The Artisan Community Just Bought a Building!

Artisan leaders, Anou volunteers, and Moon (the cat) on the ground floor of the four story building we just acquired.

In the beginning of 2020, Cafe Clock, one of the most famous restaurants in Morocco, donated some space in their new experiential shopping center to The Anou Cooperative. Their space was a beautiful traditional riad that shares walls with the Cafe Clock restaurant in Fez. 

Today, it is with incredibly deep gratitude for Cafe Clock and a constellation of many private Anou donors from around the world that we’re excited to announce The Anou Cooperative has acquired the entire riad from Cafe Clock. 

When we launched the Anou Cooperative many years ago, our vision was to restructure Morocco’s craft economy so that it works for artisans rather than against them. The acquisition of one of the most valuable retail properties in Fez is one of many more steps to come that embody our cooperative’s vision. 

The ancient medinas of Morocco were built with artisan hands and used to be home to countless artisans. Over the past several decades those artisans were replaced by middlemen, many of whom used their prized locations to exploit artisans. 

We believe that having an artisan community run and owned cooperative outright purchase such a beautiful building sends an important signal and pushes back against the status quo that too many have become comfortable with. Ultimately, The Anou Cooperative’s purchase will ensure that genuine artisans from across Morocco have a rent-free forever home where they can learn, design, work, and grow their businesses — all in the center of one of Morocco’s cultural and economic capitals.

With purchasing the four-story building we now have quite a bit more work on top of the remaining store construction before we can officially open. While we can’t share too much about what is in store for the future, what we can share is that we’ll be redesigning the riad to support studios and training centers that will be accessible to all Anou artisans for free, particularly artisans in Fez. Equally exciting, we’ll be working with Rebecca Hoyes, a professor at Central Saint Martins to create Morocco’s premiere artist residency program to ensure the world’s best creative talent always pulses through our space and the wider Moroccan artisan community. Follow us on Instagram to keep up to date as we announce these developments in the near future. 

This dream would never have been possible without our donors and supporters. To every donor that made this happen, what more is there to say,  we literally bought a building. And equally, if not more important, we owe a huge thank you to anyone who ever purchased from Anou. There are many places where you can buy Moroccan craft, the best of which an artisan earns may earn a little more than what a middleman would pay. Instead, you purchased from Anou and enabled a marginalized community of artisans to transform Morocco’s crafts economy for the better. Thank you to you all. 

If you’re interested in supporting Anou’s long list of ambitious projects that will enable artisans to transform the fabric of Morocco’s craft economy, please do get in touch at hello@thanou.com.

Sustainable Vintage Rugs & Sustainable Dye and Washing Techniques

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Women of Cooperative LFarah at Work

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

Anou Tech Updates: Bringing Artisans and Their Customers Closer Together

Over the past several months we’ve been working hard on our beta custom order system. Previously, when a customer had a rug custom made for them, most of the progress and data of the order sat in a system that was only accessible to the artisan team or Anou mentors. 

This meant custom order data and its progress had to be sent to artisans as well as the customer, which created more mistakes than we’d like to admit. Our old system pushed the limits of our technical capacity, but times have changed and our tech capacity is improving. Now when you start a custom order on Anou, all major interactions such as receiving a quote, paying for an order, and even shipping all happen directly between the customer and the artisan. Anou’s mentors and artisan team only get involved when there is a problem. 

Taking down barriers between artisans and customers

Our favorite new feature is the progress feature. Whenever a custom order starts, artisans now have an easy way to directly submit progress photos and videos to the customer. Artisans can use Whatsapp or a simple browser to seamlessly share photos of their custom work. This wonderful new feature already allowed dozens of our current customers to follow the progress of their custom product in real time !

Since we launched our beta, artisans across the Anou community have sent over 1,400 progress photos to their customers. We’re also testing out fun ways to enable customer and artisan interaction. For example, we introduced a beta feature where customers can send emoji responses for each progress update which are sent directly to the artisan who submitted the progress update. Over 500 emojis have been sent to date directly to the phones of artisans! 

Why does this matter? 

First, this new feature fully automates the needless labor of all the middlemen you find on Instagram and elsewhere, who serve as a gatekeeper between artisans and their final customers. 

