It’s officially 2020, and we’re seeing the empowering of women from coast to coast. From female-led film projects to more female CEOs being hired than ever, we’re happy that this decade will bring about some change we’ve been dying to see. But what is happening at a global scale to help the feminist movement? One company that’s taking female entrepreneurship to the next level is Salam Hello. Salam Hello empowers the Berber women of Morocco who have been handweaving textiles since 600 BC. They’ve been passing the craft from generation to generation. When it comes time to sell, the textiles are lost to bulk buyers, and the artisans sell out for a much lower price to middlemen. The women are often left out of negotiations and rarely make back what they’ve invested in. Salam Hello was born to be a transparent and empowering outlet for Moroccan artisans. Salam Hello meets every seller face-to-face. They ask the women of Morocco to share the stories behind their textiles and involve them in negotiations to make sure they’re fairly compensated. In Arabic, “Salam” means “peace” and is used as a greeting, just as “Hello” is used in English. Salam Hello is how the brand connects directly with artisans so that you can welcome the tradition and peace of Morocco into your home and life.
We spoke to founder Mallory Solomon about the brand, her mission to empower women, and more. Keep reading below for our interview!
1) What made you decide to create Salam Hello?
Since I was a kid I wanted to start a business. I was working my way up the career ladder in the advertising world, doing so with great ease and passion. I was leading the business department at one of the top creative agencies in the world, 72andSunny, and was winning clients consisting of Facebook, Trojan, Sam Edelman, Marcus by Goldman Sachs, 23andMe. They were some pretty rad brands, but something about it just wasn’t fulfilling.
After an extremely hard year of work, I took a 2-week trip to Morocco and everything changed. I immediately felt at home. Maybe it was the environment that reminded me of my California upbringing or the people who are some of the most welcoming people I’ve met. I was inspired by the country. During my time wandering the streets, villages and various medinas I, of course, did what any tourist does, went textile shopping, and it was at that moment that I started to have the idea for Salam Hello.
I got back to NYC and I immersed myself in the history and industry of Moroccan textiles. Berber women have been handweaving textiles since 600 BC, passing the craft from generation to generation. They carry this tradition with them as they work, telling new stories with each knot of every textile. These women can easily spend months, or even years on these pieces, often as they raise children and run households. They are invaluable. But when it comes time to sell, the stories behind these textiles are lost to bulk buyers, and the artisans are at the mercy of middlemen. The women are often left out of negotiations and rarely make back what they’ve invested in. Salam Hello was born to be a transparent and empowering outlet for Moroccan artisans.
2) What is the current rug selling process like in Morocco?
The majority of rugs in Morocco are bought in the bigger cities (Marrakech, Fez, Rabat, etc.), and with many of the women living several hours away from these cities, they usually are at the mercy of middlemen/brokers. These buyers/brokers will come to villages to purchase rugs and they travel in coordinated packs. One after another, each broker will visit an artisan and tell her that her price is too high. With each unsuccessful meeting, she is forced to lower her price. Finally, a broker will buy the rug at less than 50% of the fair cost, barely covering the artisan’s time and materials. When the brokers return to the souks, they sell to souk owners with a drastic markup and pocket a huge profit. Then. souks sell to tourists or other brands with yet another markup.
Salam Hello needed to work differently. We needed to pay these women a fair wage. We make it our mission to meet with every woman selling each piece and they help us understand the time, labor, and story behind the weave. When it’s time to buy, we never go below an artisan’s first asking price. Then, we bring the rugs directly to the customer, cutting out the middleman markup. Since many of the artisans live in the same location that they weave/sell, meeting women is a very fluid process that takes time.
We do our best to travel to the villages we know have a deep-rooted history in weaving and talk with the locals who point us to the right family or association that is still weaving and looking to sell. Once we meet these women we tend to spend hours together. We want to make sure they are comfortable and that we understand their background/history that goes into the piece.
3) Tell us about your recent collections:
During our Season 2 sourcing trip, the design world was releasing color of the year predictors. From paint brands to home decor publications, everyone was obsessing over what would set the tone for 2020. As we got deeper into the predictor game we began to see these colors in all of our travels around Morocco and became more inspired as we began to source. We aimed for the rugs to be embodiments and/or accents of the colors. A few examples:
Pantone’s color of the year, Classic Blue, is all over Chefchaouen & Majorelle Garden (inspired rug: Naima’s Indigo Hanbel)
Burnt orange is the classic Moroccan color – from the sunset in the Sahara and terra cotta building facades to the tajines cooking up all over the medina (inspired rug: Malika’s Symbolic Hanbel, Fatima’s Rustic Vintage Rug and many more)
Brick red, lilac purple and saffron yellow are in the bougainvilleas that are ever-present all over our travels around the country (inspired rug: Khadijah’s Vintage Runner, Aisha’s Family Heirloom, Jamilla’s Colorfully Spotted Zanafi, and many more)
Neutral, black & white are in all the sheep that are integral in the rug-making process (inspired rug: Khadijah’s Checkerboard Flatweave, Fadma’s Respectful Flatweave, and Malika’s Zanafi, Hand-Knotted Puzzle)
4) On Embracing Color Stories:
In addition to embracing all the various color stories, we wanted to over-index on attainability. Being a sustainable, ethically-sourced brand is at our core, but more often than not, buying sustainable means buying luxury. With that in mind, we wanted to bring in more products with lower price points so that no matter your income you could start building an eco-friendly home. We’ve incorporated this with everything from smaller rugs and different styles (e.g.; Boucherouite rugs are made of recycled pre-used clothing or textile scraps) to pillows.
Additionally, we are offering two new services with this collection:
Custom Sourcing (2-week turnaround time from brief to delivery)
Customized Rugs (2-month turnaround guarantee from brief to delivery)
5) What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
When I was working as an advertising executive it was really hard for me to turn off. Step away and take time for me. I was extremely burnt out, and I was having coffee with my mentor lamenting on about how I had canceled two vacations and was on the brink of canceling a third (the one scheduled for Morocco.) He let me finish and just calmly told me that you will never regret taking a vacation/stepping away to recharge. He made me promise that I would prioritize myself over work and leave the country. Thankfully I followed his advice.
6) From your perspective, why is it important to empower women?
On a macro level, empowering women, I believe, is a way to have a better world full of civility.
On a micro level, the women artisans Salam Hello works with are the heroes in the entire rug-making process. Our current pieces take anywhere between 2-17 months to make. In addition to these women running the household, raising children, etc., they are doing more. They are weaving up to 6 hours every day making these works of art. Not only are they weavers, but the designs come entirely from their imagination. It’s a remarkable craft and these weavers deserve all the credit. Through fair wages and profit reinvestment, we hope to give them the confidence & strength to value their art and create a sustainable life.
7) What’s next for Salam Hello?
A few things! We really want to dive deeper into the B2B space, from interior designers to small hotels, offices, stores, etc. The brand will continue to grow our customization. Salam Hello will be offering to allow customers to bring to life their dream rug within 2 months or less. Lastly, to grow the Salam Hello community. We spend anywhere from 2-4 hours with each weaver and thus are concentrated in the southeast of Morocco. We’re excited to expand to other regions which will bring with it different styles, spice blends, and artisan profiles & stories. While you’re here, check out these incredible coffee-based beauty brands we love.