Argan… doesn’t the name remind you of a dark roguish beard from Lord of the Rings? In reality, it’s a tree that only grows in Southwestern Morocco, an equally tempting image (for a botanist). So what makes the argan tree so special? They say, “It’s nuts.” No, really. It’s nuts… and the oil extracted from them. Deemed ‘liquid gold’ by locals and international beauty addicts, it’s organic, naturally rich in vitamin E, essential fatty acids, and antioxidants said to help heal skin conditions including wrinkles, acne, and dry skin. Women of Morocco have used it for generations to combat the dry desert air and reduce the signs of aging. Now, in the West, it’s slowly developing a very devoted following due to the extraordinary results it delivers.
By law, the Berber women are the only ones permitted to extract the argan oil, a labor intensive process that can take up to a day to produce a single liter of oil. In 1999, Morocco’s argan forest was designated a Unesco International Biosphere Reserve, but the argan trees still disappeared in large numbers, often used for fire wood, despite preservation. As a result, the women’s argan cooperatives were developed by the government to provide economic opportunity for the Berber women. These cooperatives now offer one of the only roads to financial and social independence.
In addition to providing the means to earn a living, many of the argan cooperatives also offer literacy and women’s rights programs, as well as work training and life skills programs. These simple skills provide a level of independence they ordinarily wouldn’t have, not to mention as increased sense of pride and self-esteem. We love the idea of sustainability, independence, and liquid gold. So get thee to Morocco! And ride a wave while you’re at it.
From Marrakesh to Essaouira, you’ll find a majority of the women’s cooperatives. Through sandy roads you’ll pass rolling yellow hills, olive groves, sheep, and the occasional donkey or two (or three), signs will announce cooperatives like the Argan Co-Op, Women’s Argan Collective, and Miracle Oil. Visitors can stop in and have a demonstration of how argan oil is made while they taste the culinary argan oil and amlou – a concoction made with argan oil and honey – served with bread. Most of these have shops onsite where people can buy locally produced argan products. There’s also some rock star lore… people like Jimi Hendrix and Cat Stevens came here for a good dose of Moroccan hippy-style inspiration.
These days, Euros come for the fact that Essaouira is know as one of the top spots in the world for windsurfing and kiteboarding. To reach Essaouira, all you need to do is fly into Marrakesh. Rent a car at the airport; Avis (www.avis.com) and Sixt (www.e-sixt.com) both have offices. The drive takes about two and a half hours and is well marked.
Which brings us to Kahina and Giving Beauty, the new line of argan-based skin care founded by socially conscious entrepreneur Katharine L’Heureux. Named after a Jewish Berber queen (700AD) who successfully resisted the first Arab invaders, Kahina is a heroine to the Berber women and represents empowerment for women worldwide. Sourcing key ingredients from Moroccan argan oil cooperatives, L’Heureux not only buys their ingredients, but spends valuable time with the women, donating 25% of the profits from the sales of the skincare back to the women of the argan cooperatives who work to provide the raw materials for the Giving Beauty products.
Kahina and companies like hers also help preserve the forest by creating an economic incentive for the locals to protect the forests. Formulated with organic ingredients and manufactured in an eco-friendly, carbon neutral facility with recyclable materials, Kahina’s packaging is designed with a compilation of signatures by the Berber women that Katharine has met during visits to the cooperative. Most of them are just learning to sign their own names so their signatures also hold a great deal of meaning for them. Here are just a few of their uplifting stories, told by Katherine L’Heureux.
Aarbia’s personality is as colorful as the clothes she is wearing–multiple layers of yellow and red. She claims to be 70, but doesn’t know her age exactly. With no children of her own, Aarbia finds comfort in the company of the women of the cooperative. When I ask her how the cooperative has changed her life, she says, “Thanks to the co-op, I have gone from having nothing to having everything.”
Fatima Achkich is a pretty woman who often appears to be containing a smile or laugh. Fatima, who has two children she is raising on her own, has worked at the cooperative for 9 years. When I ask about her life, she tells me that she is happy, and that she especially enjoys the companionship of the other women she works with. In the positive manner she shares with all the women, she says, “Thanks to my work at the cooperative, I am able to afford all I need to live.”
2, rue lbn Batouta
Rates @ $400/night
This is the oldest hotel in the city and offers spa treatments with the aforementioned liquid gold… argan oil.
10, rue Abdellah Ben Yassine
Rates from $120/night
Try the fish stalls around the sea for lunch. It’s fresh and you can’t miss fresh fish.
After Five for fusion food using local ingredients
5, rue Youssef El Fassi
To purchase Kahina, Giving Beauty’s kick-ass products made with argan oil:
Retails from $15-$72.