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Interview: Hamimi Design | Celebrating Moroccan Artisans

Working as a business duo on opposite sides of the world has not deterred brother and sister designers and founders of Moroccan boutique brand Hamimi Design. In fact, it has brought them closer together, says Alex of their unique working arrangement.

With Alex living in Brisbane, Australia and Rebecca in Marrakech, they have a designed a business around each other’s strengths, love of Morocco and the desire to produce quality products – jewellery, bags, lighting – using talented local craftspeople.

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Alex and Rebecca Wolford and Jamila of Hamimi Design

Tell us about yourselves and about the Hamimi brand

Rebecca:- I have called Marrakech home for the past decade after travelling there on a whim and falling in love with the city. I later fell in love with my husband Larbi Cherkaoui who is a well-established Moroccan artist (www.larbicherkaoui.com). I am also a painter, having studied fine art in Australia. Hamimi’s studio in Marrakech shares a building with Larbi’s art studio and gallery. We have a 5-year-old son Soulaiman and live in Gueliz, a cosmopolitan ‘French’ area just outside the Marrakech medina.

Prior to Hamimi, I established Kasbek, a kaftan boutique in the heart of the Marrakech Souk with another Australian expat. And before moving to Morocco, I had an interior design studio in Wollongong (Space Cadet Design) and owned and operated a number of award-winning restaurants and cafes in Wollongong (Restaurante Due Mezzi, Sweet Lips Cafe, Lorenzo’s Diner) with my former partner. With Hamimi, I design the products and oversee the team of skilled local artisans that bring them to life.

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Alex:- I have a background in planning and designing community sport and recreation facilities and children’s playgrounds. I was captured by the charms of Morocco and its people during my first visit in 2007, and my family and I have been regular visitors ever since.

I live in Brisbane’s eclectic inner-city village West End, with my naturopath wife Sharon and 9-year-old daughter Ava. With Hamimi, I am involved in the design process as well as looking after the website, sales, marketing and administration.

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Enhass Brass Jewellery

About Hamimi:- Hamimi bascially means ‘my sanctuary’ in Arabic and offers a fresh take on Moroccan design, capturing the country’s exotic culture and honouring its traditional handmade craftsmanship.

In this age of mass production, we wanted to focus on hand-crafted objects using traditional methods with a contemporary sensibility. Our team of Moroccan artisans are at the centre of Hamimi; they give life to our vision. Every piece is invested with human touch; made by hand with heart.

Hamimi began in late 2010 as a pop-up shop in Brisbane’s Southbank and then became a store in East Brisbane until late 2013. At that stage Hamimi offered a mix of our own designs with handpicked Moroccan pieces encompassing furniture, lighting, homewares, vintage tribal rugs, accessories, jewellery, artefacts and artworks.

hamimi-desing-Sketch project concept-West End, Qld Fashion Wholesale showroom

Sketch project concept: West End, Queensland Fashion Wholesale showroom

While operating a bricks and mortar store was an enjoyable experience, it was the design and creation of products that we loved the most and is at the heart of what we do. So nowadays we focus on designing and making our own products. However, we are planning to open another Hamimi store – this time in Marrakech and selling our own designs.

Possibly the main reason we created Hamimi was so that our families could stay closely connected and spend time together in both Australia and Morocco. Although we live on other sides of the world, we are now in contact via email, Skype or WhatsApp almost daily, far more than when we lived in the same country.

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The completed West End project

What challenges – from working as siblings to working on different sides of the world – have you faced along the way?

Working on other sides of the globe does have its challenges. For instance, due to the time differences, we communicate at the start and end of each other’s day when often one of us is tired and mentally drained. The time difference also means one of us often has to wait until the following day for responses to pressing questions and updates. Also, there is nothing quite like seeing and touching a new product sample in the flesh rather than relying on a digital image.

Another challenge is that things tend to happen at a slower pace in Morocco. There is a much more relaxed (and healthy) approach to time than we are used to in fast-paced Western cities. We have had to learn to be more patient and adopt the approach that good things are worth the wait. Although in truth this can be a little exasperating at times.

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Tell us about the creative process i.e where do your design ideas come from? How do you like to work?

Daily life in Marrakech provides an endless source of creative inspiration. It’s a place where you can have one foot in the very distant past and the other seemingly in the future. Our designs embrace the old and the new, combining traditional Moroccan materials and techniques with a contemporary sensibility.

Our designs begin with a spark of inspiration and then develop via a sketchpad, pencil, paint palate, material swatches and coffee at hand. We appreciate texture and are not afraid of using colour. We favour the use of natural materials and simple shapes. We like to mix old and new, traditional and modern to produce items of contemporary yet timeless appeal.

