While in Timbuktu World Cultural Heritage is getting destroyed in our days – in Marrakesh someone tries to prevent “Handcrafts Cultural Heritage” from disappearing – let us introduce you to Andrea Kolb and her ethical luxury brand ABURY by providing some facts and an interview.
ABURY Collection based in Berlin, Germany, was founded by Andrea Kolb in Feb. 2011. It employs Moroccan Craftsmen, and has a team and Advisory Board of several Industry Professionals, Supporters & Ambassadors. The main business is the wholesale trade of exclusive, traditionally handcrafted goods
ABURY Philosophy: “Developing regions are not actually poor, but rich. The immaterial values, traditional skills and cultural assets which developing regions can contribute to the global community are immeasurably enriching, infinitely fascinating and uniquely valuable. Unfortunately, these cultural values are about to disappear. Industrial mass production replaces more and more traditional craftsmanship. If we are able to save, promote and make these treasures available to a wider public, we will also help to revive traditional skills, promote self-sufficiency and encourage education.”
Current collections include traditional Moroccan Berber Bags – traditional Berber Fairytales included (340-440 €), handcrafted leather clutches (190€), leather iPad-Bags (249€) and leather accessories (45-299€) out of traditional Berber handcrafts. You can even work with them through their online “Bag Configurator” for creating individual items out of traditional handcraft. They are based online but also have 7 German Retail Stores such as Quartier 206 in Berlin.
ABURY Foundation gemeinnützige GmbH (non-profit Ltd) owns 50% of ABURY Collection GmbH shares. Its current project includes a sewing center in Marrakesh and one in Douar Anzal, Morocco, with financed apprenticeships. A well digging project and a school library support in the Atlas region of Morocco.
We asked AFG team member Sarah Moa Gilbert to speak with the team of ABURY for an EXCLUSIVE interview for Africa Fashion Guide.
Although Andrea Kolb was busy preparing her exclusive Moroccan leather goods for Berlin Fashion Week, she kindly took her time to answer some questions for us.
AFG: What does “ABURY” mean?
Andrea Kolb, ABURY: We have been searching for a suitable name for some time. Finally a friend of mine, Andreas Esser from 2bd1, came along with the idea of ABURY. We’ve been testing that name with some of the women - they really liked the name and linked it with positive associations, so we decided on it, although I initially resisted it because of its little story – it is derived from my maiden name – Andrea Bury. Like known from many other fashion brands, a personal relationship is created in that way – not at first glance but more abstract and subtle.
AFG: Which people of the Berber (Zaians, Riffis, Chleuh…) are producing the bags? Do they create any other handicrafts?
Andrea Kolb, ABURY: The Berber People we are currently working with are Chleuh. They are great craftsmen, as all Berber are. The women for example are handcrafting rugs and of course do create their wonderful and richly colored dresses themselves.
AFG: What are the men doing – stock farming, agriculture…?
Andrea Kolb, ABURY: The men of this Village (Douar Anzal) mainly work in agriculture – some small fields are tilled there. Men are additionally producing olive oil and honey. Grain, Oil and Honey are for personal use and partly are sold at the local market as well.
Some of the men are working as day-laborers in Marrakesh (approx. 65 km) due to not finding work on-site to earn money with – so they come home one day every two weeks, as they have to work a 6-day week.
AFG: Is there a special name for the handcraft of the Berber bags, any history or story behind them?
Andrea Kolb, ABURY: The traditional bags do have a name – they are called “Shoukara”.
AFG:What opinion do the Berber, young and old, express about the revival and marketing of the their traditional handcrafts and fairytales?
Andrea Kolb, ABURY: Primarily they are happy with earning money in their traditional surrounding to feed their families. In addition we already have supported the first community projects thanks to the ABURY Foundation, which is financed with more than 50% of ABURY collections profit, and with donations. Over here we have supported a well drilling project, and a school library project has begun.
Besides this we show the press release to the people, so that they can see it is working well. We agreed in advance about the pictures we are allowed to show, because some do not want their pictures to be shown – especially the elderly, but some girls as well – and of course we respect those wishes.
AFG: What are your apprentices doing after finishing education?
