Topic: business

Aid to Artisans: Building Profitable Craft Businesses. Notes From the Field

Artisans in Fes

Its frustrating to see Moroccan-design products, such as Safi-style dinnerware sold by Pottery Barn a few years back, that are manufactured in China. It signals to me that the Moroccan economy isn’t benefiting from centuries of design traditions. But, issues of capacity and quality control need to be addressed before Moroccan artisans can reach out directly to consumers, let alone big retailers.

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Saving the River in Fes

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Up river some boys rinsed gold tea pots with an acid finish. Down river, a group of men pound animal skins in the water. The river that runs through Fes serves many purposes. None smell or look particularly beautiful.

Maybe that will change soon.

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Moroccan Mosaics from Indonesia

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Gene Turangan was kind enough to send me some photos of his workshop in Indonesia. He makes Moroccan-style mosaic tables and vanities using his own technique. More


Morocco’s First Higher Training Institute for Traditional Crafts

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According to an article by Sarah Touahri at Maghrebia.com, earlier this month the Moroccan Secretary of State for Traditional Crafts Anis Birou revealed government plans to open the country’s first higher institute for training in traditional crafts by 2010. Training in handicrafts has traditionally been done through apprenticeship. A formal training institute will help address problems in production and help the handicraft sector meet international demand for Moroccan goods – a need not being met by current supply. The full story is online at full article at maghrebia.com.

My only question is: can they teach me to make stencils like the ones hanging in this wood working shop in Fes?


Argan Oils, Beauty Product with a Purpose

Argan oils

I opened the mailbox and saw a little square package. Could it be? The return label read “Argan Oils…Chicago, IL.” Yes! My package of argan oils had arrived!

I was approached by Argan Oils to list their product on my website and wanted to test the quality first. If you purchase their product through my site, I get a commission on the sale.

Argan oil is made from the kernels of the argan tree, which only grows in southern Morocco. Extracting the oil is a labor-intensive process primarily done by Berber women in the Atlas region. For centuries the oil has been valued for its culinary, cosmetic, and medicinal properties. Only recently has it gained popularity in Europe and the United States as an eco-friendly, anti-aging ingredient.

Argan Oils


Modern Rabat

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Trying to understand the origins of Moroccan design makes it is easy to neglect the new developments taking shape around the country. Take for example Hay Riad, the suburb of Rabat. The first time I visited Hay Riad in 1996 it was considered a far-out suburb, a cumbersome bus ride away from the city center. Now traffic flows into Hay Riad. It is complete with shops, businesses, gardens, and religious centers.

Hay Riad


L’Artisanat du Maroc

Trike Tour

My favorite thing to do in Rabat is to take pack my daughter and her trike in the car and head towards the medina. In May and June the weather is nice, perhaps a bit too hot at midday, but the crowds are thin. As my girl peddles her trike I take in the visual delight of artisan shops. If we visit during lunch when some of the shops are closed I can admire the painted doors. Sometimes we cross the street to the kasbah Oudaya for more fun exploring the gardens and a cup of tea for mom and cookies for the girl.

Working with Moroccan Artisans


Pay-as-you-go wireless internet in Morocco

I wish I knew about this the day I got to Morocco. Wireless, pay-as-you-go internet. Life is good.

After hanging out at hotels and hanging out of windows trying to pick up a wifi signal, I went to the Wana store in Hassan (Rabat) accross from Yum Yum and bought a wireless modem. It cost 700 dirhams (about $100 USD – ouch, the dollar is low) for the modem and first month of unlimited connectivity. You can buy additional months and pay-as-you-go (Meditel offers a similar service, but at the time they require a two-year plan). Based on the access map I saw at Wana, it looks like it should work along the costal areas of Morocco. You can ask them about coverage, but I don’t expect it would work for a trek through the desert. I’m using it now in Rabat and plan on using it when I get to Restinga, between Tangier and Tetuan.

Since I work as a freelance web designer, this is a very, very good thing for me. A bit pricey, but worth it if you need to work while traveling. Wish I knew about it before I started my travels, so I wanted you to know.


Turn Your Backs to the Ocean

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I love to spend time at my friends house in the neighborhood of Rabat aptly named L’Ocean, just down the street for the new Bou Regreg waterfront and the Oudaya kasbah. They have a beautifully decorated fifth-floor apartment with a large terrace and amazing ocean view. Its the perfect spot for watching sunset and relaxing with friends. I can’t say enough about how nice it is to have your own place in Morocco…a place on the ocean. But, in L’Ocean, if you turn away from the ocean and look south down the coast you will see a neglected neighborhood that tells the story of suppressed waterfront development in Rabat.

