This week’s featured maker is an exciting and compelling new yarn brand called Atlas Wool Supply Co. The brand is all about supporting the Moroccan artisan community and empowering its members to earn a fair living wage. Founded by Dan Driscoll, a former US Peace Corps Volunteer, “Atlas Wool Supply Co” is a sister project to “The Anou Cooperative” which enables Moroccan artists to sell their artwork directly to international customers. Essentially, Dan’s work cuts out the middle man and “creates an artisan-centered, modern craft economy in Morocco.”
The yarns on the Atlas website were used exclusively by these Moroccan artisans, but are now being offered at very fair prices to international weavers! What a cool opportunity to support the cooperative, while feeling good about weaving with ethically sourced + sustainable yarn!
We know you’ll want to follow their new Instagram Feed and check out the beautiful yarns on their website. But don’t forget to also visit their original project “The Anou Collective” to see the handcrafted rugs and other finished products for sale. You can even read personal bios of the artist who has made each item, which we LOVE. Below you’ll find a full interview with founder Dan Driscoll. It’s obvious that he’s poured so much passion and care into these projects, and we are excited to see this project blossom!
Tell us about Atlas Wool Supply Co. How and when did it get started?
The Atlas Wool Supply Co. was the result of a recurring problem we had in scaling Anou. The artisan sector in Morocco has been under a lot of pressure due the numerous problems. A symptom of these problems are how middlemen have taken over the artisanal marketplace in Morocco. Middlemen on average take up to 96% of the final selling price of products you find locally or sold via vendors in the US (even fair trade boutiques). With continually falling prices, middlemen have turned to maintain their margins by cutting on quality materials, that traditionally were abundant in Morocco.
Now, some of the most well-known sellers of Moroccan craft supplies sell primarily synthetics or use toxic dyes and treatments like formaldehyde. This is shocking because the material markets in Morocco were fairly vibrant before, and now it is decimated. When tracking the fall of an artisan sector, as has happened in other Middle Eastern countries, the material market is usually the first pillar to collapse and that’s what is happening in Morocco. There is just no supply for quality Moroccan material and so the only way we can solve that problem is to rebuild these traditional supply chains our self. As a result, we launched the Atlas Wool Supply Co.
Who makes/dyes the yarns?
The yarns are hand threaded by various cooperatives throughout the Anou community. We’ve created standardization of threads for Moroccan craft and then we train up women how to meet those standards. Right now, three cooperatives spin the majority of our threads. As for dyes, we import top of the line dyes from the US because we cannot find any safe dyes domestically in Morocco. We have top artisans from across the Anou community (artisan leaders) who work in shifts at our HQ to manage.
Now, one the tasks of the artisan leaders manage is taking and completing dye order from the Anou community. Artisans can simply call up or Whatsapp our HQ, put in a color request. If it is a new color, I’ll pilot and develop the color mix and hand it off to the artisan leaders who then dye the requested batch. You can see new colors as we post them on our Instagram account. I’ve created a system where each color has a unique code, so if the artisan leaders get a request for a previously dyed color, the artisan leaders just punch in the code in an app I’ve created and it will spit out the ratios and information to recreate the color requested. Once dyed, we ship directly to the villages where artisans live.
In the near future, we’re setting up wool and dye centers in two of the major wool producing areas of Morocco. So we’ll have artisans in those areas begin to dye on site to keep costs as low as possible and delivery times fast. My goal is that any time we expand or create more jobs, they are exclusively available to artisans within the Anou community, particularly females.
Where do the artists work? From home?
Of the three cooperatives, two spin most of the wool in their homes so they can tend to their children and family all while generating some income. One cooperative spends quite a bit of time spinning the wool at their cooperative.
Do they receive most of the sale profits?
Our key is to ensure that every artisan that contributes to creating the material is paid well above a living/fair minimum wage for their work. This is probably a first for Morocco as people who have traditionally worked in the dye or wool sector are poor and fairly marginalized, and that is if they are paid at all. The percentage breakdown for each process fluctuates as we refine our processes (wool cleaning previously was done by the women threaders, but we’re now working to centralize this due to environmental reasons). All the profit generated from the wool goes towards the Anou cooperative to reinvest in building out these supply chains of material and training new and existing artisans within the Anou community.
As such, 100% of the money goes to the artisans and all people hired in the process of making the threads are artisans from the Anou community. The large idea is that new cooperatives that join the community can help work on threads as a way to generate money to invest in their first line of products. Once their online store succeeds, they can continue to thread or pass the work along to a newer group.
Where can we shop for your products? Do you ship internationally?
All our wool is available on atlaswoolsupply.co. What you might recognize about the site is that while it serves as a traditional e-commerce platform, it is actually the same site artisans use to order wool off the site (Anou artisans get the material at cost!). It’s all image based, so it makes it very easy for artisans to navigate. We plan to post every single color ever created for the Anou community and make it available to everyone. It will be the easiest, most comprehensive color selection of any wool website I’ve come across thus far. You’ll be able to search by color, saturation, and more.
We do ship internationally. Note that shipping costs are broken down by kilogram, so if you buy one 100g ball, it might cost close to $24 USD to ship it to the US from Morocco. But if you by 10 100g balls, the shipping cost would stay the same, so $2.40 for 100g. We ship via DHL so orders will arrive usually within 5-10 days — not bad from the African continent! As with most things, costs will get cheaper with larger amounts. In fact, for orders over 1kg, we’ll provide a 25% discount.
How do your artisans get into this business? Are they primarily self-taught?
Most artisans in Morocco learn from their family. So all the threads you buy are creating using skills passed down through generations.
Can you talk about how you source your wools and strive to be environmentally friendly?
Our biggest improvement thus far is that we’ve now have all our materials dyed using non-toxic or natural dyes. Traditionally, materials are dyed in Morocco with insane amounts of carcinogenic materials like formaldehyde which causes allergic reactions in artisans. We create a safe working environment (another thing that shouldn’t be such a breakthrough, but unfortunately for Morocco it is). We ensure that all dyes are fully exhausted and any remaining effluent is properly disposed of.
We’re also currently testing and iterating the process of recycling water through the scouring process of wool. Traditionally, women washed wool in the local river which isn’t the best for ensuring good water quality. So we’re phasing that out. Our long-term goal is to create a fully closed loop system with zero carbon and environmental impact.
For wool sourcing itself, we work with shepherds of small flocks (5-200 sheep) to collect the wool. We know the sheep our wool is coming from and because of this, we can prevent our wool from being sourced from museled sheep. Soon, we’ll begin processes of actually sheering all the wool in house.
Do you get to know the artisans personally?
Definitely. Since all artisans all work on the Anou team at the HQ, everyone knows each other on a personal level. The group that is currently threading the High Atlas wool is the Imelghaus Cooperative. You can read each women’s bio on their store!