Are you a retailer? Want to support the artisan community in Morocco?

Through Anou’s online store, you can expand your business all while making a real impact in the lives of artisans across Morocco. Learn more about the exclusive benefits of becoming an Anou retail partner.

Exclusive Benefits of Becoming an Anou Retail Partner

Bundled Shipments Multiple orders from the same association/cooperative can be bundled into one shipment to reduce the listed Anou price anywhere from 9-60%. Anou’s artisan leaders will provide added support for your orders to ensure that you get the cheapest (or fastest) shipping option for you!

 White Labeling Create added value for your products by white labeling all of Anou’s information and pictures for each product on your own marketing collateral.

Invoicing Select the products you want to purchase and pay via a single digital invoice.

Order Support Anou’s artisan team can provide added support throughout the custom order process or larger orders for added peace of mind.

 Meet Artisans In Person If you have plans to travel to Morocco, Anou’s artisan team can help arrange your next visit and provide you with on the ground support.

Exclusive Shipping Rates Anou has been able to negotiate reduced shipping costs via DHL and we pass these savings on to you!

Alternative Payment Options You can pay via multiple payment options, even via Transferwise (www.transferwise.com), which can reduce the listed price substantially.

Why Source Products Through Anou?

 Artisan Verification Nobody knows artisans better than artisans themselves. Artisan leaders in Anou’s community travel to the village or workshop of each artisan on Anou to ensure that they are the ones who make the products they sell. Learn More.

Know Who Made It Every product purchased on Anou is tagged with information about the artisan who made it. You can now confidently tell your customers exactly where a product came from and the story behind it.

Transparency Through Anou’s innovative technology, your payment will go directly to the artisan who made it and not the hands of middlemen or other organizations. Learn More.

Artisan Owned  Anou is a registered cooperative in Morocco whose board is entirely comprised of top performing artisans that use Anou. All decisions regarding Anou are made by the artisan board and all profit (which comes from a ~6% fee from each sale) is reinvested into the artisan community.

Artisan Managed  All the operations of Anou, with the exception of customer service, is handled by the artisans themselves. From trainings, to follow up visits, to troubleshooting, stand out artisans in the Anou community fulfill all the core operations of the site. This provides artisans with the opportunity to gain advance skills and work outside of their cooperative, which they can reinvest back into their local communities. Learn more. 

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Does TheAnou.com offer wholesale pricing? TheAnou.com itself does not offer wholesale pricing because we have no control over the prices artisans set for their products.  However, some artisans have provided discounts to customers buying in bulk. If you see an item that you would like to purchase in bulk, submit a custom order request and select the quantity that you want (or if you have something more specific in mind, e-mail us at Hello@theanou.com). The artisans will submit their price for the order, which may or may not include a discount.  TheAnou.com will calculate the estimated shipping cost for your request and combine it with the artisan’s price. Note that bundled shipping products can make items cheaper than a wholesale discount.

I would like to purchase from artisans I know, but they do not use TheAnou.com. Can the artisans I know join the Anou community? Of course! As a retailer, you should encourage any artisans not within the community to join so they can benefit from being a part of the Anou community and so you can be assured that your money is going to the artisans transparently.

There are three requirements to join the community and sell on Anou’s online store. First, the artisans must make the products they sell. Second, they must be motivated to sell their work independently.  Three, they must agree to use TheAnou.com’s transparency tools. If they meet these requirements, all they have to do is reach out to an Anou artisan leader and let them know they are interested. They will then be added to the artisan leaders’ training list.

How Do I Clean My Moroccan Rug?

When we were first asked how to clean and take care of Moroccan rugs, we simply asked the artisans who made them. “Well,” they said, “every month or so just take the rug outside and shake it, rinse it off in the river, then place it over a small shrub to let it dry.” This works so amazingly well that artisans have been doing this for centuries.

But what do you do if you don’t have a fresh, mountain spring-fed river in your backyard, much less in your apartment in New York? The answer, like many things when it comes to best care practices, is preventative care.

Preventative Care

Preventative care doesn’t mean you have to tackle anyone who wants to walk on your rug or hang it up on a wall so it is never touched. In fact, it’s kind of the opposite. What surprises many customers is that it isn’t exactly heavy foot traffic that ruins a rug, it’s the dirt that accumulates and embeds itself in the rug over time as a result of the foot traffic. On a micro level, dirt shreds the fibers of the rug and causes it to degenerate over time. The longer the dirt is left in the rug, the deeper it becomes embedded, which exponentially increases the damage.

The key then is to regularly clean your rug so dirt doesn’t have time to make your rug its home. The easiest way to do this is to take your rug outside and shake it out at least once a week. As the artisans always suggest, shaking out the rug frequently is their go-to technique and is a large reason why the rugs they keep in their homes last decades. If this is impractical, you can clean the rug on a weekly basis with a canister vacuum side to side (not end-to-end) with the beater bear set high. This can be equally if not more effective than shaking out a rug. Combining these techniques on a routine basis is ideal.

What Else Can You Do?

All this said, a small amount of dirt can sometimes be unavoidable. As such, investing in a rug pad can go a long way in preserving your rug even if some dirt gets through. A rug pad is perfect to add a bit more cushion and can prevent people from slipping, particularly if you are placing it on a hardwood floor. Further, a rug pad reduces friction on the bottom on the rug and the surface it is on preventing wear over time. The often unknown benefit is that with less friction with a rug pad blunts the detrimental effects of dirt if it makes it to the bottom of the rug. Rug pads that we would most recommend are ones that are mix between felt (for softness) and rubber (to prevent slipping) like this rug pad listed on Amazon. If you are not planning on placing the rug on a hard wood floor, a simple felt rug pad may be sufficient.

