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Rural women weavers struggle to earn a fair price for their intricate rugs.
Not all Morocco’s carpets are crafted from hand-spun wool in isolated homes. Some weavers work in small cooperatives, others in factories. Some get their wool pre-spun at the market, others even buy synthetics. But the artisans — the overwhelming majority of whom are women — share similar problems.
“The money is not going to these ladies, for sure,” said Bouchra Hamelin of Al Akhawayn University, who teaches free marketing classes to Moroccan weavers and other artisans. “They don’t know how to write, how to read. They don’t have access to the internet so they don’t have access to customers.”
Instead, Hamelin said, men with trucks have access to the weavers. A middleman tours isolated villages and souks, buys low, drives to the cities, then sells high. “He is the person making the money,” she said.
Women in some villages have formed cooperatives in a bid to bypass middlemen. An association of 88 weavers in Anzal, about 35 miles from Kourkouda, have been marketing their wares directly to tourists since 2007. Like all the weavers interviewed for this story, they speak a local language called Tachelhit, which predates Arabic’s arrival to the region.
Even leaders of the group acknowledge that sales haven’t been stellar. The association’s treasurer, Zahara Ait Ali, said she’s only sold four carpets since the group was formed — a typical number, group members said — for a total of about $300. Still, she said, working through an association is better than going to the souk alone and haggling with a carpet dealer.
“The professionals in Marrakesh, the people who work in the bazaars, they try to drive the prices down,” she said. “In our region no one will speak out about low prices.” It’s hard to tell precisely how much of a cut the middlemen are taking. After all, concealing the wholesale price is the essence of the game. But a brief encounter with a traveling rug merchant named Mohammed Ait Tar offered a clue. Flagged down on a rutted mountain track, he showed off a load of carpets jammed to the ceiling of his tiny, diesel Citroen Berlingo.
He pulled out one plush, coffee-table sized carpet from a stack of rugs he said were woven nearby. What he did next underscored the warm hospitality visitors often encounter in this region, and also hinted at how little the piece must have cost him.
“Here,” he said. “A gift.”