans face while using Anou’s online tools.

Kenza Oulaghada of Association Tithrite used a picture of a tropical beach as the source of her color board and then matched it with a pen cap, used battery, and leaves. A huge benefit of this activity was that it helped artisans match colors from their screen to their actual environment — a challenge many artisans face while using Anou’s online tools.

When all the artisans completed their color boards, they used the colors to create a new design idea.

When all the artisans completed their color boards, they used the colors to create a new design idea.

Kenza of Association Tithrite working on a new design.

Kenza of Association Tithrite puts her new color board to use immediately!

And of course, artisans then snapped photos of their color boards and posted them on the Anou community’s Instagram account.

And of course, artisans then snapped photos of their color boards and posted them on the Anou community’s Instagram account. Rabha Akkaoui’s (pictured) color board got a lot of attention on Instagram!

Later, artisans then helped create a color board for all the designs that will be used for the Common Thread exhibition at the London Design Festival.

Later, artisans then helped create a color board for all the designs that will be used for the Common Thread exhibition at the London Design Festival.

After collecting all the colors, Sabrina and the artisans put the final touches on the color board that will be used for all the designs that artisans will bring to the London Design Festival.

After collecting all the colors, Sabrina and the artisans put the final touches on the color board that will be used for all the designs that the artisans will bring to the London Design Festival.

Later on, Sabrina taught the artisans in new design techniques that involved tracing the outline of objects and environments while not looking at the canvas. Here, Sabrina poses so artisans can trace her using this new technique.

Later on, Sabrina taught the artisans in new design techniques that involved tracing the outline of objects and environments while not looking at the canvas. Here, Sabrina poses so artisans can trace her using this new technique.

Sometimes the artisans’ drawings resembled what they were trying to trace…

Sometimes the artisans’ drawings resembled what they were trying to trace…

...other times, not so much! Yet all attempts lead to new and creative ideas.

…other times, not so much! Yet all attempts lead to new and creative ideas.

Sabrina also encouraged the artisans to use this new technique on landscapes as well.

Sabrina also encouraged the artisans to use this new technique on landscapes as well.

Little by little, Brahim El Mansouri’s (Association Ighrem) landscape comes into focus.

Everyone gets a good laugh when their drawing doesn’t come out nearly as close as they think it will!

Everyone gets a good laugh when their drawing doesn’t come out nearly as close as they think it will! Mustapha (right) of Association Nahda, makes fun of all the other artisans on their landscape pictures!

Another design technique artisans explored was to draw out a name, traditional design, or what ever else they could think of and then cut the drawing up and glue it back together all mixed up. Brahim tries this with a Beni Ourain style rug found commonly in his village.

Another design technique artisans explored was to draw out a name, traditional design, or what ever else they could think of and then cut the drawing up and glue it back together all mixed up. Here, Brahim tries this technique with a Beni Ourain style rug found commonly in his village.

For the last technique, Sabrina and the artisans walked out into the fields to try out water colors. Artisans painted their ideas on paper and then pressed the water colors on top of the designs they traced the day before.

For the last technique, Sabrina and the artisans walked out into the fields to try out water colors. Artisans painted their ideas on paper and then pressed the water colors on top of the designs they traced the day before.

On the last day, the artisans had to come up with twenty new design ideas each. Then, they had to pick their three favorites and Sabrina picked the final six designs that will be used for London. We'll reveal the final designs later this month!

On the last day, the artisans had to come up with twenty new design ideas each. Then, they had to pick their three favorites and Sabrina picked the final six designs that will be used for London. We’ll reveal the final designs later this month!

Launching the British Council and Anou’s Common Thread Project

Designer Sabrina Kraus and photographer Simon Mill arrive in Morocco and take a taxi to Ait Bouguemez to begin the British Council - Anou's Common Threads project.

Designer Sabrina Kraus Lopez and photographer Simon Mills arrive in Morocco and take a taxi to Ait Bouguemez to begin the British Council – Anou’s Common Thread project.