Second, it enables artisans to do the work of photographing and sharing themselves. This ensures they learn these valuable digital skills, especially in today’s online commerce landscape. These skills will remain once the order is fulfilled, and are one more step towards artisans’ business independence. 

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it enables artisans to create their own unfiltered content. Content that is true to their own vision, and that they can keep and reuse on their own social media accounts and soon, websites. For way too long, morccan craft-related content was made, owned and kept by intermediaries, not artisans. We believe putting artisans in charge of content production is long overdue.

A real life example

Our favorite updates lately have been from Association Tadighoust. The updates feature a mix of progress photos and touching videos of women working and singing traditional songs while making their rugs. Check out all the progress photos on our sample custom order page.

Such spontaneous videos created by artisans themselves, shared directly with their customers who then send emojis of encouragement in return represent a joy that seems to have been missing from craft for some time. 

While there is always more work to be done, we couldn’t be more excited to be bringing some joy back into craft !

Meet the Cooperative – #1 Coop. Asnli from Immouzer Marmoucha

The genesis of this Series

As we hope most of you know, at the core of our mission is a deep belief in removing all barriers between moroccan artisans and their customers all over the world.

Usually, when we talk about this mission, the first thing that comes to mind is empowering artisans to get rid of predatory middlemen. And for a good reason, since it is indeed the main motivation that go Anou started.

However, a less talked about aspect of our mission is encouraging artisans tell their stories directly, without filters or moderation.

Why is this important ? Couldn’t we just have shared their stories in our own words ?

Allowing artisans to tell their stories in their own words matters for a couple of reasons. First and most obviously, who better to tell the story than the people who live it every day ?

Second and most importantly, it ties back to our long term goal of empowering artisans to become independent business owners. Storytelling is such an important part of how businesses are run in our time (and we could argue, in all times). So we want Anou artisans to develop the skills to tell their own stories.

Introducing “Meet the Cooperative”

For all the reasons above, we are very excited to introduce the first post of a new series featuring Anou artisans.

In this series, our Marketing mentor at Anou will regularly interview some of our favorite cooperatives members. He will ask them about how they got started, the challenges they faced and what their hopes for the future were. For many of them, this is the first time anyone had asked about their life stories. The result is a series of raw and honest video interviews that we will share with you on Instagram first and then on the blog.

For the very first post, we sat down with Aicha Bertal, president of Cooperative Asnli. If you’d rather watch the video, scroll down to the end of the post for the video interview with Aicha.

Let’s go !


Aicha Bertal, from Cooperative Asnli

Youssef :
Hello Aicha, I’m happy to have you with us. Could you please introduce yourself ?

Aicha :
Sure. I’m Aicha Bertal, born in 1987, married and mother of three. I’m the president of cooperative Asnli in Immouzer Marmoucha.

Youssef :
Could you tell us a bit about how you got started ?

Aicha :
When we arrived in Immouzer, we used to make rugs with a group of women, usually 3 or 4 women from neighbours and family. When we would finish our rugs, there were these people (middlemen) who would buy the rugs from us. So whenever we finished a rug, we would take it to the side of the rug for the middlemen to see it. They then would buy the rugs from us at a very low price.

We kept working this way until one day we thought :

Why not unite, start a cooperative, and find a way to market our products ?

And this is what we did. During the early days of the cooperative, we continued working the old way (with middlemen), making rugs and selling them at a very low price.

About 2 years ago, we came across Anou. Through it, we found out that our products were quite popular, the prices higher than we thought and soon our cooperative became well known. We started to sell, not only in Morocco, but abroad now !

This motivated us to make great efforts to improve our rugs, incorporate new designs into them and go forward with our craft.

Youssef :
A true success story ! And how was your experience working with the Anou team ?

Aicha :
We learned a lot. Before, we didn’t use to pay that much attention to the colors or the wool we used. Now, for each product we’re about to make, we make sure the colors go well together, and that the wool is of good quality. We also make sure that the rug won’t unravel later. Overall, we pay excellent attention to end up with a good quality rug.


