Souss valley of south western Morocco is only region argan tree grows
Neal’s Yard Remedies support the Tighanimine Cooperative
60 women collect, hand-crack and hand-press the nuts to collect oil
Celebrity fans of argan oil include Eva Mendes, Taylor Swift and Madonna
Argan oil is something of an all-round beauty superhero: the skin, hair and nail saviour is beloved by stars Kim Kardashian, Madonna and Selena Gomez for its rich, moisturising properties.
And the oil, often dubbed ‘liquid gold’ due to its rarity and expense, is also providing a lifeline for Berber women and their families in the semi-desert Souss valley of south western Morocco, one of the only regions in the world where the argan tree grows.
Long used as a traditional remedy by Berber women to treat wrinkles, scars, and acne, argan oil is renowned for being incredibly moisturising, highly anti-inflammatory and easily absorbed. It’s recently become one of the beauty world’s biggest new breakthroughs, despite being known to Moroccans since the thirteenth century.
A relatively small geographical area – 9,900 square miles in southwestern Morocco – produces nearly all of the world’s argan oil. Because the trees are under threat, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has declared the region a biosphere (an artificial structure enclosing a self-contained ecosystem) reserve in 1998.
One large French company makes just over half of the argan oil, and then there are lots of smaller cooperatives.
One of the biggest companies to reap the oil is Neal’s Yard Remedies, who support the Tighanimine Cooperative, the world’s first Fairtrade certified women’s Argan Oil cooperative.
They the first women’s only argan cooperative and the first Fairtrade argan cooperative. NYR as a company were awarded 100 per cent for it’s ethical standards.
Established in 2007 by women who met at a literacy class, it has now become a hugely successful cooperative providing women in the region with work to support their families.
Today, the 60 members of the cooperative work in every area of the business, from collecting, transporting (by donkey), hand-cracking and pressing the nuts, and all have access to top administrative positions. Neal’s Yard say is an incredible achievement anywhere, but particularly in the traditionally male-orientated Berber community.
The income is helping to change not only the women’s lives, but also their family’s too.
Once completely financially dependent on their husbands, the women can now contribute to the household income; many providing the family’s only regular salary.
They have money to send their children to school beyond primary school, giving them to opportunity to progress to high school and even university; and the women have access to literacy and health care training.
Not surprisingly, the women’s self-esteem has had a massive boost. According to a spokeswoman at the cooperative, women now have more confidence in themselves because they feel important in their home.
Fatima, 37, is married with four boys under 13 and was one of the original cooperative workers when she joined seven years ago.
Fatima, who is the main breadwinner in her family, said: ‘We speak together, dance together, work, joke and enjoy life together.
‘Here in the countryside there would be no other work without argan. In the city you can do cleaning, but nothing else here.’
Fatima and her team produce 1,000 litres of oil every month. A spokesperson for Neal’s Yard Remedies said: ‘In 2012 we were ordering one kilo of argan oil, since its popularity has grown so rapidly in last couple of years, we are now ordering 900 kilos.
‘At NYR we sell the oil on its own as part of our base oil collection, as well as including it in other products, such as our organic lipsticks, mascara and body care products for its nourishing properties.
‘We have always strived to go above and beyond to be as ethical as possible, and recently we were awarded the first Health & Beauty company to achieve 100% under the Ethical Company Organisation’s ‘Ethical Accreditation’ scheme.’
And it seems the A-listers can’t get enough of the beauty weapon. Supermodel Gisele Bundchen has long said that argan oil is an essential part of her beauty routine, while Eva Mendes said that the oil is her ‘total skin secret’ and described it as ‘spectacular’.
Katy Perry counts it as a huge part of prepping for a photo shoot and celebrities stylists say that when Salma Hayek and Taylor Swift prepare themselves for photoshoots, they douse a few drops of argan oil into their skin and hair.
Other fans include Charlize Theron, Madonna, Kim Kardashian, Scarlet Johansson and French beauty Marion Cotillard.