In a worst case scenario, enough dirt could lead to breaking fibers and the rug could start to shed. This should not to be confused with shedding on a new rug, which is normal and can vary depending on the wool that was used to make your rug. You can read more about this on our blog post about wool. While we dive into wool shedding at length on the aforementioned blog post, we always recommend a rug rake to manage shedding without damaging the rug. Again, read our blog on wool to learn more.

Professional Cleaner?

After several years though, we recommend getting the rug properly washed, particularly if you have pets in your home. Do a quick Google search and you’ll find a lot of advice on DIY rug washing. We simply can’t endorse many of these simply because each rug is unique. With rugs from the Anou community, all new rugs are dyed in house using non toxic dyes. Best part, we use the best quality dyes that can withstand hot soapy water up to 140 degrees without any bleeding. So if you need to blot out a spill, you never have to worry about bleeding. Rugs from unknown sources may bleed on contact with any water, cold or warm. Ultimately,  it’s best to protect the investment you made in your rug  by taking it to a professional cleaner who can dial up the perfect way to wash your rug to make it new again and ensure it lasts.

When we looked for a professional cleaner to recommend, we tried to find someone who was truly passionate about what they do. It didn’t take us long to find Lisa at RugChick, who has an amazing blog about rug care and maintenance. No really, the blog is so good that it landed her in the New York Times. Lisa, who runs trainings for professional rug cleaners, personally knows an extensive network of cleaners and has an extensive list of cleaners she endorses and we are certain you can find one near your home. Take a look at her endorsed rug cleaning directory.

Lastly, for any questions that this entry doesn’t answer e-mail us or take a look at Lisa’s blog. Here are some of our favorite posts of hers:

Buying Rugs: Tips for the Nervous Rug Shopper

Shag Rugs: What You Need to Know

How Do I Vacuum My Rug?

Moths, Bugs and Rugs: What You Need to Know

Pottery Barn: Rugs to Run From

Does the Anou Community Ship To Australia?

Australia, Shipping to Australia, Shipping Costs to Australia

Cooperative Lfarah (http://www.theanou.com/store/55) ships another rug to Australia!

Yes! In fact, artisans that use TheAnou.com to sell their work frequently fulfill orders from Australia. In terms of sales volume, Australia is second only to the United States in orders that the Anou community receives.

Right now, the prices artisans list on TheAnou.com include shipping to the United States and Europe. In the near future, we’ll ensure that if you’re viewing from Australia, you’ll see prices that include shipping to Australia.

In the meantime, all you have to do is send us (hello@theanou.com) the links of the products that you like and we’ll provide you with the price that includes shipping to Australia.

Here are some other things you might want to know about shipping to Australia:

Shipping costs to Australia are about 2.5-3 times more expensive than shipping to the United States or Europe. So expect a bit of a jump in price.

Shipping times vary, but the average fulfillment time is about three weeks. Orders have arrived faster (10 days) and have sometimes taken longer (5 weeks! Agg!).

The international standard tracking numbers the Moroccan Post Office provides artisans do not work in Australia. We’ve contacted the Australian post about this and they’ve confirmed that standard tracking does not work in their system. Tracking numbers for expedited shipping options (EMS, DHL, FedEx) are the only numbers that work.

Even though tracking numbers do not work, 100% of the items artisans have shipped to Australia arrived safely. If there is ever a problem with a lost order, our partners at the Moroccan Post Office have the means to help us trace it for you.

Do you have any other questions about Morocco, artisans, and Australia? Comment below or write to us at Hello@theanou.com!

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.

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:

image

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:

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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:  http://photosby.si/

Photo Credit: http://photosby.si/

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 http://www.theanou.com!

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 hello@theanou.com

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!

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!

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!

Anou Gift Cards!

Ever wanted to buy something from Anou for your friend’s wedding but had a hard time trying to figure out what might fit perfectly in their new home? Well, worry no longer, you can now buy a gift card for them on Anou! Even if your friend can’t find the perfect item, he or she can have an artisan custom make something just for them!

Here’s how it works:

1 – E-mail us at hello@theanou.com and let us know that you’d like a gift card.

2 – You can pick any amount that you want to give. For example, a $1.47 gift card if your friend gifted you a paper towel rack that you didn’t even want for your wedding. Or a $10,000 gift card if you know your friend has always dreamed of upholstering his or her new house entirely with Moroccan rugs.

3 – We’ll e-mail you a printable PDF (see below) that you can print. For an extra $2 USD, we’ll print the gift card for you and have it sent from Morocco straight to your friend’s home.

4 – Don’t worry, there are no annoying rules like expiration dates. Your friend can wait as long as they want before they make their purchase.

If you have any questions, just let us know at hello@theanou.com and we’d be happy to help. So spare your newly married friends yet another toaster or dishwasher and give a gift that matters. What are you waiting for?

Select from one of many photos of your favorite associations or cooperatives and we'll put it on the front of the gift card.

Select from one of many photos of your favorite associations or cooperatives and we’ll put it on the front of your gift card.

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The backside provides instructions for how to redeem the gift card. These images can be provided in PDF for or be sent directly to an address you choose!

 

 

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!

 

There Used to be Candles on Anou

Earlier this year, an Anou artisan leader trained a group of candle makers on Anou. We were excited to bring an immensely popular request online for the very first time. The group posted a couple of candles online during their initial training and after a month or so they made their first sale.

A couple of days later, the candlemakers had not confirmed the order via text. The leaders reached out, but the president of the candle group said there were no problems and that they’d ship the candle soon. Two weeks later, the candle still hadn’t been shipped nor confirmed.

The leaders grew concerned because if an artisan does not fulfill their product, it doesn’t just reflect poorly on the candlemakers themselves, but on the wider artisan community. The leaders increased the pressure on the group, even suggesting that a leader would travel out to their town to send it for them if it wasn’t sent soon.