A problem we used to face is getting custom orders for a specific design. It was hard to us to translate that pattern on the rug. The calculations were difficult to get right. But now, thanks to Meriem’s plan (Anou’s production manager), we know how the rug is advancing. Now, we have almost 100% certainty about how the final rug is going to look like, and that the pattern will be correct. Using a plan made things so much easier.

Youssef :
This all sounds wonderful. Finally, what are your goals for the future ?

Aicha :
My goal, and that of all cooperative members, is to expand our cooperative and introduce it to as many people as possible. Most importantly, we want to be recognized for our hard work and we want this hard work to pay off for us. We want the cooperative to thrive !

Youssef :
Thank you so much Aicha.

Learn more

We hope you enjoyed this little interview with Aicha ! If you’d like to know more about Asnli and view some of their beautiful designs, visit their page on Anou.

See you soon for episode #2 !

The video recording of the interview

Launching Anou’s First Community Development Fund!

We’re incredibly excited to announce Anou’s first Community Development Fund. Our goal with the fund is to provide outstanding artisans from across the Anou community with access to interest free loans with generous repayment timelines. This way artisans can accelerate any needed purchases, such as a new smartphone or a new loom, that will help them increase their sales.  

Anou’s artisan leaders will select participating artisans by analyzing artisan performance on their online stores and invite top artisan groups to take part in the fund. Examples of such performance indicators include but are not limited to the time it takes for artisans to confirm orders, the time it takes artisans to ship their orders, error rates on shipments and custom orders, among other criteria. 

Selected artisans will simply have to submit a video of themselves via Whatsapp outlining what they want to purchase, how much it costs, and how they will use it to improve their sales. Each application will be reviewed later this summer by a panel of five Anou advisors from the Ministry of Handicraft, British Council Morocco Office, OCP Foundation and the Moroccan Center for Social Entrepreneurship. The panel will be able to select one group or divide the funds amongst several artisan groups. Anou’s artisan team and Anou’s mentor team can only provide background information on a group to the board and will not be able to make any decision which artisan group receives the fund.

The artisans will then repay back the amount with 10% of each future sale until the balance has been paid back, which will then be applied to the second round of Anou’s Community Development Fund in 2020. 

The starting amount of the initial round is $1,000 USD ( about 10,000 MAD), which was provided as a generous donation by Melanie Royals of Maison 28, who after leading a weaving retreat to cooperatives within the Anou community along with Moroccan born weaving artisan Asmaa Aman-Tran, reached out asking how she might be able to support Anou. Maison 28 is committed to continued support for the Community Development Fund through future Weaving Retreats in Morocco. We’re incredibly thankful Melanie’s support in getting the fund started and also her commitment in ensuring her retreats benefit the growth of Morocco’s artisan community.

Are you interested in contributing to Anou’s Community Development Fund? It is a pilot and pending successful rounds, we’ll eventually ensure that any donations are tax deductible. If interested, just reach out to us at hello@thenaou.com!

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Participants in Maison 28’s weaving retreat learn spinning and carding from The Afous G Afous Cooperative outside of Ouarzazate. 

Putting Technology To Work For Artisans

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Women of Association Afous Gafous review orders and designs.

With every new wave of technology comes the optimism that it will radically change the status quo or create more equitable societies. However, the reality is that each wave opens up small windows where societies can capitalize on the promise of new technologies. If these windows are properly managed they can can lead to the optimism of the Twitter-fueled Arab Spring in 2011. If they are not, the same social media technologies can (and have) quickly become the same tools dictators use in 2019 to entrench their power or manipulate public opinion.

These windows touch on all aspects of every society world wide. For Morocco’s artisan community it is no different. The wider fair trade community has dreamed about using technology to cut out middlemen and empower artisans. Yet with each successive wave of new technology nothing really seems to change. Today, technology has created more middlemen than ever and artisans remain worse off than ever. Without making technology work for artisans and using it to amplify the growth of artisan communities, technology will only be used to deepen the status quo.

The Evolution of Anou’s Vision and Technology

Our vision at Anou is to create an artisan-centered craft economy in Morocco that works for artisans rather than against them. With each wave of new technologies our window for realizing this future opens a little wider for a brief moment in time. It is our job then to ride each wave to bring us closer to our long-term vision before there is no time left. Equally important, it’s our job to ensure that the artisan community own and control such technology so they are the ones who financially benefit from it. As we’re learning in other parts of the world, technology can bring about consolidated, unchecked power. Morocco’s artisan community is already being decimated by lumbering giants like Etsy who in their Brooklyn bubble are singlehandedly and ignorantly doing more to destroy Morocco’s artisan community than any one middleman ever could alone.

