At Harfi we pride ourselves on stocking products that are not only unique and stylish but also, authentic and that are 100% ethically sourced and produced, from start to finish. We understand that sometimes, market conditions, geographic location and cultural roadblocks can all hinder a talented designer from selling their products. That’s why we help connect these skilled craftsmen and choose to participate and work alongside them in a co-operative partnership, whilst at the same time helping them expand the market for their products and boost their standard of living, creating fairer business and better profits.
What is an artisan co-operative?
They are a community of artisans, primarily women, who pool together to share all the administrative costs as well as all the profits. The workers run the businesses collaboratively, cumulatively deciding on what to make, how to make it and how much to sell it for. They can produce anything from leather goods and textiles to cosmetics, ceramics and Berber rugs.
- Harfi goes directly to the source – to the people who make the products themselves. By removing the middleman, we are able to pass on the savings to the makers and also widen the market for their products. In places like Morocco, the middleman economy is a staple of the business culture and the profits they make cut directly into the pockets of the artisans.
- The makers are not commercial businessmen or salesman and they are often very shy, their English is very poor and they are not technologically savvy, making it very hard for them to promote their own products.
- Harfi chooses to partner with artisan cooperatives for a fairer solution to those artisans and to be able to stock high quality, authentic goods from traditional craftsmen at fair trading prices on all sides.
What are the benefits to the artisans in being part of the co-operative?
Prior to joining a co-operative, most of the members would have worked by themselves, producing their goods in their own home. They would then head to the markets to sell their goods to local businessmen; mostly middlemen who would simply buy and sell-on at a mark-up. Given that the price for the artisans work is often very low and their isolated location, this means there is little to no other direct market solution for their goods and many are unable to sustain a living. With very little education and high rates of illiteracy and innumeracy this would leave them with very little choice.
By joining a co-operative and removing the middleman, the artisans are able to regain independence and control over how operations are run. Their earning potential is vastly increased as they can set their own prices, reduce running costs and increase the market for their products. A manager is often appointed to make the business decisions to allow the artisans to do what they love and do best, creating beautiful handmade goods, such as authentic Beni Ourain rugs and Hammam towels.
How can you tell the difference between an artisan co-operative and other organisations?
The word “co-operative” is a commonly used buzzword as many resellers use it to enhance their marketing efforts. In places such as Marrakech, the unwritten middleman economy is a staple of the business culture as there are commissions involved in almost every transaction. It is not bad practice per se but a social phenomenon that has developed naturally as locals seek to help each other out. It does, unfortunately, adversely impact the makers as every extra penny for the middlemen is a penny taken from their pockets.
As a newcomer it can be a difficult path to navigate. Generally, there are a few key indicators of a genuine co-operative: the prices are fixed, they are not overly salesy or pushy, they are happy to engage in conversation about how the products were produced and often there are one or two artisans actively working in the store itself. The only way to truly be sure that the cooperatives are authentic, however, is to ask them to show you the artisans at work which they are usually more than happy to do.
What does ethical product creation mean?
In all cases Harfi will source the products through artisan cooperatives and wherever possible Harfi will work directly with the makers themselves. (The only slight exception to this is the Moroccan rugs where we will go through a trusted rug dealer (an artisan co-operative themselves with whom we have developed a strong relationship and work with on a number of other products that they produce in-house, such as the cotton and cashmere throws). They source the rugs from the Berber tribes in the High Atlas Mountains.
All of our products are handmade using only natural and sustainable materials. Our founding values are “Beautiful. Ethical. Handmade” and so you won’t find mass produced items in any of our collections. We embrace traditional skills that have often been passed down through the generations that gives all of our products a unique character and identity. We celebrate the individuality of each product that is a reflection of the love and care that has gone into each product meaning that no two products are the same. Harfi works collaboratively with the artisans to bring you new designs that perfectly combine ancient weaving techniques, with contemporary patterns that will suit any interior.
Morocco has a rich history of handicrafts. Handicrafts in Morocco have always been a fundamental characteristic of Moroccan daily life. The country has long been renowned for its workmanship in the Middle East and North Africa. More than 400, 000 people work as artisans in Morocco with most having no formal training and instead using skills and techniques that have been passed down through the generations. Moroccan handicrafts are as diverse as the country itself, taking inspiration from a number of different cultures that are embedded in its rich history. These skilled artisans hand-make a large range of items including leather goods, Berber rugs, throws, wood carvings and ceramics.
Moroccan and Vietnam Craft Materials
- Leather - Morocco has countless types of leather, mostly from older traditions. In Fez and Marrakech, entire neighbourhoods are reserved for tanneries. Today in Morocco leather is being made in much the same way as it has been for hundreds of years. Moroccan leather is known to be some of the finest quality in the world and is treated and tanned with natural substances. These organic tanning methods produce hard-wearing leather that is very durable and will often improve with us.
- Rugs - Moroccan women have been making rugs and carpets for millenia. One rug can take months to complete. All of our rugs are beautiful, authentic hand woven Moroccan Beni Ourain/ Berber Rugs. Each rug has been handwoven by the Berber tribes in the High Atlas Mountains. They are made from hand-spun sheep wool of the highest quality and only natural dyes.Each rug is lovingly handcrafted by skilled artisans so each piece is truly unique. The Moroccan Berber rugs are renowned for their classic style and luxuriousness which have made them a statement piece in homes throughout the world. The off-white colour and dark geometric lines means that these sumptuous Berber rugs are timeless pieces that will compliment all interiors. These luxurious thick pile rugs are beautifully soft and their neutral tones will tie in well with most colour schemes. Built to last for generations, these genuine Moroccan rugs are perfect for both the interior aficionado and the ethically conscious consumer.
- Textiles - Textiles are a fundamental part of the handicrafts of Morocco having emerged as far back as 1500 BC. Blankets are handwoven on wooden looms using traditional weaving techniques that have not changed in centuries. These beautiful hand spun and handwoven blankets and throws are a speciality of Northern Moroccan imperial cities, especially Fez.
- Baskets - Established just over ten years our partnership business in Vietnam was set up by a few young Vietnamese individuals to help the poor and marginalised population within Vietnam. By bringing together some of the very best hand craftsmen in the area they were able to train them with new skills, introduce new designs and help them find more markets for their products so that they now enjoy a better and more stable livelihood. Hand-woven by skilled artisans, each basket is uniquely-made out of natural and sustainable seagrass from Vietnam and hand-dipped in a water-based paint to add a pop of colour.