Eventually, the president reached out and said they wouldn’t send the candle because business wasn’t very strong. All the president had to do was send the order and they would receive their payment, and likely, they would have received more orders from the same customer. Orders, it seemed, was exactly what they needed. The artisan leaders quickly concluded that the president wasn’t motivated. Yet when situations occur that don’t exactly add up, it is a huge red flag that something behind the scenes is wrong.

The Disintegration of an Artisan Business

The leaders kept pushing and eventually the president shipped the order. Several weeks later, a leader received a call from the president saying she no longer wanted to sell on Anou. Instead, she just wanted to focus on selling to tourists and at craft fairs. We were concerned: Did Anou do something wrong? Was there any confusion about how Anou works?

The leaders called a few of the other members to find out what happened. The leaders quickly learned that all the members had quit the group. When the item sold on Anou, the women knew the final selling price for the first time because Anou sends out SMS messages with the final selling price to each person who made the product. Prior, the president simply sold directly to tourists and at craft fairs and had no incentive to tell the women the final selling price.

The president hesitated in sending the candle that sold on Anou because she’d have to pay them now knowing that the rest of the women actually knew the final selling price on Anou. According to the women, prior to Anou they had always been paid a much lower amount than the price now listed on Anou. Yet even after the women were made aware of the actual selling price on Anou, the president still paid them the lower amount that she had always paid them. Feeling cheated on top of a whole host of other problems, they all quit in protest. As of today, the candle group no longer exists and their account has been shut down.

The Need for Transparency

The story of the candle group illuminates the environment that the vast majority of artisans operate in. Many artisans, if they belong to an association or cooperative, are not even aware of what their own group sells their products for, much less the price it is resold for by a reseller. Sometimes, artisans don’t want to even know because it can complicate the fragile operations of the group. Othertimes, artisans say they simply don’t care to know the price. All this combined with low literacy levels goes to show just how easy it is for artisans to be taken advantage all while creating incredibly unstable working environments.

The importance of transparency, as we’ve written numerous times before, is key for the long-term success of Morocco’s artisan community. This is why we’ve prioritized transparency through tools such as our innovative text messaging system to ensure that every member knows what price their work sold for. When each artisan knows the price, they themselves can hold everyone accountable to ensure that they are paid what they agreed to as a group. This tool has been so effective that many presidents of artisan groups decline to work with Anou because it will likely end their position of power and personal profit. It is why the president of the candle group would rather keep selling at craft fairs, to tourists, fair-trade shops, or wherever else that requires little to no transparency within the group.

Is there ever too much transparency?

Despite the success of this tool, it remains imperfect. For example, does every artisan that receives a text message with the price their product sold for understand what the text message means? Did the text even go to the phone they own? We admittedly haven’t followed up on this after every sale. If we did, we are certain we’d uncover some non transparent practices. In fact, there are two groups currently on the site that we suspect are not paying all their members transparently. Unfortunately, we haven’t gathered enough evidence to intervene and shut down their accounts. The question for us is how far should we go to ensure complete transparency? If we followed up every sale or tightened our transparency tools, would we blow up more groups? Do artisans whose group disintegrates end up worse off as a result of transparency?

As you might have guessed, we are huge advocates of complete transparency. There is much, much more we can do to ensure full transparency of every sale, but we have to act carefully.  Ultimately, our ability to create transparency can only go only as far as the artisans’ customers desire it. Even the most non-transparent groups in Morocco would become more transparent if it resulted in more sales. As long as there are easy ways to sell work with little to no accountability, Anou’s impact across Morocco will be limited. And unfortunately, groups like the candle makers prior to Anou will continue to operate with very little incentive to change.

Anou Featured in Lonely Planet’s Morocco Guidebook!

Morocco_travel_guide_-_11th_edition_LargeThe cover of the new Lonely Planet Guidebook features a man in front of an imposing wall of Moroccan ceramics. The artisan-focused photo is fitting because Anou and its community of artisans have been prominently featured in the guidebook!

In order to change the market so it works for artisans rather than against them starts with educating tourists of the positive and negative effects their purchases can have in the lives of the artisans. There aren’t many better ways to reach this group of very important buyers than through the Lonely Planet. We’re incredibly excited to have such a significant endorsement of the work that many artisans have contributed to over the past two years.

Read what Lonely Planet wrote about Anou:

“Inhabitants in Aït Bougomez [where Anou began] are a surprisingly resourceful bunch, note the launch of Anou (www.theanou.com) a new artisan managed online platform that enables illiterate artisans to sell their work independently.

Unlike Etsy or Ebay the resource isn’t open to anyone but is limited to locally-recognised artisans peer-verified by Anou’s leadership team, the benchmark being the quality of the products produced and the motivation of the artisans to expand and develop their product line.

Anou then assists approved artisans in creating a profile page with a biography of each member, photographs of their studio and tools and GPS coordinates of their workshops. Each piece produced is subsequently approved by Anou’s administration team before being posted to the site, ensuring that every product on the site is exactly the item that will be shipped to you. When products sell artisans are alerted by an SMS from Anou and pop the purchased item in the post and, voilà, in two to three weeks your new handcrafted carpet/bag/sculpture will arrive on your doorstep.

It’s a great resource for travellers as Anou’s primary buyers so far are conscientious tourists keen to ensure that they are buying direct from artisans. At the time of writing there were 200 artisans on the site and 35 cooperatives and associations now extending well beyond Aït Bougomez across the whole country.”

The guidebook hits shelves on August 4th or you can buy their e-book online now on Lonely Planet’s online store!

 

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 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!