Since Anou launched in 2013, we’ve experienced profound shifts in technology. The first iteration of Anou’s marketplace was designed to take advantage of the first technology wave in Morocco: universal access to internet via cyber cafes and feature phones. This wave is what launched Anou. The big questions back then were how do we ensure artisans don’t upload viruses from cyber cafe computers into our database, or how do we create safe environments for female artisans to go to a cyber cafe to upload products. 

Today, we’re in the middle of another technology wave of $50 USD smart phones and machine learning. In the past couple of years alone, almost all of Morocco’s communication has moved from voice calls and SMS to Whatsapp. There is no official number out there on this, but a safe guess would be to assume that at least 70% of Morocco’s SMS volume has moved to Whatsapp.

Over the past year, we’ve begun the work of overhauling a lot of our backend technology to take advantage of these changes. As such, we wanted to take this chance to show you all a small window into how artisan tools on the Anou platform are changing and how we’re putting these new technologies to work for artisans.

From SMS to Whatsapp

Currently artisans upload their products to Anou’s marketplace and get a product ID for each product they upload. When such an item sells, they would receive an SMS text with the product ID of what sold and the address to send it to.  While easy, it was still challenging for artisans because they might not have forgotten which product goes with which product ID. Artisans could go to their account on Anou, and many do, but for some it’s just not easy enough. Some artisans tag each product with a physical tag and write the product ID on it, but that’s not easy enough either. Whatsapp allows us to change much of the communication processes and bring it all into an easy, visual process in a program they are already using in their day to day lives. Now, with recent updates artisans can simply send the product ID plus the tag emoji to Anou’s Whatsapp number and it will provide them with a detailed breakdown of the product and its picture:

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Tag Creation

Through the above tool, artisans can visually match the product ID with the image of the product they posted online. However, the better solution is to make sure that artisans have physical tags with the picture of the product on it. Now, if artisans want to easily create a tag, artisans just have to add an email to the end of the tag emoji and product ID  and it will send the designated email a printable tag. For many artisans, they can simply send their tags to a local print shop in their village. The tags show the product, its local price with pictures of everyone who was help make it (here’s an example). It’s as simple as this:

 

GIF Create Tag

 

Text-Free Tracking Numbers

When a product sells, artisans can now confirm the order via Whatsapp just by sending in the product ID number. This will generate an email to the customer letting them know the artisan has received the order and they’re getting ready to ship it to them.

Once the artisans ship their order though, things get a little complicated. One problem that we’ve always had is ensuring artisans submit the tracking number that they receive from the post office. With many semi-literate artisans, entering the tracking number (which is 13 digits long) can be a huge barrier — artisans sometimes can’t even locate the tracking number on the receipt. If an artisan’s local post office is good, they’ll help artisans locate the number and maybe even text in the tracking number for them but this isn’t always the case. If the artisans can’t sort it out, they’ll usually just ignore the step and their customers end up writing to us concerned that their product may have never been shipped.

Here is an example of a tracking slip. The tracking number is below the bar code (Tracking Number: LD635465289MA). If you’re not a great reader, then you can see how this sheet may just look overwhelming:

AnouTrackingPaper

To solve the problems around this we’ve integrated cutting-edge computer vision machine learning algorithms right into Whatsapp. Now all artisans have to do is submit a picture of their tracking slip along with the product ID to Anou’s Whatsapp number. Our system will then analyze the picture, even in poor light conditions or with a poor resolution camera and identify the tracking number with 99% accuracy.  With the tracking number in hand, Anou’s system sends it back to the artisans to confirm it worked and then notify the customer immediately.  Here’s the analysis in action:

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Computer vision finds all potentially relevant text, and then works through it all to extract what best matches the tracking number.

