Moroccan leather has been sought after over the centuries for its quality craftsmanship, beautiful geometric ornamentation, and attention to detail. However, the global hunger for fast fashion has taken once flourishing artisan communities committed to hand-made, bespoke accessories into a the realm of quick turnaround timetables, passing fads, and toxic methods of production. The Berlin-based luxury accessory brand, Abury combines Moroccan-influenced embellishments and expertise with modern touches from contemporary designers. Ecouterre sat down with Abury founder, Andrea Kolb, to discuss her passion for fine accessories.
What inspires and informs your aesthetic?
In 2008 I went to Marrakesh to renovate an old house in the Medina. On the site and while working with the craftsmen I found myself captivated by the immense handicraft heritage of the Moroccan people. These men and women passionately and skillfully carved, tinkered, blew, sewed and embroidered their way into, frankly, what can only be described as magic.
Sadly though, some of these skills are vanishing and with them, the beauty, wisdom, identity and stories were also at risk of being lost to the past. So this magic and mystic that lies in the pattern and designs of the Moroccan craftsmanship—the stories that are incorporated in each stitch—this is what inspires us.
Leather-tanning can be pretty toxic. How do you reconcile that with your values?
Leather really is a difficult raw material to work with when it comes to sustainability. We cooperate with a tannery in Morocco that works along the standards of the European Union.
We are actually just sending some bags to a test institute in Switzerland to also have the proof that the leather is not toxic and so on. Apart from the tanning, the colors also play an important role in sustainability. Here, we try to work as much as possible with natural colors and pigments.
How do you blend traditional craftsmanship with modern design?
Abury brings together exciting designers with traditional artisans from remote and inspiring cultures. Together they create a new generation of luxury style that fosters intercultural exchange and preserves crafts!
With the “Abury Design Experience,” we have created a yearly contest where designers from all over the world can apply to get a grant to go to a craft community for up to three months.
They get a training from us—to train the artisans—and then they can create their collection onsite with the artisans. From our former collections we have learned that the designer usually starts with an idea, but the craftsmen evolve it with their special knowledge of the materials [and techniques].
The collections will be sold under their name and the Abury brand, and 50 percent of the profits will be reinvested in education projects in the countries.
Why is it important to educate young designers?
Well, it’s important give everybody access to education!! And this is why education on all levels plays a major role in our concept.
For the young designers I think it is really difficult today to survive in a very fast and competitive environment. But many of them actually would like to break out and work more sustainably. And this is where education plays an important role.
How do you ensure fair practices along the supply chain?
We know all the people we work with personally. We source the materials we use in the region and know the people who we buy the leather from, we know how they work and visited the site. Then we work directly with the artisans; the designer even lives and works with them for three months. So they experience where and how they work and if there is something we think should be improved we work on it.
Where do you see the role of artisan in the world of sustainable fashion and design?
The turn of this century has witnessed a return to the arts and crafts movement. The exchange of knowledge between the old world and the cutting edge allows for a new context to emerge, leasing crafts a new life and lending design an emotional component which has been missing in recent times.
And the realization that we have to stop destroying our planet has made young designers adamant to produce ecologically and locally, thus creating less polluting proposals, reviving natural dyes and returning to timber, fur, hide, textile, ceramic and glass—original arts and crafts materials.
If the consumer is ready to embrace the extraordinary, in this quest for soul in a product, the arts and crafts movement is back at the forefront of fashion and design.
Do you ever feel pressure to increase production due to the popularity of your work?
Good question. We are naturally limited in our production, especially in certain techniques like the leather embroidery by hand where we have reached a very high standard that cannot be taught in four weeks to anybody.
This is why we started giving classes in leather embroidery already at the beginning of the project. Sometimes we have tight deadlines, but we are quite experienced with production times now and our buyers respect our production times. They expect a highly individual and handmade product; this needs some time.