I have a small obsession with Moroccan rugs. By small what I really mean is that I have a big problem. I just can’t resist them! Aside from basic house goods I haven’t bought many decorative items for our Marrakech house- except for these. Just the other day we were at a rural market and as soon as my mother in law saw me eyeing rugs she grabbed my arm and pulled me away. Yes, I am simply that in love with them!
The good news is I’ve been through the ringer and have more than a decade of rug experience behind me, so I can share this with you! The first rug I bought was nearly 12 years ago from a rug shop in Fez. I later learned I had paid WAY too much for this rug but what did I know? I was 19 and all I wanted was that rug. For a long time it was the only “adult” thing I owned. While I made do with second hand furniture and thrift store finds my rug always had a prominent place in my home and was my daily inspiration to get on the road again.
A bit of background on Moroccan rugs. The majority you’ll find it shops are made by one of the forty-five distinct Moroccan Berber tribes in the country. Each one has a unique style and every rug is handmade on a loom. It’s most often done by women in their free time. Rugs can take anywhere from 10 days to 6 months to make depending on size, complexity and how much time she has. Rugs first and foremost are used in homes or for celebrations. They then are sold as goods or traded.
When you come to Morocco and want to buy a rug (or a zerbiya – the Arabic word) to bring home with you keep these things in mind.
1. Bargain, Bargain, Bargain
In case you missed this point, you need to bargain for your rug. Do not, I repeat DO NOT accept the price offered to you in the shop. It’s grossly inflated right off the bat. Bargaining here is part of the game. The salesmen knows you aren’t (well you shouldn’t) accept his first offer. Many people are afraid of going too low. Fear not. Drop that price by as much as 2/3 to start with and work from there. You should eventually expect to meet somewhere around 50% of the original price. If you know you are already out of your league at 50% off the original price – move on.
BUT, if you’ve agreed on a price don’t back out. When you finally do commit it’s in really bad form to then change your mind and walk away. Wait to agree completely until you are 100% sure. There’s no contract yet but it’s a spoken agreement.
2. Don’t Appear too Interested
Love a rug? Just have to have it? Don’t let the shopkeeper catch on to it or you’ve lost one of your biggest bargaining chips. Instead act nonchalant. Even look at more rugs so that you can eventually come back to the one you really want. Also don’t be afraid to walk away. Rugs are one of a kind it’s true but many times when you walk away the salesman will come back and reduce the price or agree to the last price you gave.
3. Guides and Commission
This is a dirty little secret that not a lot of people know. Guided tours are a great way to see the city but many guides (especially in Marrakech) have gotten a terrible reputation as their only goal is to drag tourists into carpet shops and the like. Sure it might seem like they’re just being friendly but the reality is not quite as nice. You see many guides and shopkeepers have an arrangement. For every dirham you spend your guide (or driver) is going to get a cut. They have a personal stake in you NOT getting the best deal because the lower the price you get, the less money goes in their pocket. It sucks. We hate it. But it’s the reality. This may be unavoidable but if you do want to buy things and have a guide, know he’ll get a portion so maybe you really don’t need to give an extra tip when you part ways. Also, don’t be afraid to speak up and do your own bargaining. Don’t trust everything that’s being said and remember it’s YOUR money that’s being spent!
4. Antique and Aged
If you walk into a shop and are told a carpet is antique don’t trust it, especially if you don’t know the difference. There is a whole industry of “aging” carpets that will be sold as antiques. If you really want to buy an antique you need to be sure to do your research, so you know what you’re getting. Chances are also pretty good you won’t find rugs here that date beyond the 1920’s or 30’s. Even in the best condition they’ll have natural fade and the fabric will be frayed. Remember rugs are used for practical not decorative purposes. So an “antique” rug that’s faded but otherwise in perfect condition – not likely.
5. The Fire Test
Authentic Moroccan rugs are made from wool. One way to tell if you’re getting a real wool rug or a synthetic is to hold up a lighter to one of the loose edges. If it doesn’t light or puts itself out it’s wool. If it ignites it’s synthetic. Chances are if you pull out a lighter and it’s fake, after the dealer has told you it’s authentic he’ll get quite nervous.
6. Look around
I could get lost in rug shops for hours and if you’re not sure what you want you should too. Spend time looking around and seeing what you like. But, don’t ask for prices until you find something that you do like. If you’re in a shop and are having a hard time deciding set aside a variety of items that you do like and start asking prices. If you’re really unsure what rugs will cost go to a fixed price shop first. There are typically artisan centers in larger cities. For example the Ensemble Artisanal in Marrakech will have all varieties of artisan goods for a fixed price. Walk around, look at prices, and then go into the souks (or pay the fixed price if you prefer!) This will give you an idea of what things cost without the pressure and sales hacks.
7. Avoid the women’s co-op ploy.
If I had a quarter for every good-hearted tourist that has bought into this I would have my own rug shop. I get it, you want to help. You want to support the people making these rugs, who most of the time are women. But here’s another dirty little secret, most of the “women’s co-ops” are that in name only. The women are getting a pittance of the sale. You might say “oh it’s ok I’ll pay more because it will make a difference,” no I’m sorry but it likely will not. The women get a fixed price (trust me it’s not much) for their rugs and whether it sells for that price (not likely) or 100x more, they make the same amount. There’s one free trade co-op in Morocco that I trust. It’s called The Anou. You can order online and have it shipped or if you’re in Morocco they can likely arrange delivery to you.
What Should A Rug Cost?
It’s impossible for me to answer this question. There are dozens of variables that affect the price of a rug. Age, style, design, condition etc. etc. are all variables. A small rug may only cost you 750-1000 dirham. An average price ranges in the 3500-6000 dirham range. Older vintage and larger rugs can range from 10,000-25,000 dirham and more. Buying a rug is not “cheap” but it is MUCH cheaper than buying it outside Morocco.
Have more questions or tips? Leave them in the comments!
PS – Visit my online shop where I place rugs and other goodies up for sale from time to time.
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