03 FATIMA FALFOULI & KARIN REINDERS
TUCKED IN A HIGH PLATEAU OF MOROCCO’S MOUNTAIN RANGES, I STEP OUT OF THE VAN WITH MY CAMERA SLUNG OVER MY SHOULDER - SEEMINGLY INTO ANOTHER WORLD. AS FATIMA GREETS US WARMLY, I DON’T KNOW IT YET, BUT WHAT WILL STRIKE ME MOST IN THE COMING DAYS ABOUT HER IS THIS - WHAT SEEMS ORDINARY UPON FIRST SIGHT, WILL SOON REVEAL ITSELF AS SOMETHING TRULY EXTRAORDINARY, AND THIS IS A WOMAN DEFyING ALL THE ODDS.
Some people you cross paths with in life are undeniably movers and shakers. As the sun begins to flick hot pink streaks into the sky, Karin and I are greeted warmly by a short woman in a colourful headscarf as our van rolls to a stop on a rocky, dusty road in the remote Atlas Mountains of Morocco. For someone who grew up a world away from the vocal feminism that defined my youth, Fatima is a feminist heroine entirely of her own making - one that’s equal parts stoic and beautiful, brave and savvy. Fatima and Karin make a formidable team that truly defy all the odds. Working closely with Fatima and the cooperative of women, Karin frequently travels to Morocco from her homeland the Netherlands, to work alongside the women in creating handwoven rugs, and marketing them to a wider marketplace.
Passed down through generations, we see first hand the skill of the women, as they weave quickly and seamlessly, without patterns or computer programs to guide the designs, just from their heads. I’m impressed to speak to Karin about the balance of power so often questioned in the ‘Fair Trade’ arena - “Fair Fabrics and the cooperatives need each other, we’re doing business together and we need each others knowledge and connections. They know how to weave, I do not! They are the experts. But then I can help with expanding their market reach. We can help each other, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Lilli - What’s the first thing we should know about Fair Fabrics?
Karin - That it’s not a design story made in another country, it’s a design story that came from a collaboration, it’s not just a product you’re buying, it’s a product with an incredible story behind it and you can see it coming through in the product, because it’s made by hand.
The beginnings of Fair Fabrics is around seven or eight years ago. I’ve travelled a lot around the world with my husband and seen a lot of crafts, which is something you don’t see that much of anymore, especially in the Netherlands. When I had the opportunity to start my own company, it came all together, the travels, connecting with other cultures and also the crafts. So Fair Fabrics really started when I travelled to Morocco and I decided that Morocco would be the first country to start off and meet artisans.
L - How you met the women here in the Atlas Mountains?
K - First I started just by driving up into the mountains, I researched some women’s cooperatives on the internet, but there wasn’t very much information really, definitely no detailed information. Eventually the village I found wasn’t even on the map, so I had to go with my little rental car, driving into the mountains and asking with pictures. So I just went on a big search really, asking people, ‘Do you know these women, do you know who made these rugs?’ After quite a long search, I found this little village, and the cooperative where we are now.
L - What is the ethos behind Fair Fabrics?
K - The ethos of Fair Fabrics is mainly about two things, the first is to preserve the local crafts, which you don’t see very often anymore. I also want to work on their independency, to work on investing in their businesses, to expand the markets of the cooperatives, because most of the time, their market is small and local. So if Fair Fabrics can help them grow and get more independent, invest in their products and businesses, we can grow together.
L - What’s an example of investment FF brings the helps the coops grow?
K - For example, to buy new materials, to invest in working spaces or workshops to develop their skills not just as artisans but also as business people. So to invest in these things, to help everyone grow together and give them more independence.
L - What does Fair Fabrics offer the artisans?
K - Fair Fabrics offers the cooperatives we work with a sustainable relationship. They can rely on FF to come around very often, to know how much they earn by doing business together so they can invest in their cooperatives. Is that the question?
L - Yes perfect, when we were speaking in the car, you were talking about the importance of suability in business, the opportunity to create and be paid for their work.
K - Yes, definitely. It’s so important to be able to know a flow of business as to know how much to invest in the co-opporative to grow.
L - What has FF given you personally?
K - Fair Fabrics has given me so much, it’s a way of life for me. It’s not just doing business, it’s building new friendships and new cultures. You can see me here, just wandering around feeling completely at home, it’s my life. Alongside my life in the Netherlands, it’s my life. The feeling I get when I enter this village, I feel at home here, it’s my second home. Like I said before, it’s not just doing business with them, it’s the things besides, like having dinner together, sitting on the couch next to them, even through the language barriers, we find a way to communicate. It really feels like I’m one of them, and that’s what they tell me too, which is really nice. My favourite part of Morocco is when I walk into this home, because it’s with the mountains in the back, with the light coming into their home, the people, the family, this is what it’s all about.
L - Can you briefly explain to us why Fair Trade means?
