Malika El Bouteqali was born in the rural village of Asrir in the Guelmim-Es Semara region in Southern Morocco where homes made of rich red clay and date palm trees mark the landscape. A ‘Saharaia’ or daughter of the Sahara, she grew up near the city of Guelmim (also spelled Guelmin or Goulimine) bounded by the northwestern Sahara and known as the gateway to the desert and Mauritania where Mushmina’s Mauritania fabrics originate.

A Spin master on the sewing machine, Malika still speaks with the accent of someone from the south. The married mother of four has three daughters, Fatima Zohra (14), Shamaa (12), Wisar (8) and a son, Hatim (5). Malika, who only attended school until the second grade, realizes the importance of education for women as well as men and emphasizes a strong education for all her children.

Curious and driven, Malika paid a neighbor to teach her how to sew while she was living in the Moroccan capital of Rabat where her husband was stationed as a police officer. After her children were born, the family returned to Southern Morocco where her entrepreneurial spirit shone through. Malika and her mother opened their own shop in their garage where they sold clothing and accessories. A quick study, Malika studies patterns and designs that appeal to her and creates versions of those designs with her own unique touch.

Malika has since settled in Oued Zem and has been working with Mushmina for two years. She started with ‘point de croix’ of Mushmina’s embroidered prayer flags, which were later sold to ABC Carpet and Home. Since then she has moved on to work on linen tunics, handbags, pillows, and many other items. Not one to slow down she is also enrolled in the Flying Camel Training Center to learn new techniques and continue improving her skills. On Malika’s list of future accomplishments is also expanding her literacy and learning to speak English.

Whirlwind artisan Malika is motivated to learn, teach, and exchange ideas through the cooperative and serve as an example to her children. Malika’s most fervent hope is that her children go far in their lives and advance beyond what she has achieved. They may have to go far indeed to surpass Malika who hopes to be ‘labas a liha,’ which means to have money, travel and sell products in markets across the world. Most of all she desires to keep growing in all aspects of her life, for as she says, “People always want to improve, am I right?” We couldn’t agree more.

-From “A Window to Morocco Series” – By Heather O’Neill and Yvonne King

Malika the seamstress (1) Malika the seamstress (3)

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There are souls in this world which have the gift of finding joy everywhere and of leaving it behind them when they go. — Fredrick Faber

We hope you had a super soul Sunday. May you have a blessed week.

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Drive Mushmina to go Mobile and WIN a $25,000 FedEx Small Business Grant to Take Their Moroccan Traveling Boutique on the Road!

In 2009, two sisters with a dream, Katie and Heather O’Neill launched fashion label Mushmina to produce handmade, fair trade accessories crafted by artisans in Morocco. Their Philadelphia based retail store and online site Mushmina.com, economically empowers people by distributing and selling unique handbags, jewelry and scarves designed by Mushmina and made by rural artisans in Morocco.

Now, Katie and Heather are ready to expand their dream and hope to win a $25,000 FedEx Small Business Grant to take their business on the road and provide more employment opportunities. The sisters have purchased a 1974 Volkswagon (VW) Westfalia camper bus and are restoring it in order to create a traveling boutique that will go across the United States selling their signature colorful, handmade accessories and other fair trade brands they love to a new generation of customers and in the process educate them about the importance of fair trade goods.

The purpose of the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest is to help small businesses like Mushmina, with less than 100 employees, grow and continue to provide employment and drive the economy. FedEx recognizes that small businesses are crucial to the success of bigger companies such as FedEx and the grant contest is a means for the company to provide vital financial support that will help these small companies succeed.

Mushmina customers and fans can also play an important role in economically empowering artisans and driving the global economy by voting for Mushmina to win the 2014 FedEx Small Business Grant Contest. You can vote once a day up until 11:59pm on Sunday, February 23. Make a difference!

Vote Here: http://smallbusinessgrant.fedex.com/Gallery/Detail/5a743df9-c1aa-4c07-b483-79f77a8c4d0e

VW transformation

Mushmina Flying Camel Team-Morocco

Mushmina Philadelphia (6)

I was thinking of meditating today and my mom sent me this…

CHANGE: Don’t just talk about it, go out there and do it. Don’t just meditate about it, go out there and create it. Don’t just pray about it go out there and take action; participate in the answering of your own prayer. If you want change, get out there and live it. — Steve Maraboli

So I decided to do both.  Thanks mom.

Workshop Oued Zem (6)

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Master metalsmith Ahmed El Guerche works closely with handmade fashion label Mushmina’s creative director Katie O’Neill to create the Sahara jewelry collection that is a signature of the accessories line. Ahmed grew up in the mountains outside of Ouarzazate, Morocco’s famous film capital renowned for its striking cinematic landscapes and the setting for such films as Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator and Babel. Ahmed, lead metalsmith for Mushmina, is recognized for creating pieces that are as eye catching as the arresting surroundings of his childhood.

