Craftsmen and women in rural Morocco might not have access to running water but they have access to the internet. And while this access empowers them in many ways, it also exposes them to foreign design influences that they end up imitating in an effort to meet what they perceive as market demand.
Enter Sabrina Kraus López, a Colombian-American textile and fashion designer who travelled to Morocco to work with weavers in a residency sponsored by the British Council. Her mission was to guide the artisans' creative proccess, encourage them to rediscover authentic design inspiration and develop original new designs. The UK organisation partnered with Anou, an online platform that enables artisans to market their wares to international buyers.
Anou sets up a virtual community of artisans who can – regardless of literacy levels – independently post their work online, receive feedback, and sell their work directly to customers all over the world. It works to revive the artisan community in Morocco by creating equal access to global markets for all Moroccan artisans.
Kraus López lived and worked with six Berber rug-weavers – Fatima Ouakhoum, Brahim El Mansouri, Fatima Yadiri, Rabha Akkaoui, Kenza Oulaghda and Mustapha Chaouai – in the Atlas Mountains, collaborating on new approaches based on the traditional weaving techniques of the Amazighs, as the Berbers are also called. Their collaboration resulted in the Common Thread collection, a limited-edition of six bespoke hand-woven rugs inspired by the crafters' heritage, surroundings and personal stories.
"My role was really to help them innovate in their designs and to show them how they could get inspired by anything around them, to revive their culture and their craft," explains Kraus López.
Her approach was to help them rediscover the rich influences already present in their environment, rather than impose her own view.
"I did a series of workshops with them," she explains, "and shared basic design tools like making collages, outline design, watercolours and with all of these I put an emphasis on being inspired by what’s around them.”
From leaves and lettering to colours and cultural concepts, the artisans produced numerous new pieces. The Afouzar rug by Ouakhoum is an abstracted depiction of the mountain range viewed from her house while Akkaoui wrote her name, cut it out and made a collage that was then interpreted into a design for her Assoulef rug.
"Although the tools are basic, it was great to show them that the designs can still mean something to them and that it doesn't have to be something that they just found on the internet and copied,” says Kraus López.
She found it gratifying to see that her teachings were shared with the rest of the artisan community, who showed creativity in response to their limited means: "One of the women in the cooperative also did a collage but she didn't have glue to stick down the paper so she used honey instead."