Envie d’acheter d’Anou lorsque vous êtes au Maroc? (French)

La question qui revient souvent à chaque fois que quelqu’un découvre Anou est, “Est-il possible d’acheter des produits du site lorsqu’on est au Maroc?”. Malheureusement notre réponse a toujours été non. Mais cela va changer à partir d’aujourd’hui! Vous pouvez désormais faire vos achats sur Anou même lorsque vous vous trouvez au Maroc.

Tout ce que vous avez à faire est de cliquer sur n’importe quel produit et vous pouvez avoir accès au prix en dollar incluant les frais de livraison aux Etats-unis et en Europe AINSI QUE le prix en Dirhams Marocains incluant les frais de livraison au Maroc. Si vous souhaitez acheter un produit, il vous suffira de nous envoyer un e-mail, et nous vous expliquerons les options de réglement. Ensuite les artisans n’auront plus qu’à vous faire livrer votre achat à votre adresse Marocaine.

Tout ce que vous avez à faire est de cliquer sur n’importe quel produit et vous pouvez avoir accès au prix en dollar incluant les frais de livraison aux Etats-unis et en Europe AINSI QUE le prix en Dirhams Marocains incluant les frais de livraison au Maroc.

Tout ce que vous avez à faire est de cliquer sur n’importe quel produit et vous pouvez avoir accès au prix en dollar incluant les frais de livraison aux Etats-unis et en Europe AINSI QUE le prix en Dirhams Marocains incluant les frais de livraison au Maroc.

La première est qu’il existe une forte demande pour les produits marocains au sein des communautés d’expatriés au Maroc. Et même si ces expatriés ont accès aux médinas, ils ont toujours exprimé leur désire d’acheter au travers d’Anou afin de s’assurer que leur argent est transmit aux artisans de façon directe et transparente.

Deuxièment, cela permet de renforcer le rapport de confiance parmi les clients. Lorsque des acheteurs voient que les prix affichés sur Anou sont diférents de ceux qu’on retrouve en médina, ils peuvent supposer qu’Anou se fait une marge sur le prix de base tandis qu’en réalité il ne s’agit là que du prix incluant les frais de livraison aux Etats-Unis et en Europe. Avec cette nouvelle option, tout le monde pourra avoir accès au prix d’achat au Maroc et à l’étranger, ce qui représente une information essentielle pour la transparence d’Anou.

Enfin, la dernière raison est que même si la demande à l’international continue à augmenter, le marché Marocain reste le marché le plus demandeur, en particulier la zone Casablanca-Rabat. Même si cela pourrait en surprendre plus d’un, la demande des produits artisanaux au Maroc ne cesse d’augmenter. Et de plus en plus de marocains investissent dans la préservation de leur patrimoine culturel et leurs produits artisanaux. Il ne sera donc pas surprenant pour Anou de voir ses artisans commencer à livrer une grande partie de leurs ventes au sein même du territoire Marocain et ce dans les 5 à 10 années à venir. Et celà n’est pas vraiment extraordinaire lorsque l’on sait que seul 8% des ventes des artisans sont déstinées à l’export.

24 heures seulement après la mise en ligne de cette nouvelle option pour la livraison au Maroc, une coopérative a déjà réalisé sa première vente. Donc si vous êtes au Maroc et que vous souhaitez soutenir directement les artisans, n’attendez plus!

Living in Morocco and Want to Buy From Anou’s Community? Now You Can!

A question that always comes up when we present Anou is, “Can people within Morocco buy from the site?” Unfortunately, our answer has always been no. But starting today, we’ve changed this. You can now purchase products from the Anou community from within Morocco!

All you have to do is is click on any product page and you will now see the price in US Dollars with shipping to the US and Europe AND the price in Moroccan Dirhams with shipping within Morocco. If you want to purchase a product, just send us an e-mail at hello@theanou.com (English, French, or Arabic), we’ll explain the options of payment, and then the artisan will send your order directly to your address in Morocco.

You can now have products shipped within Morocco! Now all product pages display prices in USD with shipping to the US/Europe AND prices in Moroccan Dirham with shipping costs within Morocco.

You can now have products shipped within Morocco! Now all product pages display prices in USD with shipping to the US/Europe AND prices in Moroccan Dirham with shipping costs within Morocco.

This is an exciting and necessary change for Anou for many reasons.

One reason is because demand for Moroccan products is highest amongst the expat community. And while expats have access to local medinas, they’ve continually expressed to us the desire to buy through Anou so they could know their money was going straight to the artisan in a transparent manner.

A second reason is that it helps Anou create more trust amongst its customers. When customers see prices on Anou that are much more expensive than in the medina, they incorrectly assume it is Anou marking up the prices rather than the fact that Anou’s prices include shipping to the U.S. and Europe. With this feature, all customers will know just how much it would cost to buy in Morocco and abroad — an important piece of information that is essential for Anou’s transparency.

The third reason is that while we expect to see continued sales from international markets, we believe that the market with the biggest potential is the Moroccan market. While this might surprise some, the demand for artisanal products is growing in Morocco. As more and more Moroccans work to promote the preservation of their valuable culture, the pendulum is beginning to swing back. As a result, we expect that Anou’s artisans will begin to ship the majority of their online sales via Anou to customers in Morocco within 5 to 10 years. If you find this unbelievable, then you might be also surprised to learn that the Moroccan Ministry of Handicraft cites that as of today only 8% of all Moroccan artisan sales are exports.

While we’ve only released this feature in the past 24 hours, a cooperative has already made a sale to Marrakech. So if you’re in Morocco and you want to support artisans directly, what are you waiting for?

 

Can Artisans Create Jobs?

When Cooperative Chorouk was first founded in 2009, it started off with 26 members. Over time, the number of members of the cooperative slowly began to decline due to a lack of sales. When Cooperative Chorouk was first joined Anou in late 2012, the cooperative was down to just seven members.