Tracking Number Gif

With machine reading technology as sampled above, it is easy to envision how the Anou marketplace will soon no longer require artisans to even know any product ID. Simply print out your tag when you post a product, then when the product sells online or in person, just take a picture of the tag and let the computer find the ID and the computer will figure out what you wanted to do. A completely effortless, text-free approach to managing online stores is in reach for any artisan who can send a picture via Whatsapp (Update:  Text Free Shipping Confirmation has now been released.)

Enabling Every Artisan to Accept Credit Cards In Person

There have been so many more features we’ve integrated to make it as easy as possible for artisans to manage their own store, but our favorite and potentially most transformative tool thus far is integrating Paypal into Whatsapp.

One of the biggest limitations that artisans have is that many of them cannot take credit card payments for tourists/customers who visit their physical store. In person visits for Anou artisans has been increasing in the past year as we slowly roll out our initiatives to enable customers to schedule visits with artisans across the Anou community. Solving the credit card problem has been top of mind for a long period of time now as this is a major reason why people continue to buy from middlemen in Marrakech or foreigners online.

Now, via Whatsapp, all artisans have to do is type in the credit card emoji, with the product ID, plus the email of their customer, and their customer will be sent a Paypal invoice for the cost of the product artisans listed on their store (minus shipping). Once the customer pays, artisans will instantly receive a confirmation message with a cash emoji all via Whatsapp:

Paypal Integration

 

Almost overnight all artisans across the Anou community can now receive credit cards in their village. All they need is an internet connection, which now the majority have. Again, it is easy to see how we can complete this process without a product ID and just one simple emoji. For example, artisans could just ask the customer to clearly handwrite their email on the product tag, then the artisan could take a picture of that product tag,  send it to Whatsapp and the computer will know that the artisan wants to send an invoice for the product on that tag to the customer’s email address. No text input required at all (Update: Text Free Invoicing has now been released).

The Future of Craft and Technology

All of these examples and more are now rolling out and we’re going to be spending the next several months observing and getting feedback from artisans how to make all of these processes as easy and reliable possible. Yet even in this preliminary stage, the future of technology and it’s relationship with craft in Morocco is clear and never has it been more important to get right.

The Financial Times (paywall; apologies) recently reported that emerging markets such as Morocco will be the countries worst hit “by the anticipated wave of creative destruction driven by the march of automation.”

Our experience in Morocco supports this. McDonalds jobs, the entry point for many low skilled workers in America and what should be a stable job in Morocco, are already largely automated in Morocco. Buy a Big Mac at the McDonalds in Casablanca and you don’t even have to deal with a single human. Morocco, whether it has realized it or not, is in trouble because the majority of jobs that exist now or were used by other countries to develop are soon going to be made obsolete by machines.

Future Proof a Country?

Craft, however, is one of the few jobs in Morocco that can not only survive in the age of automation, but thrive. Morocco’s natural resources like phosphate will one day run out. But the country’s rich cultural heritage rooted in the Arab, Amazigh and Jewish people and located at the corner of Africa, the Middle East and Europe, gives Morocco an unrivaled and inexhaustible well of inspiration for creativity and design. It is little surprise brands like Dior are launching their new lines from places like Marrakech. Morocco’s culture and design is worth more than gold in an overly mechanized world hungry for authentic product made by humans.

Whether Morocco’s craft sector can thrive all comes back to the brief windows that technology can open. If cutting edge technology can be put to work for artisans and placed under their control, artisans are all but guaranteed to generate wealth, not just a fair wage, and ultimately secure the future of Moroccan craft.

But the race is on. The window to make this happen is small and Anou is doing everything it can to make this a reality. If technology is never developed, or it simply is used to support middlemen on Etsy or Instagram, then the 17% annual decline in total Moroccan artisans will only accelerate. In some ways, the biggest challenge in ensuring artisans benefit from technology is not just building such technology, but building it all before the time when there are no artisans left.

When you buy Moroccan craft, you can certainly buy from sellers on Etsy or Instagram. There’s a small chance some money will get to artisans, but it certainly won’t contribute to any systemic change. If you buy through Anou, you’re not only guaranteed artisans will be paid well but also contribute to building the technology the artisan community and Morocco need to thrive in an increasingly automated world.

At the end of the day, the future of Morocco’s craft comes down to you, the customer. We need your help. Make purchases where they matter, and make sure all your friends and family do too. The future of Moroccan craft and Morocco’s economy depends on it.

