The whole story begins with a trip to Morocco in 1992. The company’s founder, Mrs. Jacqueline Alno, who was an employee in the herbal medicine sector at the time, was already curious about vegetable oils. So she was naturally interested in this local argan oil, with skin care properties handed down by local women for generations. She discovered the incredible properties of argan oil, which has been used for centuries in Morocco both in cooking and for cosmetics. All Moroccan women know, cultivate and use this oil, which is made from the kernels of Morocco’s native argan tree that has been classified Biosphere by UNESCO. This unique tree grows in southern Morocco, in the Anti-Atlas region. In those days, argan oil was only produced on farms, so it was not easily marketable.
The ultimate repairing oil, argan oil is well-known for its moisturizing, nutritive and protective properties. It has a high concentration of unsaturated fatty acids essential for the smooth functioning of the epidermis, such as omega 6s, which limit water loss, and omega 9s, which strengthen the skin’s elasticity. They reinforce the skin’s natural lipid film and slow down the skin ageing process by stimulating better cell oxygenation. Argan oil also has a high vitamin E content, which has an antioxidant effect, increasing the skin barrier’s natural defences against external stresses and strains while helping to fight against skin ageing.
A few years later, in 2002, Jacqueline Alno, based in Vannes (Brittany, France) wanted to set up her own business and she recalled the possibilities of argan oil. After an initial investigation, she enthusiastically contacted the first women’s cooperative in Morocco known as Amal (which means “hope” in Arabic). A first partnership was created with a common goal, namely to promote the work of women in rural areas. This undertaking is currently recognized by the Ecocert Fair Trade label.
A lovely, humane, natural company called Argandia came into being after this meeting with the women of the cooperative. When setting up the company, it was only natural to create the brand’s name by combining the word “Argan” with “Dia”, taken from the Arabic word meaning “friendly and convivial”, so that one word perfectly sums up a whole philosophy and certain values, which our brand routinely defends more than ever today, namely humanity, respect for all, fairness in our business dealings and the preservation of argan tree plantations and Nature in general.
In 2003 the adventure continues with a partnership between Argandia and the Targanine (Morocco) economic interest group.The Argandia range at that time included seven listed products, including argan oil, some very high quality organic essential oils, as well as prickly pear seed oil, a vegetable oil not yet known on the market.
Prickly pear oil is rare and precious since it takes almost one ton of fruit to produce a litre of oil! Each fig (or pear) contains many small seeds in its pulp, which the women extract by hand. As they are too hard to be ground manually, they require the use of expensive machines, adapted to oil extraction. The seeds only contain 5% oil and many producers also use a solvent to increase their yield but that is not the case with Argandia. We guarantee you 100% pure oil with an exclusively mechanized extraction without added solvents. Prickly pear oil has a fine, light texture that nonetheless contains a record level of essential fatty acids. But what makes it so exceptional is the high level of vitamin E and delta-7-stigmasterol, a powerful antioxidant that is very rare in the plant world, making it an excellent anti-aging oil.
Just like the argan tree, the promotion of prickly pear oil contributes to the social and economic development of the people who live in the very arid areas of southern Morocco. Argandia is involved in a supportive economy in Morocco, not only financially, but also through the presence of our teams in the field who regularly visit the women from the cooperatives on site. Setting higher standards than the certification labels, Argandia guarantees the impeccable quality of its oils at each stage of production.
In 2007, the business arrangements between Argandia and the Targanine women’s economic interest group were formally set out in a contract and the first Organic-Fair Trade argan supply chain was created. The first fair trade project was to finance a concrete foundation for the construction of the Tagmat cooperative.
The cooperative was operational for the first extraction of argan oil one year later, in 2008.
Considered as the gold of the Berbers, argan oil possesses a trade secret and traditional know-how that needs to be protected, preserved and taught to future generations, a battle Argandia has willingly taken on because of its firm commitment to fair trade.
In 2009, Argandia started up a new collaboration with a private company producing argan oil and obtained the E.S.R. (supportive responsible trade) guarantee according to the Ecocert specifications. We were the first to commit to the argan fair trade business controlled by Ecocert. That has consolidated and given credibility to our fair trade policy. For instance, every year Argandia undertakes to pay the equivalent of 1% of the volumes imported to a local association and to buy argan fruit at a price higher than the market price. In that year, the development fund paid to the Indouzal association (a village in the Anti-Atlas region in the south-east of Morocco), financed the creation of a canteen for the children and the water and food supply.