Yesterday, Cooperative Chorouk excitingly announced on Anou’s Instagram account (read our blog post about Anou’s Instagram account on our blog) that for the first time in their five year history they started to bring more women into their cooperative — twelve women to be exact! Rabha Akkaoui, the cooperative’s president, said that the coop made the decision to add more active members in order to keep up with their increased sales and income via Anou.

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Rabha teaches teaches the new members how the cooperative sells their work online.

Stories like this becoming more common within the Anou community. By becoming an Anou artisan leader, Rabha has traveled across Morocco teaching cooperatives and learning from them and invested what she learned into her own cooperative. As a result, the entire cooperative has improved its photography, pricing, product development and even how it delegates tasks. The cooperative used these skills to increase sales on their own, rather than expecting someone else to do it for them, and now they’re creating jobs in small village.

There is an immense amount of potential to create more jobs in the wider Anou community. We recently completed Anou’s first census, where we structured the census to reflect both active members (those who actively work with the group at least three times a week) and inactive members (those who were once a part of the cooperative, but no longer have work because a lack of sales). The number of active artisans in Anou’s community currently stands at 391 artisans, but if you include inactive members the number shoots up to 883 artisans. In short, if the Anou community increases its sales, the community size and number of jobs could pretty much double overnight.

While still anecdotal, this story shows the immense power of creating an ecosystem that is powered by artisans themselves. When skills are developed and kept within the artisan community, sales and jobs will follow. And with enough time, such stories will no longer by anecdotal.

 

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 fairwageguide.org).

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.

Artisan Led Social Media

In a previous blog entry, we noted the popularity of Anou’s Facebook page amongst the artisan community. So much so, our Facebook page has become a better tool for building  Anou’s community than it is at driving direct sales.

The desire to get recognized on the Facebook page by the artisan community has grown so much that Anou’s artisan leaders have been sending me more and more pictures of their cooperative at work or a recent training they completed. As a result, the vast majority of all the images used on the Facebook page are taken by the artisans themselves. Unfortunately, artisan leaders now send me more images than we can post onto Facebook and outstanding pictures sit unseen in my inbox.

One of the greatest challenges we’ve faced with Anou is refining the messaging that artisans not only manage their own online store but also the wider Anou community. As the number of images grow in my inbox, I’ve realized that all the images artisans submit could be our best asset in explaining what Anou is all about.

To address this, we installed a shared Instagram account on the smartphone of each artisan leader at our recent leadership meeting. We instructed the leaders to post as many pictures of them at work, whether at their cooperative or follow up visits with other cooperatives in the coming month. The Instagram account will serve as a live-feed of the artisan community at work. In addition to this, artisan leaders will also post pictures of products of artisans they identified to crowd source whether customers like the potential products or not. This information could eventually provide a more objective means to determine which artisans to train with Anou’s limited budget.

Rabha of Cooperative Chorouk and Kenza of Association Tithrite test out their new Instagram account.

Rabha of Cooperative Chorouk and Kenza of Association Tithrite test out their new Instagram account.

We’ll be piloting this idea for the coming month to see if it gains any traction. If you’re interested in taking part, follow Anou’s artisan leaders as they dive into social media for the first time on their new Instagram account!

The Long Arc to Artisan Independence

 

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The Workshop of the Women’s Cooperative of Imelghaus.

The Women’s Cooperative of Imelghaus has been one of highest selling artisan groups this past month. They recently shipped a massive custom order and just began work on another large custom order. The looms in their modest cinder block workshop are all booked solid for the next several weeks.

Recently, the cooperative looks as if it has always been successful but this could not be further from the truth. Fatima, the president, founded the cooperative in 2011 and then became the first artisan to be trained on Anou in the beginning of 2012, nearly two years ago. And since the day her first training on Anou ended, Fatima and the women of the cooperative have confronted an endless stream of challenges.

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Brahim, Anou’s artisan director, walks Fatima through Anou’s first prototype. April 2012.

Relentless Challenges

Immediately after Fatima completed her training on Anou, men in the village told her she could not sell her rugs online. The reasoning of the local men was not because they did not want photos of their wives online as one might initially believe. Instead, the men’s resistance was rooted in the fact that their control as resellers of the rugs would decline as the women learned how to do it on their own. Women, the men said, should focus on making the rugs and not selling them.

When Fatima and I discussed this problem years ago, she just whispered to me, “It doesn’t matter what the men want, I’ll go to the internet cafe to upload pictures of the rugs when they’re not looking.” After that moment, I knew she would eventually break through. But the cooperative’s problems kept mounting. Anou was plagued by problems and its development dragged on for nearly a year. The women continued to add products to the site even though the site broke every time they used it. Worse, the internet that was introduced in the valley in 2007 was unexpectedly cut by Morocco’s telecom company and the women were left to figure out new ways to get internet access.

When the site was officially launched last summer, their photography wasn’t very appealing, the designs of the rugs needed attention, and the pricing of their products was not consistent. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t sell anything in 2013. In the same year, the cooperative of over 20 women only sold 13 rugs at craft fairs and to tourists in their valley.

In early 2014, the cooperative finally made their first sale on Anou’s online store. The women passed on any income from the sale in order to collectively buy a new smartphone. With the continuous support of Anou’s artisan leaders, Fatima gradually improved her photography and posted the majority of her marketable products. But then their progress seemingly came to an abrupt halt when the president dropped their brand new phone into water.

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The women of the cooperative begin to get serious about their photography. November 2012.

Dead End?

After years of work with cooperatives and associations I’ve heard it all. Stories about cooperatives where their members each made 30 dirhams ($4 USD) each for a year’s worth of work are not uncommon. I still don’t fully understand the reasons why cooperatives and associations remain together after all that they endure.

