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Posts Tagged ‘rug’

102320moroccan_women_carpet_market

Photo: Taylor Luck
Bargaining over a Berber rug in Khemisset, Morocco.

Yesterday I mentioned to Nancy that the pandemic may have affected the timeliness of some of the stories I’ve collected for future blog posts. I wasn’t sure, for example, if the Berber women who weave carpets and manage their markets in Morocco were still working.

Today I found a late May report indicating the weavers work from home and continue to produce for export companies despite Covid-19 lockdowns. So I think I can share this article from the Christian Science Monitor. When it’s safe to return to public spaces, I’m counting on women like these to be fully in charge once again.

Taylor Luck writes, “The carpet palace is at the far end of the bustling, dusty, weekly outdoor market here. Past heaps of wheat and grain, mounds of clothes, and piles of sandals and animal feed is a rust-colored structure with vaulted archways and bushels of thread and fabric.

“But visitors drawn by the allure of Berber rugs of every hue must abide by one important law: Inside this palace, women rule.

“For here at Khemisset’s zarabi souk – literally ‘rug market’ – women are the shearers, weavers, mediators, sellers, and distributors. There is no room for men in their business model – and they like it that way.

“Moroccan connoisseurs know their straight-from-the-source products: the minimalist, black-and-white geometric weaves of the Beni Ourain; the colorful reds, blues, yellow symbols, and wavy lines of the Azilal tribe; patchwork confetti-like Boucherouite rugs of leftover textile scraps; the blue-and-red, lightweight, tightly-nit kilims.

“Anyone who wishes to fill their tourist bazaar, auction house, hotel, or travel bag with these intricate multicolor Berber rugs must first go through these merchant matriarchs. … The women of Khemisset know more than their carpets; they know how to drive a hard bargain.

“Situated 60 miles east-southeast of Rabat and nestled in the plains below the Berber-inhabited Middle Atlas Mountains, Khemisset is a bilingual town of Berbers and Arabs. It has long been a natural trading post where Berber farmers and craftswomen from the mountain villages and rural hinterlands sell to urban, mainly Arab clientele. For the past three decades, women from the town have teamed up with relatives and contacts from the outer villages to sell carpets and rugs directly to vendors. …

“Khemisset merchants such as Fatima Rifiya gather at the marketplace to await dozens of women from far-off Berber villages (locals refer to themselves as Amazigh, which means ‘free people’) who arrive in horse-drawn carriages at 4 a.m.

“The sellers and middle-women then rummage through the piles of rugs, evaluating every piece by size, coloring, thickness, weave, and pattern. Khemisset women say their secret to success is an eye for desirability – fitting each carpet to the target audience and buyer who never knew they always needed it. …

“ ‘Once we grade the carpets, we explain to the weavers the values and who their customers may be, [and] we set a price and our commission,’ explains Ms. Rifiya, herself a transplant from a mountainous Berber village who now acts as a head matriarch and an Arabic translator. …

“Carpet dealers come from Marrakech and Fez. The men pace between the tiny stalls muttering, ‘Really, that is too much,’ or, ‘I swear to God, I can get half that price somewhere else.’ But Ms. Rifiya and her sisterhood stand their ground. She and some of the more veteran sellers such as Faten act not only as translators for the Berber weavers, but as coaches in the ways of bartering and selling.

“Simple rules such as: Never appear desperate for a sale. Let the customer walk away, they’ll always come back. Add 20% to your preferred price to open up bargaining. …

“This souk is not sponsored by a charitable association, a collective, or even a government or royal initiative to help rural women. Instead, it is an organic, grassroots product of local residents and shared interests.

“Here at the zarabi souk, women are selling individually yet banding together – an alliance driven by economic opportunity, supply and demand, and a dash of solidarity.

“It was not always like this. Three decades ago, most Berber weavers say they would sell to middlemen who would go off to market towns and sell at any price they wished, or to traveling ‘dealers’ who would purchase directly from village women for their bazaars and tourist shops. But each Berber woman would not know how much others were being paid for their work or what the market rate was for their carpets.”

Sounds like this market has made a real difference in people’s lives. Here’s hoping that post-Covid, these strong women will see to it that everything goes back to normal. More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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