Real estate development on the Rabat waterfront


Quality Control in Morocco

Weaver at loom

In the medina you can occasionally find haute couture labels mixed-in with traditional handicraft products. But there is something wrong with the design: the leather smells, the lining is missing, the tailoring is skewed. These are the products that didn’t make it past quality control. Would-be exporters and designers who want to take advantage of Morocco’s surplus of world-famous artisan talent will have to face the issue of quality control again, again, and again.

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Second Day of the Moroccan Business Forum

Morocco Business Forum

The day began with a presentation by Rick Ortez, a Foreign Service officer with the US Commercial Service who participated in reconstruction efforts in Baghdad and worked in Jordan during the implementation of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The essence of his presentation can be summarized by one statement he made: “It shouldn’t be called a Free Trade Agreement. It should be called a Very Challenging Trade Agreement.” The establishment of a FTA with Morocco doesn’t mitigate the challenges of doing business between the two countries, it merely adds an incentive for both parties to work together to overcome those challenges.

Second day of the Morocco Business Forum


First Day of the Moroccan Business Forum

Morocco Business Forum

The first day of the Moroccan Business Forum included introductions by the Wali (Mayor) of Fes, the Governor of the Fes-Boulemane region, and the US Ambassador. The Americans invited to a brief private session with US Ambassador, who spoke directly to concerns relevant to US businesses, such as energy costs, water availability, and low-level corruption.

Morocco Business Forum


Artisan and Fez Medina Project

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), founded by the US government in 2004 to aid developing nations, awarded $111.87 million to Morocco for the development of artisan practices, architecture, and tourism in Fes. The program aims to train 50,000 master artisans in new design and production methods and expects to benefit 20,000 low-income workers in the Fez medina. The award is part of $697.5 million Millennium Challenge Compact with Morocco.

An agreement to release pre-Compact funding in the amount of $32 million has been executed and several major procurements related to the compact project activities are being prepared. I am looking forward to learning more specifics about how the projects will develop support and develop Moroccan artisans when I go to the Morocco Business forum in May.


Morocco Business Forum

I registered for the Morocco Business Forum, which is being held in Fes from May 8-10. Yesterday and had a brief chat with the forum founder over the phone. When I told her I was interested in artisan products, she said “I don’t know if you have heard of the Millennium Challenge Account. Basically, Morocco was awarded a sum of money to develop the artisan sector.” She also noted that representatives from the US embassy will discuss the US-Morocco free trade agreement and what it means for businesses and investors.

Morocco Business Forum


Moroccan Government Establishes Ministry of Handicrafts

The Moroccan government set-up a new minsterial department dedicated to marketing the Moroccan craft sector. The plan focuses on marketing Moroccan artisanal products to consumers in the United States, Russia, the Gulf States and wealthy Moroccans.

Noting that 10 million Moroccans are employed in the handicraft industry in Morocco, the Secretary of State for Handicrafts Anis Birou stated “…it’s a third of the population, which is a fundamental part of Moroccan life and society.”

“I want our marketing policy to give pride of place to our independent craftsmen, who aren’t able to make a profit from what they make every day. I want to give them the opportunity to go and see what is happening elsewhere and to attend international exhibitions, even if only as observers, so that they can find out about the competition,” Birou announced.

For more information, see full article at Magharebia.com


Mixed Feelings about Real Estate Development in Morocco

sheep next to hotel Oued Laou
more pics of oued laou on flickr

On a recent trip to Oued Laou, a city on the Mediterranean north of Chefchaouen, I saw the opportunity fueling Morocco’s real estate and tourism development efforts. Sheep grazed in an empty lot next to the town’s hotel, enjoying a water front view along with me and my traveling companion. The hotel staff said business had picked-up since they had been featured in the most recent Lonely Planet guide. They seemed nervous about the increased attention, but we were the hotel’s only visitors.

Real estate development in Morocco


Do and Support the Work You Love: Reflections on an Interview with a Morocan Artisan

What can an American web designer learn from a Moroccan pottery-maker? To do and support the work you love.

Read: Reflections on an Interview with a Moroccan Artisan


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