In the case of Imelghaus, they were fortunate that they stuck together. Shortly after their phone was waterlogged, they sold several rugs on Anou. A consistent stream of custom order requests then followed. In the past month, they have sold over $1400 in rugs with more custom orders nearly complete.

Word of the cooperative’s success spread quickly. Once skeptical women in the village are now clamoring to join the cooperative. Ixf-n-Ghir, the village up the road, held a meeting this past week to discuss starting their own cooperative in an effort to model Fatima’s success.

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The women prepare the warp of a 8′ x 10′ custom order rug, their largest order yet. March 2014.

Where There Is No Inspiration

It is rare to see excitement surrounding artisan craft like it is in Imelghaus. I recently sat down with the Moroccan Minister of Handicraft’s Chief of Staff who reflected on his first six months on the job. He recalled being shocked after his first assignment where the Ministry implemented a fully funded artisan training program for 20 disadvantaged youth who had dropped out of school or couldn’t pass the baccalaureate — in other words, an all but guaranteed future of unemployment.

The Ministry’s training would provide the candidates with the skills necessary to get a job in the artisan sector as soon as they graduated from the program. Despite extensive marketing and the identification of 20 ideal participants, no one wanted to join. The candidates told the Chief of Staff they would prefer to be unemployed rather than be trained in traditional artisan skills. The Ministry couldn’t get one person to commit.

I can’t blame the candidates. There is not much dignity left in the artisan sector. Yes, being trained means you can carry on Morocco’s rich traditions, but you’re dismally paid and destined to be dependent on others to sell your work. In the best-case scenario, you live a life as an organization’s beneficiary.

 

The Arc Of Artisan Development

It is in this context that the infectious success of Cooperative Imelghaus is so encouraging. Women aren’t clamoring to join or form their own cooperative because the women in Imelghaus made some sales. Artisans unceremoniously sell products everyday. The difference is that Fatima and the cooperative passed through the long arc between dependency and independence. Their success in doing so is theirs alone.  When the women of Ixf-n-Ghir discussed starting their own cooperative, they cited the success of the Fatima, the artisan, as their inspiration. Anou, or some foreigner, wasn’t mentioned.

Admittedly, the success of Cooperative of Imelghaus is just an anecdotal story as to why Anou matters. Yet it is becoming increasingly clear that the long arc Imelghaus passed through is similar to what other successful cooperatives on Anou have dealt with as well. Many other cooperatives on Anou are just at the beginning of their journey.   But as more artisans breakthrough to independence, the artisan community will be strengthened by multiple examples of what is possible when artisans stand up on their own. Soon, such stories will no longer be anecdotal.

The Moroccan Ministry of Handicrafts estimates that there are 1.3 million production artisans in Morocco. Anou’s community represents just 300 of them. Anou has an immense amount of work in front of it if the community is going to encompass every artisan who wishes to become independent. With every purchase made on Anou’s online store, however, you can play a huge part in inspiring the next cooperative to follow in the steps of Fatima and brave the long arc towards independence.

Anou’s New Monthly Newsletter Just for Artisans

When we first launched Anou, we did what pretty much everyone does: set up a Facebook page. We primarily focus on Facebook because we believe it is one of the most effective mediums to tell our story and define what it is that Anou does (shameless plug: like our Facebook page!).

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A typical post on Anou’s Facebook page.

We also thought that it would be a primary driver of traffic and sales to our site. Well, we were wrong. It actually has a minimal effect on traffic and sales on our site. In February, Facebook only accounted for 7% of all traffic to Anou’s online store and directly contributed to none of its sales.

Yet we’ve continued to invest time into Facebook because it has evolved into an unexpectedly powerful tool for building the artisan community in Morocco. Our posts regularly feature photos and small stories about what Anou’s artisans and artisan leaders are up to. And as a result, artisans are eager to be featured and Anou’s artisan leadership gains credibility when they’re tagged into photos of a recent training they implemented — even though all the posts have been written in English.

The problem is that this powerful tool reaches a small fraction of artisans on Anou because the vast majority of artisans don’t have consistent access to internet, much less a Facebook account. Also, the Facebook page is managed by myself, not the artisans. As we look to improve artisan engagement on Anou, we thought why not take what makes Facebook a powerful tool and apply it to a medium that all artisans on Anou can access and manage?

As a result, we came up with the idea of developing the first edition of Anou’s monthly

Rabha writes a couple of sentences about last week's Start up Your Life event for Anou's newsletter.

Rabha of Cooperative Chorouk writes a quick summary next to images from last week’s Start up Your Life event for Anou’s newsletter.

newsletter made for and by artisans. This past weekend, artisans Rabha and Latifa spent a day working with Anou’s other artisan leaders to develop the content for the newsletter. The content they developed reflects what makes Facebook such a great tool all while providing artisans with much needed information and resources to grow their businesses. The seven page newsletter includes the following content presented on simple photocopied pages:

1 – Winner of the photo of the month (voted by Anou’s artisan leadership).

2 – Winner of the product of the month (voted by Anou’s artisan leadership).

3 – The top three most visited products on Anou’s online store.

4 – An overview the number of visitors on Anou during the past month.

5 – An review of February’s important events, such as Brahim and Younis’ participation in the New Work Lab’s Pitch Lab.

6 – A small editorial discussing the benefits of buying a smart phone and how to get in touch with Anou’s artisan team to buy one.

Pages from Anou's artisans newsletter.

Pages from the first edition of Anou’s artisans newsletter.

The contents are basic, but powerful. And most importantly, keeping in line with Anou’s vision, it was entirely made by the artisans who will benefit from it. After the newsletter was finalized, Rabha and Latifa printed copies of the newsletter and sent them out to each artisan, association and cooperative on Anou.

