Long coveted for their bold range of colors, intricate designs, and natural, luxurious feel, authentic Moroccan rugs are a staple of the well-appointed home. And yet, “the stories behind these textiles are lost to bulk buyers, and the artisans are at the mercy of middlemen,” explains Mallory Solomon, the New York-based businesswoman whose young rug company, Salam Hello, launched its second collection today, January 24. “The women weavers are often left out of negotiations,” she continues. “They rarely make back what they’ve invested in time, material, and craft.”
With Salam Hello, Solomon aims to combat such a loss. Moroccan rug sales have long depended on middlemen to deliver finished rugs from small villages to larger cities, where they can be sold to tourists. According to Solomon, these middlemen will purchase rugs from weavers at low prices, sometimes talking them down from their initial asking price by as much as 75 percent.
Solomon's goal is to remove the middleman from the transaction by purchasing rugs from the weavers themselves and selling them directly to consumers.“We never go below a weaver's first asking price,” says Solomon. And since weavers often don't realize the true value of their work, she adds, “sometimes, we even encourage them to raise it.”
Solomon first got the idea for the company several years ago, when she was leading the business department at creative agency 72andSunny. “After an extremely hard year of work and barely a day off, I took a two-week trip to Morocco and everything changed. I immediately felt at home,” she says.
Wandering the streets, villages, and medinas of the country, she encountered its traditional textiles, and was inspired to continue researching their history even when she was back to work in New York. She found that the textile-making tradition had been passed down since 600 BC by generations of women who were often the breadwinners of their families, but still couldn't afford many of the things they needed.
“Salam Hello was born to be a transparent and empowering outlet for Moroccan artisans,” says Solomon. When she's not in Morocco, she oversees rug production from her home in New York. All things considered, she's relatively hands-off, typically communicating once a day with artisans via WhatsApp.
“They are the heroes in the entire rug process. Not only are they the weavers, but the designs come entirely from their imaginations. It’s a remarkable craft, and the weaver deserves all the credit. That’s why we name all of our pieces with the weaver’s name, followed by the characteristic style of the weave.”
Exemplifying this is Khadijah’s Checkerboard Flatweave. The black-and-white design launches today with the rest of the rug collection, which is available at the company’s website as well as at the company's pop-up shop inside lifestyle boutique Concrete + Water in Brooklyn, New York, through the end of January. Every piece in the collection is unique, and the inventory is mixed: some rugs have been created in collaboration with weavers—Solomon estimates she’s currently working with around 50 artisans, all of them based in southeast Morocco, though she hopes to expand geographically—while others are vintage, purchased for resale during Solomon’s various trips abroad. Additionally, a series of 20 pillows will be available on January 31 to complement the collection. And if anything goes out of stock or its dimensions don’t comply with a buyer’s wishes, the company can work with its weavers to create a custom product.
Regardless of their provenance, all rugs meet a set of material criteria. Wool is always sheared from live sheep, lambs, or camels, with no harm to the animal (wool from a dead sheep will shed, Solomon explains), and artisans typically card, spin, and dye it themselves using locally sourced spice or plant blends: red and pink from henna and pomegranate, blue from indigo, green from mint and alfalfa, and orange from saffron.
In addition to buying each rug at a fair price, Salam Hello also gives 10 percent of profits back to the women artisans in Morocco.
"In Anzal, the community of weavers made the humble request for a camera," she recounts. "A few months ago, we were able to visit their village and supply them with state-of-the-art digital equipment so they are able to take pictures of their final, one-of-a-kind pieces.
"Ultimately, we want our customers to have a truly deep connection with their rug beyond the look and feel of a product," she concludes. "Knowing the story behind the textile and the human on the other end of the supply chain is, we believe, a way to have a better world full of civility."