Our simple aim is to design products that we would love to wear or adorn our own homes with.

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Cutting a hand-dyed vintage wedding blanket for use on the Handira Leather Bags

Some of the traditional Moroccan skills and materials we use in our products include:

Crochet – lights, jewellery and bags

Embroidery – Sarma handbags

Hand-Dyeing – Handira for handbags, linen handbag lining

Sarma Stitching – hand-detailed stiching on our Sarma handbags

Vintage Handiras (wedding blankets) – for our Handira handbags

Handmade tassels – for crochet tassel jewellery

Brass – Enhass jewellery collection

Hand-carved bone – brass and bone jewellery

Genuine Leather – we use leather in our handbags and jewellery collections as well as in our signature packaging

Prayer mats – new ‘Like a Prayer’ Handbags

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Supporting traditional artisans is clearly an important part of your business. Tell us about the crafts people you work with in Marrakech and the different crafts they use.

Our team of local Moroccan artisans are at the heart of Hamimi. They bring life to our vision. All our crochet products (jewellery, handbags and lights) are handcrafted by a small community of women living in a small village just outside Marrakech. Crochet is a craft passed on through generations of women in this village. They typically crochet blankets and clothing for their own use, as well as skull caps, called taqiyah, that are worn by many Moroccan men.

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Mina making a Malika crochet light

Rebecca’s housekeeper/nanny, Fatiha and her extended family live in this village and thatis how our relationship with the community began. Fatiha’s mother and sister are among the women who make the lights and her niece Loubna is the model for our jewellery and handbag collections (she has never modelled before).

We were incredibly impressed with their crochet skills and enthusiasm for creating our designs. It gave them the opportunity to extend their skills and the potential to generate much-needed additional income. The benefits to these women are clearly more than just financial as their sense of purpose, hope for the future and connection to a bigger world has also grown.

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We started working together on a range of crochet jewellery, bags and cushions before  moving on to creating crochet lights. We were already making other hammered copper, perforated tin and woven bamboo light fixtures , which were beautiful but costly and problematic to ship internationally from Morocco.

This is when the concept of creating collapsible crochet lights that could be flat-packed for safe and economical delivery was born. ‘Malika’ is the name of the woman that made our very first crochet pendant light. As the awareness and demand for our crochet products grows we are able to train and engage more women so the benefits to the community reach even further.

Our Berber-inspired Enhass Brass Jewellery collection is handcrafted the traditional artisan way in a small workshop deep in the heart of the Marrakech medina. Our leather handbags are handmade in a small atelier along the road to Fez on the outskirts of Marrakech.

It’s not very cool but we really like …

Rebecca: – Relaxing in front of the TV at home on a chilly Sunday night wearing my velour Djellaba (think hooded housecoat) watching mindless, mostly American TV.

Alex: – I’m quite partial to canned creamed rice. The $1 can from Aldi is my favourite. It’s my secret pre-football (soccer) energy source. Don’t tell my paleo wife!

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What do you love most about the life and culture of Morocco?

Rebecca:- Marrakech is a vibrant city rich in history and culture with influences from Africa, Arabia and Europe. It’s a true melting pot where you can have one foot in the ancient past and the other well and truly planted in the modern world.

It was the romanticised tourist images that drew me here in the first place but it was really the people that made me want to stay. Moroccan people tend to be very family focused, generous and hospitable. My husband Larbi is the most generous person I have ever known and will literally give a stranger the shirt off his back.

Some of the things I love about life in Marrakech are also the same things that can infuriate me at times, like the relaxed attitude to time, the chaotic city streets, the endless dry hot summers, the ‘rich’ aromas and the predictable, unpredictability of the place.

Marrakech has a large ex-pat community and an ever-increasing number of tourists from all parts of the world, which helps keep the city fresh and attune to the wider world. Its close proximity to Europe is also a bonus. My mother lives in England, so it’s easy for her to visit and visa-versa, which is very important to me.

When you live in a place for a while, no matter how exciting or romantic a place may be, it’s the people – your family and friends – that truly make it home.

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Marrakech medina

Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought’ moment?

Rebecca:- I have been living in Marrakech for over a decade now but almost every week I stop and think ‘who’d have thought that I’d call Marrakech home. It’s certainly a long way in all respects from Wollongong.

Thanks so much Alex and Rebecca for letting us into your worlds!

You can find Hamimi Design here and on Instagram.

Visit the Who'd Have Thought store

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