This past week we officially launched the Common Thread pilot project in collaboration with the British Council’s Architecture, Design, Fashion Department. Many changes have been made to the project since we initially announced it and we couldn’t be more excited.

The most obvious change is the project’s new name. The project’s vision is to create a truly equal learning exchange between Anou’s artisan leaders and British designers. We believe that this new title perfectly encapsulates this vision. In addition to this change, the British Council completed an intensive search for a designer to take part and selected Sabrina Kraus Lopez (http://www.sabrinakrauslopez.com), a graduate of the MA Material Futures at London’s University of the Arts: Central Saint Martin’s.

Over the past several weeks, we worked with Sabrina, who has completed similar work with artisans in Peru, to flesh out the details of the project. We ultimately decided to break down the project into three innovative parts:

Part One The first part of the Common Thread project will bring Sabrina, Scottish photographer/designer Simon Mills (http://photosby.si), and all Anou’s artisan leaders out to Ait Bougamez for a one week design workshop. The workshop will equip artisans with new design tools that will enable artisans to create designs inspired by their personal stories, community and craft. At the end of the workshop, the artisan leaders will each design a rug using the tools they learned and the ideas they developed during the week. In addition to this, Simon will also lead a photography training session and document the workshop via photography and video. Update: Success! See pictures of the training on our blog or on Facebook!

Part Two After the workshop concludes, the artisan leaders will return to their villages and to weave the rug they designed. Sabrina will then accompany artisan leader Rabha Akkaoui (www.theanou.com.com/store/5) back to Tounfite and will live and work with the cooperative for two weeks. Sabrina will design and weave her own rug using traditional weaving techniques learned from the members of Cooperative Chorouk. At the end of the two weeks, Sabrina will then travel to each artisan leader’s village to check the final progress of the rugs they designed during the opening workshop.Update: Success! read more about Sabrina’s experience in Tounfite on our blog or Facebook page!

Part Three All the rugs that Anou’s artisan leaders and Sabrina complete will then be shipped to London. From there, an exhibition for the Common Thread project will be set up at the London Design Festival this September to display the rugs the artisans created. All the Anou leaders will be flown out to London for the exhibition and will speak about their experiences during the project and the larger vision of Anou’s community. In addition, the leaders will be given personal tours of leading design studios in London and meet leading British designers and design professors.

With such a huge focus on an equal exchange of ideas between leading Moroccan artisans and leading British designers, we simply couldn’t be more excited for this project. Projects like this are incredibly rare and we have to thank the British Council’s British Council’s Architecture, Design, Fashion Department for making this happen. Follow Anou’s blog, Facebook page, and Instagram account for updates as the project unfolds!

Why We Don’t Provide Artisan Contact Information

We often receive messages from visitors on TheAnou.com if we can provide the contact details for an artisan in the Anou community or directions to their shop. Unfortunately, we are no longer able to do this. Several months ago, Anou’s artisan leaders decided against both fulfilling these requests and publicly listing the directions or GPS coordinates to artisans within the Anou community.

It wasn’t always this way. Prior to this decision, we provided directions to anyone who asked. However, we started receiving complaints from artisans that some visitors showed up haggling for discounts or imposing industry standard wholesale discounts. The artisans would ask why we would send such visitors to them when such requests are against the Anou community’s vision? It was a fair question. We tried doing informal chats with people who requested to be put in touch artisans so we could ensure that they knew the values of Anou’s community. This didn’t really work either. This problem culminated when a visitor got entangled in the politics of the cooperative they were visiting due to the often non-transparent practices that can occur with in-person sales. Since we sent the visitor, we were responsible for what occurred. The decision of Anou’s leaders came shortly after.

What we have learned is that customers of Anou’s online store, particularly recurring ones,  do understand our vision and we have had no problems putting them in touch with artisans on their trips. So if you’re a recurring customer of Anou’s online store we’re more than happy to work with you so you can visit artisans within the Anou community or recommend tour agencies that support the artisan community’s vision. If you have any feedback or thoughts, let us know in the comments below!

