I am often asked how I went from discovering argan oil on vacation to creating a full-blown brand featuring argan oil as its core ingredient. I’ll admit it isn’t an obvious leap. But it didn’t happen overnight and I never had any expectation that the brand would find the success it has. It started with my love for Morocco and a keen interest to return. I was intrigued by the argan oil I had discovered on my first trip, both because of the results I was experiencing in balancing my skin, and because I was fascinated by the argan forest and the production of the oil. With the idea that I would bottle and sell argan oil and donate a percentage of the proceeds back to the Berber women of Morocco, I did a quick trademark search and formed Argan Organics, the original company name.
Goat in argan tree
Three months after my first visit, I made plans to return to Morocco to learn everything I could about argan oil and its production and, hopefully, to locate a supplier to furnish my business with oil. I contacted Majid, the guide who accompanied my parents and me on my first trip, and enlisted his help as driver, translator and guide. With an idea of the region, but very little understanding of the argan production process we set off, stopping at roadside argan stands on the route between Marrakech and Essaouira where Berber women were gathered in courtyards cracking argan nuts. I later came to understand that these “cooperatives” are merely for show and that there is no actual argan production taking place there, which explained why my inquiries about pricing for bulk argan oil were met with blank stares.
Prior to this exploration, I had done some internet research into argan oil production and discovered the name of Professor Charouff, from the University of Rabat, who was the first to develop a women’s cooperative to produce and sell argan oil with the concept of providing economic opportunity for the Berber women of Morocco while protecting the endangered argan forests of Morocco’s southwest. The name of the cooperative was Amal, which means ‘hope’ in Arabic. It seemed serendipitous when we saw the sign for coop Amal outside the village of Smimou just south of Essaouira.
Zahra Aziz of the Cooperative Amal
Cooperative Amal was impressive on first sight, seemingly dedicated to the welfare of its members with a literacy program and childcare for the women. After meetings with the director of the cooperative and spending time with the women, I conducted my first transaction - 20 liters of argan oil to be delivered to me in the US. I paid the money in cash (after multiple trips to the ATM in Essaouira), provided my address and waited for the oil to arrive via the Royal Moroccan Post Office to my mailbox in New York.
Amal is not the cooperative I work with today, but it was a start and I was optimistic that Argan Organics was on its way and that I could make a difference in the lives of these women.
I still had much to learn...