How To Make It In Morocco #3 : Maures

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Troisième chronique de notre contributeur américain Jonah Gold, et nouvel épisode de sa série How To Make it in Morocco, une sorte de  journal, où il nous raconte ses histoires, ses rencontres, ses Ness Lioum. Il nous présente aujourd’hui Abdellah Smita, du collectif de design Maures. Portrait d’un jeune homme qui essaie de percer au Maroc, “make it in Morocco” comme le dit le titre en anglais.

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Maures: (Re)branding Morocco

It may sound strange, but I met Abdellah through a calendar. One day, several months ago, while wandering the internet, I came across it, and knew immediately that I found something special. The next step was to find the man behind it: Abdellah Smita.

We first connected on Twitter, I asked him where I could find a copy, and the next week I ventured to Casablanca to purchase one. In many ways, I credit Abdellah with spurring my interest in contemporary Moroccan art. For too long, I had been solely learning and exploring Morocco’s past. It was time for something new. Literarily.

Abdellah is just 22, but has already spent the better part of year as the lead designer behind the Moroccan design group Maures. Their name is derived from the French and English historical term for the people of Northern Africa, “Moor.” And their brand is very much focused on Morocco’s people both past and present.

Each month of the Maures calendar features a prominent character from Morocco’s history, including philosophers (Averroes), explorers (Ibn Battuta), and even legendary figures (Kandicha). In doing so Abdellah hopes to cultivate a greater sense of self-pride amongst the current generation.

Taking A Stand

I meet Abdellah for the first time in Rabat. He is certainly easy to recognize from a distance. Coming out of the train station, I immediately notice his signature t-shirt “Booyah! Omar.” Abdellah and I share a day walking through the city, chatting about his various ventures, and trying to figure out together what it means to ‘Rebrand Morocco.’

Immediately, Abdellah comes off as articulate, purposeful, and self-confident. He carries with him a deep sense of pride, in both his company, and its aim: to share a vision of Morocco that celebrates its illustrious history and incredible diversity. “We want people to value their culture, country, and language,” says Abdellah.  To do this, “we need to have a Moroccan touch in everything we use.”

Abdellah has travelled long and far to get to Rabat. Maures is based out of Errachidia in southeastern Morocco and for Abdellah this is essential to his mission. Far from the country’s commercial and tourist centers, Abdellah is forging his own path, hoping others follow suit. “It’s like a taking a stand. I want to inspire someone in their own small city to do something. To start a business. To be creative.”

In Errachidia, Abdellah works with a small team of Moroccan designers and even one American Peace Corps volunteer. They have spent the last several months creating a variety of products, including shirts, posters, stickers, and of course, even a calendar. They have also worked tirelessly to build connections outside of their home-base. They have had exhibitions at the IWA Studio in Casablanca, participated in The Souk in Marrakech, and sold their products in bookstores as far away as Rabat and Tanger.

Their work has been warmly received, and highly praised, even garnering the attention of Brownbook magazine. But that does not mean that the road here was without its fair share of pitfalls. Maures had manufacturing issues when printing shirts which exhausted the team’s initial funding. Profits have been razor thin, and Abdellah hasn’t found the money to print a second set of shirts. Abdellah has turned to crowd funding and pre-sales as means to raise the necessary funds, using websites such as Indiegogo.com.

 A Man of Many Hats

Abdellah at times seems like a man being pulled in a thousand different directions by a thousand different desires, and seemingly, a thousand different projects. The day before meeting me, Abdellah was in Casablanca working on Kahenas. an online boutique for up-and-coming Moroccan artists set to launch later this year. Abdellah believes that such a website is essential for Moroccan artists “to work together, build cooperatives and communities that support each other.”

Abdellah has also begun working with the local government in Errachidia to set-up an agricultural cooperative in his hometown. He hopes to create a unified brand for the region’s farmers, that they will be better able to sell their products both at home and abroad.

As he describes each venture, Abdellah transforms seamlessly from artist, to professor, to politician and back again. When I bring up his “Booyah! Omar” t-shirt we begin talking about the role of traditional medicine in modern Morocco. Later, he discusses the need for rural development, highlights the merits of date coffee, and then winds back to the agricultural project at hand.

Whenever I fear Abdellah is reaching too far, he displays a unique ability to tie everything back together. For Abdellah, each project and each product “is part of the same narrative.”

At its core, his mission is intertwined not just with Morocco’s history, but also its future. Inspiring Moroccans to better understand their past, has led to his own journey of self- discovery.

At one point he says:

“You can’t get from Point A to Point B without knowing yourself and having pride in yourself.”

I know he is trying to talk about Morocco. But part of me thinks that he’s really talking about himself.