Are you a socially conscious riad or tour agency in Morocco? We want to hear from you!

After talking with Anou’s customers during the past several months, we’ve learned that they all share at least one of four characteristics. These characteristics are those who 1) have been to Morocco in the past or are planning a visit, 2) are socially conscious travelers and consumers, 3) have met an artisan in person during a previous trip, and lastly, 4) have a solid understanding of Anou and the fundamental role Anou plays within the artisan community. The more of these characteristics a customer had, the more likely they were to be champions of Anou and help us spread the word about what Moroccan artisans are doing  to create equal access to local and global markets. This sets the framework for how the Moroccan artisan community can best market itself.

Our goal then is to ensure that every socially conscious traveler coming to Morocco knows about Anou and the role it plays within the artisan community here in Morocco.  However, the big question is, how do we do that?

While being featured in the Lonely Planet helps tremendously, Anou’s most effective marketing strategy is when artisans are responsible for marketing themselves. The logic behind this is pretty simple:  almost no one believes that Anou is not a middleman until they hear it from the artisans themselves. Therefore, we must connect tourists traveling through Morocco with artisans, so that artisans can explain Anou in their own words.

As such, during the past several weeks we’ve been reaching out to socially conscious riads, tour agencies, and other businesses to see how we might be able to connect their clients directly with artisans in the Anou community. Our initial conversations have been incredibly promising.

One of the exciting ideas we’ve discussed is providing socially conscious businesses exclusive directories of Anou artisans. Take a look at this sample guidebook we put together for Dar Roumana in Fez. Such guidebooks will easily help riads like Dar Roumana create truly authentic experiences for their guests that go beyond typical, uncomfortable experiences with middlemen in the medina.  In return, these businesses will agree to take no commission from the artisans when their guests visit Anou artisans. In addition, they will help us inform their guests about the artisan community and the important role Anou plays within it. Many of these ideas have been outlined in a draft Memorandum of Understanding that we’re still modifying as we try and find the right blend of idealistic, and realistic, ideas.

If you’re a socially conscious, tourism related business that wants to support Morocco’s artisan community while aligning your business with an up and coming socially conscious brand , we want to hear from you!

E-mail us at hello@theanou.com and let us know why supporting the artisan community in Morocco is important to you! We’ll look forward to hearing from you!

 

The British Council’s Design Explore Anou Residency Program

british-councilAfter several months of development, we’re excited to officially announce our collaboration with the British Council’s highly successful Design Explore program. Starting this August, the British Council will sponsor a British designer to live and work with Anou’s artisan leaders. The goal will be to exchange ideas, culture and techniques in their respective crafts in order to spur both the artisans and designers’ ability to create new and innovative designs.

At the conclusion of the month-long residency, the artisan leaders will fly to London for one week. In London, the artisans will work with the designer alongside a UK curator to set up an exhibition to display the work they created together in Morocco at the London Design Festival, one of the largest and most dynamic design events in the world. At the festival, the artisans will be able to observe cutting edge design all while sharing their experiences as Moroccan artisans and what they learned working directly with expert designers. During the week, the artisan leaders will visit leading designers in their studios and also meet and exchange ideas with students and professors from the top design schools in the United Kingdom.

This program has an immense amount of potential to benefit the artisan community in Morocco. In order for Moroccan artisan community to truly thrive, direct access to the market isn’t enough. Artisans themselves must also learn how to innovate and create new designs that blend their traditional craft with current and future trends in the global marketplace. Artisans will never be able to earn more than a fair wage if they just continue to work as labor. Through the direct access to market Anou provides, in combination with the one-of-a-kind experience the British Council program will provide the community, Moroccan artisans will be able to make the leap from merely being producers to designers and ensure the sustainability of their craft and livelihood.

If the pilot proves successful, Anou will continue working with the British Council to expand the program next year so it can benefit more Anou leaders and highly motivated artisans. We can’t wait for this program to begin!