$1 Million

Earlier this summer The Anou Cooperative surpassed $1 million USD in total sales since we launched the Anou market place several years ago. This is a major milestone for any business. Businesses are hard. Only about 6% of business ever reach $1 million USD in sales. For Anou, this milestone is special because it was achieved by the effort of people erroneously believed to not be business savvy at all: artisans.  

Artisans across the Anou community have to make a huge jump and take on large challenges to transition to selling directly to customers. In addition to photographing and posting their own products, there are the challenges of how to scale their businesses and manage their growth.  It’s not an easy learning curve.

The biggest learning curve of all is that of Anou’s artisan leaders.  Artisan leaders work as a team by working shifts at Anou’s HQ in order to help manage quality, manage materials for the artisan community such as wool and dye work, collaborate with partners such as our retail, shipping, donor and government partners, and help advise newer groups on how best to organize their cooperatives. Through this work, artisan leaders like Kenza of Association Tithrite, Brahim of Association Ighrem, Mustapha of Cooperative Nahda, Rachida of Cooperative Tiglmamin, Rabha of Cooperative Tamlalt, Fatiha of Cooperative Tifawin, Halima of Association Zaouia, all have set the bar for what artisans can achieve.

This milestone and the success of all Anou’s artisan leaders all comes back to you, our supporters. To everyone who has helped advocate on Anou’s behalf, or purchased a product (or several!), told their friends and family or had their orders delayed due to various growing pains, none of this would be possible without you.

The Anou community is deeply indebted to all of our customers and partners who have made this milestone a possibility. There is still much more work to be done in building Anou’s community and reshaping Morocco’s craft economy but with all of your support we know the best is yet to come.

 

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Kenza (left) of Association Tithrite.

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Rabha of Cooperative Tamlalt

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Fatiha of Cooperative Tifawin

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Brahim of Association Ighrem

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Halima of Association Zaouia

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Mustapha of Association Nahda

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Rachida (left) of Cooperative Tiglmamin

 

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

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

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

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

Finding Sabra

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

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

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Stacks and stacks of…cheap rayon.


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

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

 

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

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

The Economics and Abuse of Sabra

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

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

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

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

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

An Alternative?

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Bamboo Tests

 

An Artisan Centered Craft Economy in Morocco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Familiar Problems

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

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

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

Domestic Demand & Confusion

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

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

Launching The Atlas Wool Supply Co

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

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

Get Involved and Support Anou

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April’s Featured Artisan Group!

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The members of Association Nahda pose with a newly woven boucherouite rug in front of their new workshop.

We’re excited to announce our first ever featured artisan group: Association Nahda. The weavers of Association Nahda were one of the earliest groups to join the Anou community and have since become one of its biggest, most successful groups. Throughout the next couple of weeks, we will be sharing behind-the-scene looks and stories about the association, its members, and the impact they are all having on their local community of Souq El Hed.

During this time, all of our supporters will be offered a 10% discount off all of Association Nahda’s listed products and custom orders. Find something you like or want to have made by Association Nahda? Just contact us at hello@theanou.com for the discount code!

 

 

Revealing Common Threads: Mustapha Chaouai

Learn more about the rug Anou Leader Mustapha Chaouai’s designed during the British Council’s Common Thread Project below! These rugs can be purchased online at: http://www.theanou.com/commonthread

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“Co-Existence” by Mustapha Chaouai
2.3m x 1.6m
Mustapha’s rug is available for purchase at:

www.theanou.com/commonthread

All proceeds will go to Mustapha’s association (Association Nahda) and cover the costs of future artisan-led trainings to grow the Anou community in Morocco.

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

— Mustaph Chaouai

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About Mustapha:

Mustapha’s works as a metalsmith in the small town of Oued Ifrane where he earns his income repairing metal doors, trucks, axles and pretty much any other metal object villagers bring to his shop. It might seem peculiar to many that an established metalsmith would establish a female weaving cooperative, but that is exactly what Mustapha did by founding Association Nahda.

