Better late than never, here's a recap of part of my 2021 visit to our partners in Morocco!
I want you to meet the people who your purchases impact, but first we have to get to the shop. The Marrakech Medina is a sight to behold and is absolute heaven to anyone who enjoys wandering traditional shops. It’s the kind of chaos I love to get lost in. The absolute assault on all of your senses with the shouts, the smells, the motorbikes, the tight quarters, the overload of things to see and admire… if you don’t hate it, you love it.
To get to their shop, you enter the large city center with an open square and are first greeted with the smells of street food grilling. Because I love plants, I was instantly drawn to the “garden center”-- not something I expected to see but was one of my favorite stops. Thankfully I was with a fellow gardener, so we stopped to smell the roses.
Then we plunge into the madness of the markets. The outer edges are very tourist-friendly with shopkeepers who know enough English to engage and draw you in. The further you go, the less crowded it gets as most tourists don’t wander too deep. Here the rent for a shop is cheaper, but there is less customer traffic. This is where we stop!
Abdou and Zara are my primary partners. Abdou is married with three kids and has worked with leather for over a decade. Zara has worked for Abdou for a few years now as a single woman needing to provide her own income.
Their shop is approx. 12 x 15 feet total, maybe 200 square feet. This space has two work stations: one table with a black industrial sewing machine and the other table set up for oiling leather goods after they’re assembled. Every remaining square inch is covered in goods on display for any curious eye that may wander in.
During my 2-3 hours there, no one wandered in. It was early November, so any summer holiday travelers had long since returned home. I was there on a weekday morning and it seemed to be mostly local traffic buzzing around outside. Pandemic lifestyles have severely hampered the tourist purchases Abdou and Zara depended on, then, just 3 weeks after my visit, the Omicron variant shook the African continent and borders were closed for more than two months.
This is why our partnership is so important. During tumultuous times, our orders have sustained these two individuals and the people who depend on them. In a show of amazing faith, Abdou even sends out work to other leather artisans in his community when we have enough to go around. This abundance mindset and generosity is so foreign these days and that that ripple effect begins with the orders you, as a customer, place.
Their workshop has two levels, with a tight spiral staircase leading up to a smaller loft where raw materials are kept and there is another small table. Abdou does most of his leather cutting upstairs to keep retail space tidy and to keep the dust contained to one area. It’s a tiny upstairs room in an un-air conditioned stone building. In other words, an oven in the 100-degree Moroccan summer. Because of this, my friends are usually forced to work less in the heat of the summer because it is simply unbearable.
There are so many barriers to success that are inherent to my friends’ location. Despite their talent, there is a lack of opportunity to leverage their skills for a stable income. That’s where I am thrilled to enter the scene. It’s an absolute privilege to be a conduit and share these beautiful goods with the world. This partnership is full of challenges– if it were easy, I wouldn’t be needed! But with patience, grit, and some trial and error, we’re creating a positive impact on the lives of my friends, their families, their business partners, and their community.
Again, it can’t be said enough. THANK YOU. There would be no business without our customers. YOU are making real change through your conscious purchases and the world is better for it.