Immediately after the newsletters were sent, Anou artisans already began sending in ideas of topics they wanted to write and discuss in the next newsletter. The newsletter has an immense amount of potential and we’re excited to see where Anou’s artisan leadership develops it.

We’re kicking ourselves that it has taken us this long to develop this idea. We tend to forget that even though Anou heavily focuses on solving the greatest challenges artisans face via technology, the most effective solutions are the ones that involve no technology at all!

Increasing Artisan Engagement on Anou

In our last e-mail newsletter update (Newsletter? Sign up on our about page!), we noted that one pressing challenge is that artisan engagement after adding their products to the site has been worryingly low. Only 20% of the products that have been posted since December have been modified in any way. This means that artisans haven’t been updating their products based on the feedback they’re receiving.

This is a concern because Anou’s long-term success depends heavily on how engaged artisans are in selling their product as well as learning from their successes and failures. This has both long-term and short-term implications. In the long run, if artisans aren’t engaged, their products stay the same and they will remain dependent on others to evolve their business. In the short term, you don’t need to look further than the analytics of Anou’s online store: When Anou’s homepage stagnated with unchanging products, the number of return visitors dropped by 16% and sales slowed. If artisans simply post items and forget about it, Anou is going to struggle.

In exploring ideas of how to reverse this trend, we’re continually faced with tension between whether to better educate artisans or build more effective online tools. In the past month, we’ve implemented a mix of both. Anou’s artisan team has substantially increased the amount of follow up calls to discuss the feedback artisans receive and suggest possible ideas to improve their ratings. In addition to this, Anou’s artisan team published its first monthly newsletter, which was snail mailed to every artisan. On the building side, we’ve begun testing concepts of language free research tools that enable artisans to dive into more details of the feedback they received. Also, we’ve invested a substantial amount of time improving the backend of the site to decrease errors on the artisan page.

The challenge of getting more artisans involved in their business isn’t a quick fix. But with careful monitoring of the result of the above efforts, we’ll learn which tools are most effective in reversing the trend in low artisans engagement on Anou’s online store.

Design Sponge, Anou, and Change

The best word to describe that state of Anou’s community in recent months is change. In January, we began to process of turning over the site’s operations to leaders in Anou’s community and we’re now in the midst of scaling Anou to reach more artisans across Morocco. It is only fitting then, that Grace Bonney at Design Sponge would feature Anou in a recent post about change. We’re incredibly honored to be featured by Grace as an organization bringing about change in the artisan community. Thank you for your support, Grace!

Anou’s First Return

Last week we were contacted by an unhappy customer about one of the rugs they purchased from Anou. They noted that their rug had multiple frayed threads and asked if they could return it. We were happy to. We even covered the return shipping.

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After finding a couple of frayed edges on this rug, the customer decided they wanted to return it.

When we first launched Anou, we were told it was too risky to expect artisans to fulfill their own orders, much less provide free returns. Instead, we were advised to consolidate products to monitor quality before they were shipped. But this wouldn’t have worked for two reasons. First, it would have been cost prohibitive. Second, artisans wouldn’t be able to learn and understand the expectations of quality their customers have.

Anou’s success thus far has been built on the idea that experience is the best teacher. Artisans don’t necessarily suffer from a lack of training, but rather a lack of experience. The more meaningful experiences artisans have, the better they will become at their craft and the more successful they will be. That is why we’ve made sure to make it as easy as possible for customers to return their products. While returns can be costly, we consider it a necessary expense to build the experience needed so artisans can thrive.

Given that the Anou’s store has only had one return since it’s launch, something is clearly working and it is unlikely that we’ll change our free return policy anytime soon!

Week One of Artisan Management of Anou

Last week we brought together the leaders of Anou’s artisan community for four days in order to prepare them to take over operations of the Anou store on January 16th (read more about Anou’s transition to becoming fully artisan led). As of tomorrow, the leaders will have taken the reigns of the site for one week and there have been no major issues so far. Things are looking bright for the rest of the month!

The smooth week we’ve experienced can easily be traced back to all the topics we covered during our four day training. Below are a few of our favorite pictures from the training. If you want to see all the pictures, check out the album on Anou’s Facebook page.

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Rabha, Kenza, Brahim, Mustaph Chaouai and Tom eat lunch when everyone arrives in Figuig after a long journey from their villages.

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The training kicked off with a afternoon walk out to the Algeria – Morocco border.

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In order to improve the overall packaging on the Anou store, Anou’s team organizes an egg drop contest. The team member who uses the least amount of money to buy packaging to protect an egg from a two story drop wins!

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Four out of the five eggs dropped survive the fall. Not bad!

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Mustapha’s egg survived!

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After the egg drop contest, Brahim begins to walk through everyone on the new dashboard. The tools on the dashboard enable the team to do things like review new products added to the Anou store, send payments and track existing orders, among other features.

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Brahim teaches Rabha how to send payments to artisans using the new dashboard.

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From left to right, Kenza, Rabha, Brahim and Mustapha interview members of Association Assala to begin building the association’s online store on Anou.

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This is what an effective training looks like. Every member of Association Assala gets a chance to informally ask questions with Anou’s team before the training begins.

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Brahim delegates the responsibility for the training to each member of the Anou team.

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Rabha trains each member of the association basic photography skills.

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Mustapha gathers any relevant information about the products and materials the association uses.

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While Mustapha and Rabha work with the association, Kenza and Brahim set up the association’s online account on their mobile phones.

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After a short while, the association begins to take some stunning photographs of their products.

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Anou’s team spends the remaining time in Figuig finishing up the association’s account and reviewing any aspects of Anou they don’t fully understand. By the end of the training, Anou’s team was ready to take over the management of Anou!

This is just a quick glimpse into the preparation of Anou’s team to take over the site. To learn more about this training, take a look at our Facebook album! 

