Spotlight on Maroc Tribal
Top picture credit; Abigail Ahern
Today's Spotlight is on husband and wife team Maroc Tribal, selling vintage rugs sourced from Morocco; I have one of their beautiful rugs in Jack's bedroom.
It is fascinating to read about just how much care goes into sourcing these rugs, and how critical local knowledge and relationships are to this business as well as the usual "business stuff"
Read on to find out how this team got started.
Maroc Tribal carefully sources prestigious vintage Moroccan Berber carpets and rare rugs that are authentic and original Berber art. These are one-of-a-kind carpets found by us in Berber villages and woven for personal use. Over the last decade we've built a reputation for beautiful old cool and chic rugs. We hand select every piece in our collection, looking for unique variations and lovely imperfections, along with a personal story and real history. You can find out more here.
1. What was the reason behind you starting your business?
It was a true blending of passion and cultures! We’re a husband and wife team. I’m English and Mohammed is Moroccan. We meet in Andalusia where we were both living at the time. Mo was also spending at lot time travelling in his native Berber villages in Morocco, exploring their unique culture. He has an intimate and personal knowledge of Berber history and rug weaving. He started to collect tribal rugs for himself, then lots of friends and contacts asked us to source mid-century Moroccan carpets, such as those huge white and brown Beni Ouarain rugs, and about 10 years ago we launched Maroc Tribal.
2. How did you start up?, kitchen table? Mum’s garage, renting premises?
In a 800 year old house in a tiny little white hill town in Southern Spain! We started slowly, building Maroc Tribal online, through word of mouth and by hosting small events. Later on we moved back to the UK to base the business here. We now send rugs to customers all around the world.
3. How did you fund your business?
Because we started slowly we were able to fund the business ourselves from profits, carefully reinvesting any growth back into Maroc Tribal. We didn’t spend much money until we made some. For us it’s always been about getting the loveliest original rugs, kilims and textiles, and sticking to our beliefs and values, rather than huge growth and expansion.
4. What was the most difficult part of starting up your business? Access to money, advice, finding people to buy, marketing etc?
Actually, one of the biggest challenges has always been finding the rugs. Availability of old rugs is naturally limited, and the demand of the past few years has visibly reduced the supply. Good pieces are hard to come by. There are a slew of fakes, new rugs marketed as old, poor quality pieces, very poor advice, and rugs that simply aren’t authentic.
We are incredibly lucky because Mohammed spends many months each year out on the road, and in Berber villages (it’s great that he speaks Berber as well as Arabic). It’s in these mountain areas that he looks for old, authentic hand woven Moroccan rugs. That takes a lot of time and energy, with many an uncomfortable night spent camping out in Berber countryside, waiting for dawn when the little weekly market will start.
5. What help was missing for you?
Although we always planned to grow at a pace we could manage, never compromising quality, we would have liked more help reaching new markets and new customers. We have had some great champions over the years and we are so grateful for their support – designers who love our rugs and who spread the world. It would have been a big help to have had assistance with promoting Maroc Tribal, making connections, creating great imagery, and increasing visibility.
6. What went wrong in your first year? Few months if you haven’t been trading that long?
When you look back it’s easier to see why things went wrong but at the time you feel that you are just trying out new things. We got a lot of advice on areas we didn’t know much about at the time (like design trade exhibitions and, later, choosing the right social media platform). We probably followed some of that advice too blindly and should have done more of our own research, taken affordable steps, lived it, and learnt what worked best for Maroc Tribal and our customers.
That doesn’t mean it wasn’t critical to listen and learn from others – it was and is. People are incredibly generous in sharing their experiences – don’t be afraid to ask and to seek out people you admire. The secret is being able to focus that on what will work for your business.
Then there are the things that are outside of your control. Like the time Mo had to store some beautiful and rare old rugs in a little Berber house in the middle of nowhere. That year Morocco experienced the worst rains for years and every piece got soaked. It took us a year to get them all looking lovely again, but we did!
7. What have you learnt?
When we started Maroc Tribal we thought that the most important things would be technical – how to price our rugs, where to put our marketing spend, and so on. Of course these things are important (never lose control of the detail of the administration of your business and its profitability) but we’ve learnt that it’s mostly about relationships: almost everything that has gone on to be successful has arisen from the perspectives, feedback and knowledge that our customers share with us; and we’ve built some long term partnerships with retailers and designers that have been pivotal to our business. We trust them and they trust us.
8. What is the most important piece of advice that you could give others thinking about starting a business?
Beyond being confident that people will buy what you plan to offer and that you are truly excited about what you do, I’d say it’s about taking a good look yourself: can you put in the time, stick to your values and be true to your word, be willing to learn from others and adapt, and be practical about your finances?
9. And what do you enjoy the most?
It always seems to us that it's a magical journey, from isolated Berber villages to customers’ homes. We do really love finding the best Berber rugs and it makes us beyond happy when buyers love them too. Last week I spoke to someone who bought a rug from us many years ago and who said how much joy it still brought to her and her family. That makes our hearts sing.
10. On a scale of 1-10 how hard do you find it to run your own business?
That depends on the day you ask us! And some things make us want to tear our hair out (don’t get us started on courier companies). In addition, when you run your own business it tends to permeate everything, more so if your business partner is your other half. There’s never a time when you are ‘off duty’- you’ll always get sucked into it. Interestingly, we didn’t find that taking the first step was the hardest part of running our own business. Rather, that over the years it’s been a continuous learning and adaptation process, and we’ve worked hard to keep to our personal vision for Maroc Tribal. Of course, we love it!
Nicola Says "Really interesting advice from Maroc Tribal "I’d say it’s about taking a good look yourself: can you put in the time, stick to your values and be true to your word, be willing to learn from others and adapt, and be practical about your finances?" because at the end of the day, it is you, that is running the business, regardless of whether you have staff of not, and you need to be certain that you can, and indeed, want to put in the leg work, when quite often there is no turning off your business and it is a 24/7. Moreover, business has to adapt and you must be adaptable to change, sometimes coming at you from many angles.
Like many creative businesses, it is great to see, how Maroc Tribal have managed to build their business without too much risk"
The Girl with The Green Sofa