So Argandia is the first brand to market certified Organic and Fair Trade cosmetic argan oil. The production method is very important with argan oil because it will determine the quality of the oil. That is why still today our supplier undertakes to only buy argan fruit from pickers from the Indouzal mountain with the pulp around it, as proof that the fruit has not been ingested by the goats who go up into the argan tree orchards. This means that the kernels present inside the fruit and the nut have not been oxidized. The fruit are then dried; this operation is carried out by the pickers’ families and the fruit is then stored still with the pulp in order to preserve it as much as possible. The pulp is removed and the argan fruit is milled, by hand, by the women from the Berber villages. Once this task has been completed, the kernels are meticulously sorted by hand before being cold-pressed by machines. The pulp and the nuts from the fruit are then recycled by the women as fuel for heating or fed to livestock, which is one of our fair trade undertakings. After pressing the kernels, the argan oil is then filtered in to remove any remaining impurities. The oil will then be stored in stainless steel barrels to protect it from light and to preserve it under the best possible conditions. The extraction takes place in a closed circuit and the decantation of the oil into the stainless steel barrels guarantees the purity and clarity of very high quality oil.
These precautions guarantee the quality of natural argan oil, which has not been deodorized, decoloured or extracted with solvents.
So in 2009 the development fund financed the planting of 150,000 prickly pear trees over a 100 hectares to stabilize the soil and build an economic project around prickly pear oil.
The following year was busier in terms of events. In 2010, Mrs Alno wished to retire and effectively sold Argandia to Thierry Recouvrot, a businessman with 20 years’ experience in the cosmetics industry, and Sandrine Recouvrot, his daughter, who had returned from spending several months in Morocco, in the Anti-Atlas argan orchard region. She went there to learn as much as possible about all the distinctive features of this oil endemic to Morocco. Once there, she “fell in love”! She lived amidst the local Moroccan population and learned all about argan cultivation. On her return to France, she was convinced and ready to go! So she joined the “Argandia adventure” in order to defend the quality of these organic fair-trade oils, both argan oil and prickly pear oil for which Argandia has developed two certified fair trade supply chains with its local partners. As she says, “I think cosmetics is mostly a matter of the genes that are part of the family’s DNA!”
Argandia then became the story of a father and his daughter who joined forces to defend the same passions, namely enterprise, creativity, development and above all, sharing their appreciation of the excellent materials involved. They are both highly committed to fair trade and proud to be able to defend these values through Argandia’s products (95% of the Argandia range is certified fair trade, 100% of the range is certified organic).
Argandia is now a story of family and passion!
Argandia moved from Brittany to the pretty village of Sablet in Provence at the end of 2010. A year of research and development and marketing then followed in order to present the first line of Argandia cosmetics called “Argan Dream” including face and body care products at the end of 2011. Also very implicated in fair trade, Thierry Recouvrot continued the work begun by Mrs Alno and helped to set up a weaving workshop for the women from Indouzal, in conjunction with the village association, so that they can learn to make woollen rugs and then sell them. This workshop was created in order to provide the women with another activity and a source of additional income.
In 2010-2011, thanks to the development fund, the fair trade association was able to participate in Earth Day by financing the purchase of 5,000 olive trees for the village inhabitants to diversify the crop on the Berber mountain. A garbage collection system was also installed to protect the environment of the village.
In 2012, Argandia managed to introduce a fair trade chain for prickly pear oil, just like argan oil, based on the same process of creating working capital with the annual payout of 1% of imported volumes. Argandia chose to work with a young Moroccan businesswoman involved in the social and environmental development south of Tiznit (Morocco). She buys fruit that is too ripe to be sold for food from local farmers and has invested in machines to extract the oil. In this way, she increases the income of the women who work with her and helps to keep the activity in the small villages. The development of the prickly pear, besides its traditional food use, slows down the rural exodus by creating jobs in very poor desert regions.
In 2013, as a pioneer on the market, Argandia launched a new “Precious Prickly Pear” anti-aging line, composed of face and hand care products based on this extraordinary oil. This line for mature skin is certified 100% Organic and Fair Trade. With this launch, Argandia has consolidated its position as a French organic cosmetics specialist.
One year later, Argandia launched its first men’s range, with argan oil, and now has a complete product line.
Each Argandia’s growth has continued to expand and the brand is now distributed in about thirty countries. The development of fair trade is still central to our development and every year it enables the creation of different projects like, for example, acquiring solar ovens for several villages in the Indouzal mountains.
Argandia has been present in the organic and fair trade world for more than 10 years. Far more than a passing fad, organic fair trade is an integral part of Argandia’s DNA since its creation. It represents the values that we are proud to defend on a day-to-day basis with our customers, distributors, suppliers and other parties involved but, of course, we are also driven by a personal conviction, above all, to commit ourselves to this approach. That conviction is namely that everyone should be able to profit from the fruit of their labour, while respecting people and the environment in a fair way. In our fair trade sectors, resources are fairly split between all players in the production chain.
To see the Berber women’s expertise in cultivating and producing argan oil and prickly pear oil developed and ensure that they benefit from that fairly, while preserving the trade secret of this unique oil. After all, what is fair trade if not the fact that everyone is entitled to decent working and living conditions and to fair pay?
The purity, effectiveness, diversity and originality of our organic fair trade products
Sandrine & Thierry Recouvrot