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Sustainability & Handmade Beni Ourain Rugs

Oct 21, 2021 | Rohit Viram

Beni Ourain is a type of rug that's made in Morocco. They are made from distinct natural undyed sheep's wool.

The raw materials  

Wool is the predominant raw material used, and the quality and grade of wool used is an important distinction to make. The wool used to create most Beni Ourain rugs is often a mixture of rough, coarse wool from the hardier sheep of the Middle Atlas and the purer, softer wool of the High Atlas sheep. 

The higher elevation of the High Atlas region results in the sheep roaming further to produce wool of an incredibly tall, luxurious quality.

Consequently, this higher value wool is saved to use for more expensive, unique rugs.

Spinning the material

An hour of weaving is afforded after close to 9 hours of hand spinning the wool. 

The time spent hand spinning allows the piles woven in the end product to appear more natural and feel softer. 

This is a lengthy process, but it allows the spinner to understand the material they are working with, improving their craftsmanship.

Natural dyes 

Natural dyes are used, extracted from plants such as (left to right) :

  • Red poppy = Red 
  • True indigo = Blue 
  • Henna = Orange  
  • Mentha = Green

These colours give a very natural and not too exaggerated tone, which compliments the handmade nature of the craft.

It extends the rug's lifespan compared to its machine counterparts for sustainability purposes. Additionally, this is a better and less harmful method of introducing colour to textiles, allowing the end product's impact on the environment to be minimized.

Furthermore, machines are limited to many dyes that can be used in combination for production. In contrast, handmade rugs can have an infinite array of different shades and colours to be utilized by the weaver. 

The knowledge of cultivation and utilization of these plants to create specialized dyes adds further value to these rugs. 

The type of knot  

Look at the back of any Beni Ourain rug, and you can tell where the carpet was most likely woven. An authentic version will reveal itself through its imperfections. 

The Turkish knot is the knot used to weave this rug, and it is a knot that has made its way to the Berber people through the reach of the Ottoman Empire. 

The usual knot count per square metre (KPSM) is 80-120. 

Of course, this is dependent on the final dimensions of the rug, which are determined beforehand during the preparation of the loom.   

This type of rug has a lower KPSM due to its high pile height and relatively simplistic design. For this reason, it can be assumed that the production costs and human hours needed to weave this rug are low compared to more intricately designed rugs, i.e. Persian/Iranian rugs.

A traditional Beni Ourain rug woven by the Berber tribespeople does not exceed a width of 7 feet.  

How long does it take to produce one? 

Due to the inherent handmade nature of the rug, the production time is quite lengthy. Often a Beni Ourain rug can take anywhere between 4-5 months to a couple of years.

This is, of course, dependent on these factors:

  • The skill of the weaver 
  • How many weavers are working on a single rug 
  • The size of the rug 
  • The materials used 

The better the materials used, i.e. a rug made predominantly of the more delicate wool of a High Atlas sheep, the more time a weaver will dedicate to producing a carpet.

Environmental impact of a Beni Ourain 

For businesses, it is essential to note that there is an increasing consumer desire to purchase from carbon-neutralsustainable companies to reduce their carbon footprint. 

Consequently, it is essential to assess the carbon footprint of your product, especially if you are in the textile industry. For example, the fashion industry contributes around 10% of global CO2 emissions. 

Here we will use a Carbon Footprint calculator provided on the Rural Handmade website to assess the impact of Beni Ourain rugs during the manufacturing process.

For this example, we will use a Beni Ourain rug that is:

  • 10’ x 8’ (3 metres x 2.4 metres)
  • 22kgs in weight 
  • Sold for $1363
  • Estimated around 280 hours of total weaving time
  • Made entirely from wool 

With the assumption that 2.6kg of CO2e (CO2 emissions) is produced per kg of wool, we can multiply it by the weight of the rug to get a total material CO2 emission of 57.2kg in the production alone. 

This is a significantly lower carbon footprint compared to their machine-made counterparts, the reason being that machine-made carpets also carry along with them the carbon footprint of machine manufacturing operations. They carry a fraction of the CO2e of the factory itself.

As an SME business, it would be challenging to produce rugs in such a high quantity that the factory's carbon footprint is distributed amongst the unit CO2e enough to justify any goal of sustainability. 

Therefore it is recommended to source handmade products if you are contemplating entering the rug industry or are a new entrant. Moreover, it would be advantageous to be aware of how you can utilize recycled or unwanted wool, which would further reduce your business's overall CO2e.

In conclusion, it is beneficial to align your business operations with sustainable values with the global initiative to push for a net-zero future by 2050.

To source handmade rugs that can be customized upon request, visit our website to explore and learn more. 

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