Welcome to The Quality Makers, an interview series highlighting pioneers in the direct-to-consumer space. Join us as we get an inside look at the world of digital shopping through the eyes of the individuals shaping it…
Moroccan handmade rug company Salam Hello takes female empowerment to the next level using a DTC business model. Founder & CEO Mallory Solomon left her job in the advertising industry to start Salam Hello after a few life-changing trips to Morocco. Moroccan rugs are one of the country’s most memorable souvenirs, yet the artisans who make them — usually women — don’t see a ton of the profits.
In contrast, Salam Hello’s online store lists the artisan’s name right in the product listing. The product page for Keltouma’s Ombre Flatweave, for example, lists the meanings behind the design and detailed photos of the finished work. Consumers are brought closer to the creation process, plus the women artisans make 70% more money compared to working with middlemen.
Mallory was kind enough to answer a few questions about Salam Hello’s impact on the women who weave these one-of-a-kind rugs.
TQE: How did you learn about the male-dominated rug market in Morocco?
Mallory Solomon: My first experience shopping for rugs was on my first trip to Morocco three or four years ago. I would ask the vendors about how the rugs were made and who the weavers were, but they couldn’t give me the level of detail that I was really looking for.
When I got back to the States, I started doing more research and I learned about these women in smaller villages who have been passing down this tradition since 600 BC. I went back to Morocco and traveled in regions that had a strong history of weaving. I met Mbarka and Khadija, two weavers in a village just outside of Tazenakht, who just opened up to me about this incredible history. Through them, I learned more about the male-dominated broker system
These women typically live 4-5 hours from the tourist towns, so a male broker comes to the village once a week to buy the rugs at a much lower price than these women are asking. They don’t really have the freedom to go somewhere else. They’re at the mercy of the middleman. Sometimes, the weaver’s husband will meet with the broker and she doesn’t have a say at all on how much money she makes from the rug.
How does Salam Hello change that narrative?
Through Salam Hello, the weavers get paid 70% more than what they get paid for a rug. If we’re working with a one-of-a-kind design, the weavers tell us the price they’d like to sell it for and we never go below that price. For custom rugs, based on the design, the size of the rug, the time and labor that will go into it, we figure out a fair cost-per-meter in collaboration with the artisan.
On the backend, I reinvest 10% of the profits back into the community. At first I thought, “Should I build a school? Donate to a local organization? Provide healthcare?” Then I realized, I don’t ever want to put my Western ideals on how they live their lives. They know how to use their money better than I do.
The profit reinvestment, at this point, is just money given to them. It’s their agency to decide how to spend it. Building trust with the weavers is my number one priority.
What is the typical creation process for one rug?
We strive for all of our rugs to be made with live wool, which means that the animal (sheep, goat or camel) isn’t harmed in the process. This kind of wool is also a stronger material that lasts longer. After washing and cleaning the wool, the weavers brush, card and spin the wool to make yarn.
They’ll hand-dye the wool using natural spices and herbs like henna and saffron. These weavers know the formulas for different colors in their head, which is amazing. They also know how to make the colors more vibrant with vinegar.
All of their rugs are made on vertical looms. They’ll set up the looms on specific days based on the moon cycle. Every part of the process has been passed down from generations and allows the textiles to have a specific intention of subverting evil.
They’ll set the looms based on the size of the rugs, and it takes anywhere from 3 weeks to 6 months, sometimes even longer if they have a custom design already in mind. Some rugs are designed as the women weave, using motifs that have originated from ancient times and passed down from generation to generation.
How did you start Salam Hello? When did you make the decision to leave advertising and commit to Salam Hello full-time?
I grew up in California and dove right into the fast-paced advertising industry in New York. I definitely lost a lot of myself, and Morocco is the antithesis of that. I’ve always advocated for women’s rights and I’ve always wanted to start a business. I continued working in advertising for about a year after Morocco, but I knew I had to leave and start Salam Hello.
When I came back from trips to Morocco, this business plan just flowed through me. I’d wake up excited to work on it before going to work in the morning then come home excited to work on the business plan some more.
How did your experience working in New York advertising support the mission of sharing these women’s stories?
I learned the true importance of storytelling and really connecting with people. If you know the weaver, you feel more connected to the rug. In a world that’s pretty capitalistic, you get stuff, you throw it away. The handmade rugs at Salam Hello will be an heirloom for generations going forward.
How have the weavers’ lives changed since selling rugs through Salam Hello?
Some of them haven’t stopped working since we’ve met them. In some households, the husband is the only one with the bank account, but we make sure we put the money they earned from their pieces directly into their hands. It’s a stable source of income for them. During quarantine, they were still able to bring money into their village, which is rare in a country where tourism is so important to the economy. They weave in their own homes, so working from home wasn’t a bad thing.
Your top 3 favorite non-touristy places in Morocco?
The first thing that comes to mind is food. On Fridays, try to find a good place to get homemade couscous. Couscous is a big deal here, and you’re going to want to find couscous that’s made by someone’s mom — real local food.
The local village souks are great because there’s a ton of good finds. Some of them are only open one day of the week and there’s good hustle and bustle.
And honestly, I’ve eaten some of the best tagine at gas stations out here.
Thanks for reading our first founders series interview with Mallory! Have a founder you’d like for us to interview? Let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org.