K - I think I need to specify this question to Fair Fabrics because I have my own rules. I don’t use a certificate, so why did I choose to work in a fair trade way? The reason to work in a Fair Trade way for Fair Fabrics, is actually I think there is no other way, there’s no other option for me. It’s the only way we can work with the women we are with now. Fair Trade in the formal way has a lot of rules and regulations, but for me, it’s how does my belly feel? Is that how you say it in English?
L - Yes, in English, ‘Gut feeling’ but it makes sense!
K - Yes, in Dutch the direct translation is belly! But yes, it starts with that, if it dines’t feel right, then I won’t do it. I’ve visited so many places where they make beautiful products, but if I don’t have the connection with the artisans, or if it’s not transparent, then I’m not going to work with them. It’s really personal, but I think for me, it’s the best way to do Fair Trade.
L - Yes perfect. Can you explain a little about Moroccan design history and how these elements influence you designs?
K - Sure. The way I’m working with the cooperatives is not in a traditional way. It’s not that I design the pottery or rug myself and have them make it. I want to design together, and use the knowledge of the artisans, their knowledge about patterns, the use of colour, the materials, the techniques, and to put it together with the ideas that I have personally, and come up with a new design together. I think it’s another way of getting to the next level.
L - What are some tips for up and coming designers?
K - Just follow your heart, if it feels good, just do it. If it doesn’t feel right, then take another path or direction.
L - What are you hoping for the future of FF?
K - What I would like to see happening for FF in the future, is to continue to grow, to work together with more cooperatives, not just with me, but with other designers and other companies as well. I always tell people, that if FF are doing well, then the coopertives are doing well, and that’s, I think, what it’s all about. Fair Fabrics and the cooperatives need each other, we’re doing business together and we need each others knowledge and connections. They know how to weave, I do not! They are the experts. But then I can help with expanding their market reach. We can help each other, and that’s what it’s all about.
L - What impacts have you seen in the community?
K - Being around in this community, working with this cooperative, it’s not just doing business together, or making money, it’s that whole community knows who I am, when I’m coming and who I’m bringing, when I’m here, I’m spending money in the community, we’re making food together, buying things, we’re not just doing business with the cooperatives but with the whole community.
L - I guess what’s resonated with me over the last few days, I remember when we first started speaking, we talked a lot about collaborating as equal design partners and I remember thinking - ‘oh that’s really great’, but now I’ve seen you drawing with the women and working so closely with the coop developing the ideas.
K - Yes, the way we are working with the cooperatives is quite different, to put sketches on top of one another, to see what happens, how each others ideas are changing and evolving. We draw a lot together. I think I want to show them the it’s not just me as the foreigner, being around and just using their skills on the loom, I want to see what their ideas are, what’s happening in the village, see what they like and how we can evolve the ideas together, to make them proud of their work.
L - It seems like you are inspired by your environment, and they are inspired by their environment, and FF is a way of bringing them both together in a creative way, the also allow everyone to make money.
K - Yes, exactly. Through Fair Fabrics, I want the women to feel they can create with their minds, as well as their hands. They’re good with their crafts, but also with their strong ideas, and layer their layer on top of the Netherlands layer and see what happens, and I think they should be very proud with it.
L - Seeing the whole process laid out, from the original sketches and mood boards to the yarn dying and weaving looms, to the finished product the women write their names on at the end and taking the rug back to the Netherlands, how does that process feel like for you?
K - Going through the whole process together with the women makes me feel very proud, but also makes the women feel very proud, that we created it together in this place, in Morocco in the mountains, and I will bring it to The Netherlands, and then part of this little village is shared in the Netherlands. But the process doesn’t end when I’m in the Netherlands with the rugs, I always bring back photos of the rugs in the Netherland interiors. And I also ask the women to put their names on the back of the rugs, so there is a direct connection between the maker and the end buyer. I also try to show the buyer about the process of making the rug, it’s very complicated and it’s not just weaving, they mainly weave from their heads and not a chart or machine. So I try to also show the whole process.
L - What’s your first memory of creating something?
K - I was drawing a lot as a child, but I don’t do that really anymore. Firstly, I went to university as a drawing teacher, but then I ended up doing Fair Fabrics! I’m not educated as a designer, I’m working closely with trained designers as the business side, as a social entrepreneur. But I’m creating together with the artisans. I think FF is the combination of these things, it has to do with social entrepreneurship, doing business with artisans, the interest I have with interiors, colours, and exploring cultures. It all comes together in Fair Fabrics.
L - I just have one final question for you Karin - how do you know when the process of designing is finished?
K - Well, you don’t! Designing a product over here, it’s very difficult, because you’re surrounded by colours, by patterns, by symbols - sometimes you don’t see the difference anymore! It’s so colourful over here and then you bring it home and think - ‘oh no this is totally wrong!’ So you should always imagine your design to be in your own home, think doesn’t his work at home! Even the outside light is different. So sometimes it’s going wrong, and that’s why it takes a while. Because it’s really difficult to put things from here, one by one, in a western interior. It takes a while to get it right, it’s taken years, but finally were here and that’s part of the fun of the collaboration.
Support Karin and Fatima at Fair Fabrics Netherlands.
Follow Fair Fabrics @fairfabrics.