Sneak Peak: Tools For Anou’s Community Leadership

As you might of read, we’re incredibly excited to see how Anou’s artisan community leadership manages all aspects of Anou’s online store for a period of 30 days starting next week. The key to their success will depend on the tools they have at their disposal and the ease in which they can use them.

Keeping in mind that Anou’s community leadership consists of artisans who not that long ago were not computer proficient, we had to rethink the administrative tools that Tom and I use to manage the Anou store. Our previous administrative page got the job done for us but that was about it:

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The community leadership rarely used this page, with the exception of Brahim. When a trainer needed to add an artisan account on Anou, for example, they would simply call me up. After a couple of clicks on my part I would set up the account and the  trainer would go on his or her way and complete it.

In redesigning the administrative page, we wanted to ensure that community leaders could complete all critical aspects managing the Anou store. With this in mind, we went back to the drawing board to create what is becoming Anou’s classic design: a clean, minimalist page, peppered with single colored, evenly spaced buttons:

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All the buttons on the administrative page are organized by color. Blue buttons are used to review information (e.g. profiles for artisans or currently posted products), green buttons are used to create something new (e.g. a new artisan account), gold is to review anything related to orders, and purple buttons are research and insights (e.g. review expenditures/revenue). To create a new account an artisan trainer only has to make a decision between two buttons, can you guess which one it is?

Of all the tools the artisan team has access to, this one is my favorite:

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Any idea what might it be used for? (hint: it’s purple!) This button enables any community leader to review a series of visual graphs that represent important stats for Anou: quantity of products added/sold, revenue, profit and expenditures, to name a few. In one such graph displayed below, blue represents the profit Anou generated in a given month compared with the expenditures of Anou, displayed in red:

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This information is vital for the success of Anou’s community. First off, it enables the community leadership to make more informed decisions based on Anou’s financial health. For example, leaders can determine how many new artisans they can afford to train in the next month, or if there is a windfall, they can elect to organize trainings that focus on design, quality, or other topics critical for the success of artisans in Morocco. It is the artisan’s money, after all.

The tools that the community leadership now has access to creates an unprecedented level of access and transparency. This enables Anou to successfully grow into a cohesive community of artisans capable of transforming how their market works.  The more artisans that can be involved in Anou’s operations, the more artisans understand how Anou works and the vision it represents.

Starting next week, we’ll begin putting these tools to the test!

Car Bumper or a Book Shelf?

Right when we think we got everything figured out, Morocco always throws us a curve ball. Last month, we had an artisan call in and say that the post office charged them almost double for shipping.

Normally, price discrepancies happen when artisans guesstimate the weight, but this never causes prices to double. We ruled out every valid reason why the post office could have accidentally charged such a high rate. We simply couldn’t figure out the problem.  That is until the rug the artisan sent arrived in the states.

The customer wrote to us saying they loved their rug but they were confused as to why package included this:

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This happened about a month ago and we still can’t figure out what it is. We’ve wavered between a part of a car bumper or a piece of a bookshelf. Your guess is as good as ours.

We started investigating and found out that the post office required the artisan to include the metal object in their package. We also learned that another artisan had the same problem and they didn’t mention this to us either. So far, one customer received a free tagine, a second customer received bars of argan soap, and the third customer got a car bumper. Oh, Morocco.

One of these post offices we’ve already flagged for corrupt practices and we’re still looking into the second post office. Regardless, we still can’t figure out if this is a way to skim money from the artisan or if the post office just doesn’t have a clue.

Artisans are now aware that they don’t have to add anything to their packages but in the rare case you find something extra, give us a shout!

Developing Anou’s Vision for 2014

2013 was a huge year for Anou. At the beginning of last year, our vision for what Anou would become began to coalesce. By August, the vibrant community of artisans that defines Anou finally started to take shape. In November, Anou and the artisan community began to strain as sales tripled from the proceeding month. And, well, in December we had a bit of a surprise.

We initially thought that sales had unexpectedly declined in December. Compared to November, we weren’t putting out as many fires or providing as much support to Anou’s artisan team as the artisan community fulfilled their orders. In some ways it started to feel a bit quiet. But when we ran the numbers at the end of the month, Anou’s community had actually set another record in sales.

December was a telling sign of just how much Anou’s community has grown and matured over the past year. Most importantly the month demonstrated that Anou can be fully artisan run and be sustained independently. No longer do we have to write that artisan independence is a future we are creating because it is now a reality.

In the context of this success, many challenges loom for Anou both large and small. On the small side, the photography artisans post on the Anou store needs improvement; attention to detail with packaging can be insufficient at times; some orders have taken too long to ship; and artisan profiles sometimes lack the depth customers on the Anou store would like to see. However, we believe these challenges will slowly resolve themselves as Anou’s artisan team grows and gains more experience building Anou.

Anou’s larger challenges can be defined with one question: While Anou can now sustain itself independently, can it grow, adapt and thrive independently? The only way this is possible is with vision. More so than money or talent, vision is the scarcest resource of any successful organization.  Can Anou’s artisan team, with some members who lack even an elementary education, develop the vision required for Anou’s long-term success?

We believe that all visions are rooted in the experience of confronting challenges. That is why on January 14th, Anou’s artisan team will take over the full responsibility of managing Anou for a period of 30 days. To get ready, we’ll be bringing our entire artisan team together in Figuig for four days next week to prepare them.

During this experience, Tom, Anou’s technical director, will continue to push forward features and I will continue to manage customer relations, but only at the request of the artisan team. For Anou’s long-term success, the artisan team will also be identifying pain points to refine Anou’s operations. And most importantly, Anou’s artisan team will confront the challenge of managing Anou head on in order to begin developing the vision necessary to take Morocco’s artisan community into 2014 and beyond.

We can’t wait to see what Anou’s artisan team will do.