Fashion / Morocco / Travel

The true value behind buying an artisan Moroccan Rug.

As consumers, we tend to look for the most value behind our purchases, who doesn’t love a good deal? But sometimes we lose the sight of value and get fixated on price. Cheaper products, faster delivery and better quality. Yes, these are valuable ideals behind purchasing. But society has reached the pinnacle of instant gratification. Want now, want it cheap, want, want, want… and many people do not understand the true cost of things. Or prefer to ignore it and hope it will go away. But sometimes it is the experience of shopping that gives us the most pleasure, hence the thrill of a bargain. But if we dig a little deeper we can prolong that experience with knowledge and insight. Something I have thought about after buying a few Moroccan rugs while traveling there.

The first time I bought two Moroccan rugs was my first trip to Morocco in 2017. I had arrived by ferry to Tangier, it was my first time traveling to Africa and I was a lone woman venturing into the unknown, on an adventure that was destined. I love Moroccan textiles, designers like me have long been inspired by the artisans of Morocco. When I left for this journey I remember our forecast books at work were all featuring Moroccan and Mexican influences and even now 6 years later Morocco and its culture continue as a major influence in design and art.

I passed by a local carpet shop in the corridors of Chefchaouen with the same seller chatting with me and asking me to come look. No different than any other sales person but everything seems unique to you as you pass through Morocco as a tourist. Our ego tells us how ‘special’ we are doesn’t it? Finally, I went in after a few days exploring. I think I spent more than 5 hours in the shop chatting with the vendor, having tea as he explained the process, the symbolism behind the designs, which region or tribe of Morocco they represented, I was on a sabbatical and it was low season so what else did we have to do? Clearly, he wanted to make the sale and I was a hesitant buyer. Of course, I was interested in the most expensive rugs. As a designer with a trained eye from years in manufacturing and an intensive design diploma, I understand quality and design aesthetics. But there is more to the price of an artisan rug than just meets the eye, which I will explain a bit below.

Moroccan rugs hanging in Medina Streets of Chefchaouen Morocco
Quiet streets of Chefchaouen before the shops open, with a few rugs hanging from an early merchant. ©Susan Paige

Aspects that effect the price of an artisan Moroccan Rug

  • Size of Rug
  • Fiber used – Camel, Sheep’s wool, Goat’s wool, Cactus Silk, cheaper man made fibres
  • Vintage or new
  • Machine or hand loom
  • Dying Process, Dyes used
  • Artwork / Design
  • Quality, workmanship
  • Single or Double sided
Beautifully faded vintage artisan rug found at Bazar Gomane. ©Susan Paige Photography

Symbolism and Preservation of the Berber Culture

As mentioned, there are symbols represented in some artisan Moroccan rugs. Humans have always been storytellers, through words or visuals and even textiles. Mountains may be represented by the weavers in the Rif Mountains for example. Or animals such as snakes or spiders. The rugs may have a story to tell, language that is not blocked by conventional ways as we know it but rather symbols like the ancient tribes had left on walls or the petroglyphs represents religion or sacred ceremonies long before communicating through shorts on TikTok. Some authentic moroccan artisan rugs originate from tribes in the Atlas Mountains or the Rif Mountains, telling each tribes story. Not all designs are stories, they may just be conceptual designs created by the artisans weaving them or the buyer procuring them. But I find it fascinating to learn about the symbols, speaking with people who hold knowledge traditions passed on from the elders long gone. Morocco holds a vibrant and beautiful culture that still lives within it, slowly becoming lost with younger generations and migration. While it’s cheaper and easier to buy a rug from a large manufacturer that matches the decor in your minimal apartment, they lack the history and storytelling that without preservation will be soon forgotten with gentrification. I love when I look at my expensive Moroccan rug and know the designs within them hold history of those traditions and tribes.

