Moroccan craftsmanship is a treasure that struggles to go international.
Ever heard stories of people who live in Paris and have never been to the Eiffel Tower? It is fascinating to see humans' ability to overlook the closest details and things we encounter on a daily basis, right?
Marrakech, the center of Moroccan craftsmanship.
I spent last summer in Marrakech, where I was born and grew up before moving out to France. However, this time I went with a friend who had never traveled there before. As we wandered around together, his fascination with everything that I was accustomed to made me realize that I had never observed the authentic nature of Marrakech myself. I finally grasped why many tourists flock to Marrakech and love it. Living amongst this bustling artisanship, I had grown immune to its intrigue. Through this fresh perspective, the uniqueness of the local craftsmanship clearly stood out and profoundly piqued my interest.
When walking between the narrow streets of the Medina (the old town), it is hard not to notice the great number of tiny shops held by talented craftsmen, as they would shout loud enough for you to take a look. Their products are definitely worth the look. From traditional slippers to handcrafted silver or wooden work and unique leather goods, the proof of their skilled craftsmanship is blatantly visible.
A work of art, a work of love.
In Morocco, many craftsmen have inherited their line of work. They all start as apprentices to another master craftsman. What's fascinating about Marrakchi craftsmen though, is that magical combination of their love for their work and the notorious Marrakchi relaxed yet sweet nonchalance. When talking to them, you'd more than often encounter an utter refusal to switch professions while definitely feeling an aura of passion and pride. This talented and skilled workforce full of history and culture ought to be preserved.
The rise of a global competitive environment.
Nevertheless, there is fierce competition, strengthened by the global economic context and the struggle to adapt to the competitive global environment. Take the leather handbags landscape: from the counterfeit handbags to the synthetic PU and the increasing presence of international brands, any local artisan would struggle to thrive.
Globalization and the democratization of modern fashion, notably propelled by fast-fashion pure players and the entrance of foreign actors, must have certainly taken its toll on local artisans. However, tourism has counterbalanced those effects and allowed the industry to grow. This mainly applies to sub segments of the crafts industry with less of a cultural weight that are also more likely to have an occidental-friendly component, such as vegetable-tanned leather handbags and other handcrafted leather goods and accessories.
Despite favorable growth metrics in the crafts industry fueled by a governmental plan taking end this year, I still believe that growth has not reached nor developed its full potential. In 2011, only 20% of the Moroccan crafts industry revenues stemmed from exportations which amounted up to 3.54 billion MAD. That is to be put in contrast with the government's target of seven billion MAD for 2015 vs. 0.7 billion MAD back in 2005. Moroccan craftsmanship should have a much stronger token of talent and success that can only be reached through its development in foreign markets.
A failure to create a major international player in the fashion and crafts industries.
I cannot help to think of international success-stories in the fashion industry that witnessed a tremendous and prompt growth. In its four years of existence, Everlane is believed to have reached around 36 million dollars in revenues for 2013. In comparison, the crafts industry in Morocco has a 2015 target size of 2.53 billion dollars while the Moroccan foreign exportations of the textile industry were at around 3.16 billion dollars in 2011 . How can one single successful US actor in the fashion industry have revenues that represent over 1.4% of a country's crafts industry size, in just four years of existence?
Despite a skilled workforce and a strong legacy of unique craftsmanship, Morocco seems to have failed to become a major player at the international level. While a great debate of culture, human skills, infrastructures and resources could be started on the matter, the question is why hasn't a local actor emerged as a major Moroccan brand at both the local and international levels?
The startup ecosystem and e-commerce as means of growth for the Moroccan fashion and crafts industries.
From a resource-based perspective, things are greatly moving in the right direction. However, that talented workforce should be further developed and introduced to advanced techniques and technological changes for it to be fit to compete at an international level. Capitalizing on that, combined with the implementation of effective business models, an efficient supply chain, IT infrastructure, process management, marketing and branding strategies and financial resources would help create strong actors able to aim for market shares worldwide.
With the booming rise of e-commerce in Morocco, great initiatives and projects are being undertaken in the sector such as the recent launch of the largest e-commerce site in Africa, Made In Morocco. A startup ecosystem is also cropping up locally, sometimes helped by governmental actors such as the Moroccan Numeric Fund, not to mention a growing amazing Moroccan diaspora in the tech industry represented by the likes of Enigma. Those are all positive signs of an existing talent and opportunities to be tapped, so why not in the fashion and crafts industries?
We launched KANZEK to capitalize on the resources available in Morocco including its unique craftsmanship legacy to target a market located outside of it. Major international fashion brands have leather suppliers or outsource some of their production here while keeping a high retail markup. We are strongly convinced our transparent approach combined to our e-tailer nature and the creative designs of our collaboratively made handbags are to put us in a competitive position notably in European and American markets.
Moroccan craftsmanship will shine.