Andrea Kolb, ABURY: Those who successfully complete the apprenticeship, and pass the final exam, are welcome to start working for us. That means that they are staying in their village and receive purchase orders – we then supply them with prepared leather and they embroider it with the appropriate colored yarn. In that manner at the same time they are able to care for their families, preparing meals and so on – most women are working part-time – just if there is more than usual to do, they do work fulltime work.
Those who do not pass the final exam at the first step are allowed to continue with schooling, free of charge, to make a second attempt.
AFG:What do you think about modern variations of traditional Handcrafts, such as iPad-Bags, not necessarily needed locally?
Andrea Kolb, ABURY: Our idea has been to create, so to speak, intercultural value, meaning value for both worlds – for the one part income and literacy is provided, for the other part individual pieces with meaning and history, accompanying one always!
Considering that, we brought together craftsmen and contemporary designers, to let them develop together. A very exciting project, how each part, curious and open-minded and in connection to the others, is developing further. This is how the modern iPad-Bags combined with traditional designs and traditional production techniques evolved.
In my opinion this is exactly what makes the project so exciting – the intercultural exchange is creating something that is new and with value on both sides!
In this manner we want to continue work in the future and are searching for modern designers, have an interest in developing together with craftsmen some new, handmade products – exclusive collections, small, extraordinary masterpieces.
AFG: What do you do about the goat leather smell?
Andrea Kolb, ABURY: First of all, the leather should be hanging for a long time, before even preparing it, and after that there shouldn’t be a smell besides from the usual “odor of leather”.
In case a smell is left, the best way is to air it one more time and not to store it in closed cabinets, or something like that. If required, one can place a little cloth with a drop of lavender in the bag.
AFG: What are ABURYs future plans – additional tribes, handcrafts and countries? WFTO/COFTA membership, Fair Trade Label, GOTS…?
Andrea Kolb, ABURY: ABURYs long-term vision is to extend its concept to many cultures, but at the same time, needless to say, to continue the work in Morocco and to expand the network, schools and number of sewers.
In many years we would like to be some a kind of Quality-Label for “World Heritage Traditional Crafts” – which is looking for and conserving traditional handicraft all over the world and at the same time, together with recent designers is developing new products out of it.
Currently we are discussing projects with cultures in Asia and South America, but Europe as well, because here also much culture and knowledge is getting lost and needs to be protected.
For us the first step certifications do not play a significant role. Anyone who likes can visit Marrakesh and assure themselves about the working conditions. Each label includes tight definitions that we mostly do not fit in with our structure. Perhaps one day, if we have developed and are operating in several countries.
AFG: Any trade-fair presentations – such as for the recent Berlin Fashion Week for example?
Andrea Kolb, ABURY: Now in Berlin we are at the Show&Order. At the moment we do not plan any trade fair visits abroad, this will start in the medium-term, probably next year.
AFG: How is the Bag-Configurator accepted? What is the delivery time?
Andrea Kolb, ABURY: The Bag-Configurator is very well received – people think it is great to combine their favorite colors and their initials, to own a truly unique and personal item.
Delivery time is a maximum of 4 weeks – depending on order situations only 2 weeks.
AFG: What is the bestseller and what is your favorite?
Andrea Kolb, ABURY: A bestseller is difficult to identify - frequently chosen is the iPad-Bag, dark brown with beige embroidery – the pattern Zahara is clearly in lead – this also is very appropriate for men.
And the Clutch is very popular with women – in all colors!! Until now we really have produced a huge amount of diverse color-combinations – yellow/rose as well as orange/red or brown/black and even white/white for weddings!
AFG: Any special news or something you want to tell…?
Andrea Kolb, ABURY: My favorite quotation: “Tradition is not to preserve the ashes, but to pass on the flame.” This is exactly the aim of ABURY – to pass on and preserve various cultures´ flame of high spirits, wisdom and virtuosity.
ABURY is now exactly one year old! And we would like to thank all those supporting and having supported us, like you from AFG, especially during these challenging early days.
Within the next few months we will be launching a couple of new products on the market – such as leather bracelets, BerberBoots and more – have a surprise!
Andrea – thank you for having taken the time! You can read more on ABURY here: http://abury.net/en/
Sarah Moa Gilbert – AFG Researcher