Supply Chain: The journey of each artisan rug

Everyone can understand the concept of supply chain; Manufacturer, distribution, sales, customer service and delivery. What I find unique about Moroccan artisan rugs (like many artisan goods) is the journey each rug makes. From creating the natural fibres into yarn to weaving the designs, whether it be the women (or men) in the desert or the mountains or even cities, the simple yet what can be weeks or months long process is an artistic journey. Some rugs sold, enjoyed then reclaimed as the beautiful, fully lived vintage rugs that offer new soft colours with years that have faded which were once vibrant. There is value and art in the beauty of life, life of the rug, the people who created it, who bargained for it, sold it and the new love of a fresh pair of eyes to start the process all over again. Like many used items or thrift shop finds, I find it amazing how economic hard times actually create such art within itself.

Beneficial Uses of Moroccan Rugs

Artisan goods are just that…art. Artists that tell a story, some complicated, some historical, some simple. Moroccan rugs provide decor that is not only functional but decorative. Whether it is the sole conversation piece in a minimalists condo or a curated piece of a long time collector there is a story that lays between your home walls. But what I had learnt from the first salesman is how some people in Morocco used them to keep warm in the colder winter months. While you may not typically think of cold weather in Morocco, the mountain areas do get snow and without heating in the older buildings, even the more Southern coastal towns can be uncomfortably cold at night in the winter months. Those without heating but having carpets, might put them on the walls, and floors all over to keep dampness and the chill away. Cosy their home a bit more so to say. While for most modern day dwellers this seems strange, for many living in North Africa or elsewhere have to make things work as best as possible without the infrastructure so many of us are blessed with.

Vibrant Color close up of artisan rug sold at Bazar Gomane in Essaouira, Morocco. ©Susan Paige

Buying your first Moroccan Artisan Rug

I highly suggest if you can to go to Morocco directly, learn about the culture, meet the people and enjoy what is Moroccan hospitality (the best in the world). Support the locals, tourism and the people that make a living to welcome people and share their history. Not only are you going to have an adventure and exploration into a mystical, wonderful culture but you’ll also save on the price by buying closer to the source than online. Plus it helps to see and touch the product before shipping across the world then returning it thus expanding your carbon footprint for nothing. This definitely extends the experience of shopping! Once there find a shopkeep who you have a connection with and feels comfortable and trustworthy to you. DO NOT feel pressured into a sale you are not comfortable with. A Moroccan rug is more of an investment to enjoy over the years, the last thing you want to think about every time you look at is that guy who ripped you off.

Secondly, figure out what kind of rug you might want, ask questions but don’t waste people’s time either. Are you looking for a large rug, a wall hanging, a decor piece, functional, something for warmth or a specific look or design you want? Knowing the end use also helps direct you and your salesman to the right inventory to browse, determining the fibres used, weave type and overall style of rug.

Thirdly, like any shopping, know your budget and be honest when looking – don’t give your last price you can afford but give a range so they don’t waste their time and throw you out! Moroccan hospitality and patience is incredible but culturally it can be hostile and aggressive in the wrong circumstances. Haggling and bargaining is part of the culture and some shop owners like the process while others don’t. More and more stores have been putting fixed prices as to avoid cheap and quite honestly racist tourists looking to take advantage.

Another Close up of detail on a reversible artisan rug at Bazar Gomane in Essaouira, Morocco. ©Susan Paige Photography

Bazar Gomane in Essaouira

While I don’t have many suggestions of where to go specifically to buy your artisan rug, I can only offer one of a friend in Essaouira. The shop name is Bazar Gomane, the owner is kind man named Youssef with a young family and a great selection of beautiful new and vintage rugs along with some pillow covers and other things. He is honest, patient and relaxed. During covid I took some photos and bought some items for a friend in the United States. I had met him through other friends while there and he was always friendly so we would chat about life in Essaouira and Morocco when I passed by the shop or met him in the street. It is located just near the port and main square Place Moulay Hassan in the Old Medina of Essaouira. The shop is simple but clean and more modern than many of the other shops I have visited in Morocco. Youssef understands the needs of foreigners and locals looking for a modern but authentic piece to appreciate. While he doesn’t use a website, he does offer worldwide shipping for wholesale and retail. You can see some of his pieces on his instagram @bazar_gomane and you can find the shop on Google Maps here.

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