Mustapha, as one quickly learns after meeting him, is an anomaly in Morocco. When he was younger, he was always near his mother and grandmother while they weaved. Just by observing he became skilled in a craft that is reserved for women. With this rare skill set, he thought that he could help create jobs and opportunity for his wife and the women of Oued Ifrane.

Today, Mustapha serves as the artisan director for the Anou community.

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Mustapha’s rug on display at the Common Thread Exhibition at the London Design Festival.

Common Thread (Part 2): In Sabrina’s Words

The core experience of the Common Thread project is rooted in collaboration, understanding and the exchange of ideas. After the completion of the design workshop led by Sabrina Kraus Lopez (www.sabrinakrauslopez.com), Sabrina accompanied Rabha Akkaoui back to Tounfite where she stayed for three weeks working and living alongside the women of Cooperative Chorouk (www.theanou.com/store/3). In this album, Sabrina reflects on her experiences through pictures taken throughout the three weeks.

 

 

“It is hard to believe that this small mud hut sandwiched in this incredible landscape will now be my workspace for the next three weeks.”

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans

 

 

“The first few days at the cooperative consisted of me staring at the women weave, trying to take in all their movements in order to understand how their looms worked. Once we set up my loom I was ready and excited to begin weaving my own rug.”

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Fatima Haddu,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Looms, Moroccan Weaving, Moroccan Artisans

 

 

 

“At the moment when the women and I realize that I have been weaving, unaccompanied and successfully for the last 30 minutes, there is a loud applause, as only now have I finally earned my place in this remote village cooperative!”

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans , Sabrina Kraus Lopez

 

 

 

“There are two other looms in the Chorouk Cooperative, each carefully shared and cared for by ten women, each of whom can be found preparing, cleaning and spinning wool for weaving, but most importantly, laughing and telling stories.”

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans, Designer Sabrina Kraus Lopez

 

 

 

“I was taken by the individual artisans themselves and their situations, sometimes funny, sad and occasionally touching; each of them has a story to tell.”

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans, Fatima Haddu, Flatweave, Hanbel

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans, Flatweave, Hanbel

 

 

 

“From collecting and spinning the wool, to picking and hand dying the yarn, it soon became clear to me that for the artisans this is not simply a livelihood but rather an intrinsic part of their culture and everyday life.”

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans, Fatima Haddu, Flatweave, Hanbel, Family

 

 

 

“Intensely proud of their heritage and traditions, the Amazigh believe that these carpets have been crucial in keeping their cultures alive. Even today, some tribal women still carry these symbols and motifs tattooed on to their foreheads, chins and arms, in days gone by this would have distinguished them during times of war.”

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans, Fatima Haddu, Flatweave, Hanbel, Fatima Haddu

 

 

 

“After two weeks, I begin to feel settled in Tounfite. Every morning I wake up to Rabha’s amazing mint tea and breakfast, all of which is loaded with sugar to get me through each day of weaving.”

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans, Fatima Haddu, Flatweave, Hanbel, Design Explore, Moroccan Food, Moroccan Cooking

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans, Fatima Haddu, Flatweave, Hanbel, Design Explore, Moroccan Food, Moroccan Cooking

 

 

 

“Later, I finally know how to ask for bread, water, phone credit and make it to the closest store on my own. I also know that the Hamam is one of the best things in town and that Sundays at the souq are priceless.”

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans, Fatima Haddu, Flatweave, Hanbel, Design Explore, Moroccan Food, Moroccan Cooking, Tounfite Souq, Tounfite Market

Cooperative Chorouk, Anou Community, Tounfite,  Moroccan Craft, Moroccan Artisans, Fatima Haddu, Flatweave, Hanbel, Design Explore, Moroccan Food, Moroccan Cooking, Tounfite Market, Tounfite Souq

 

 

 

“At the end of my time in Morocco, I have learnt how to say “Hello”, “thank you” and “I am full”, in Amazigh. I am also now familiar with sleeping on layered carpets, having bucket showers and eating with my hands at almost every meal. However, it is exactly these new experiences, sharing of cultures and most of all friendships that I will miss most and what makes collaborations like this so special.”

Anou, Family, Community

Sabrina Kraus Lopez, Rabha Akkaoui, Common Thread, Design Explore, Design Junction, London Design Festival

 

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