Ahmed is of Amazigh (Berber) descent, the indigenous people of Morocco. The Berbers are known for wearing jewelry as an expression of tribal identity. Berber jewelry, which is always made of silver, is noted for its beautiful and intricate enamel work and is a definition of status in the culture. Characteristic pieces are often etched with protective and tribal symbols, use vintage coins, and incorporate red and green glass stone. Berber women wear silver fibulas—triangular brooches or pins, and head decorations as a symbol of their wealth in rural society.

Ahmed learned jewelry making and metal work as a young apprentice as he studied under a master metalsmith for five years when he moved to Tiznit, the silver capital of Morocco to establish himself. Mushmina learned about Ahmed from a Peace Corps volunteer who recommended him to Katie and her sister/co-founder Heather because of his outstanding skill in creating collections with mixed metals and his undeniably strong work ethic. The collaboration, which began in 2009 has been a success and although Ahmed and Katie are thousands of miles apart, the two creatively inspire each other.  Katie sends Ahmed sketches of shapes and ideas for new jewelry pieces and Ahmed then adds his own spin, which can include unique Berber etching, swirl designs or a completely new take altogether. It’s common for Ahmed to work through the night to finish orders and his work is so appealing the orders keep pouring in. His dedication has paid off. Morocco’s Ministry of the Artisinat, which serves to promote and support the artisans and craftspeople of Morocco, nominated Ahmed for top artisan in 2012 and he participated in an artisan expo in Morocco’s capital, Rabat the same year.

Ahmed, who started with a small workshop in his home, has since moved to an atelier space where he employs a number of people to help fill orders—sometimes even calling on his brother AbdelWahed to assist. Although Ahmed doesn’t have a formal education, he is a quick learner and embraces technology to advance his work. He uses the Internet, email and digital images to interpret Mushmina’s orders.

As is common in Morocco, Ahmed lives in a mixed household in the southern town of Tiznit with his wife Aisha, daughter Hind (11), and son Soufian (7) and his brother and his family. He’s a man who is always moving. He enjoys biking to work and when he is not busy in his workshop he likes to go running. Katie and Heather take the ten-hour trip to visit Ahmed in Tiznit at least once a year where he warmly invites them into his home to share a lemon chicken tagine and mint tea. Not motivated by money, Ahmed is quick to remind the two sisters that he only works with people who are ‘nishan’ (serious) and whom he wants to do business with.  So, it’s a good thing he likes Katie and Heather. The three manage to converse during these visits despite a language barrier. Heather is fluent in Arabic but Ahmed uses a fast spoken dialect that is a combination of Moroccan Arabic and the Berber language that is known as Tashelhit. When words fail to get the message across, the visually oriented group relies on photos and drawings to communicate.

Ahmed’s latest collaboration with Mushmina is the Spring 2014 collection of etched bracelets, cuffs, and pendants. The collection features pieces in silver, brass, copper, and filigree and each is a modern interpretation of Ahmed’s traditional craft. Ahmed also incorporates wood inlay, which is often seen in Tuareg jewelry. Each piece is decorated and in a touch characteristic of Ahmed the back side of items he crafts are often etched in as he can’t stand to see anything look plain or unfinished. The culmination of the collection is truly collaborative as Katie adds her unique touch and finishing to Ahmed’s pieces for modern appeal.

To Learn more about Morocco’s Berber culture, there is a wonderful new Amazigh Berber Museum in the famous Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech  http://jardinmajorelle.com/ang/introduction-to-berber-culture/

-From “A Window to Morocco Series” – By Heather O’Neill and Yvonne King.

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Mushmina’s handmade fashions prepare to take off at The Flying Camel

Handmade in Morocco by Mushmina took on a new meaning in January 2014 as workshop manager Kenza Jbilou and the ladies of Oued Zem completed the final steps in the formation of the Flying Camel Training Center and cooperative.

There is a festive mood in the air as the women of the co-op prepare to receive the guest of honor Madam Miriam from the Ministry of Cooperative in Settat who is visiting to explain to the women how to finalize the process of becoming a co-op.

Mushmina co-founder and production manager Heather O’Neill and the 20 ladies, who have gathered, including representatives from Boujad and Khouribga, do a final inspection of the workshop whose walls they have decorated with beautiful examples of their handmade accessories. The customary milk and delicious, sweet dates that mark Moroccan ceremonies and events are passed around for everyone to savor and enjoy.

Once Madam Miriam arrives, the action moves to Kenza’s home where a traditional celebratory lunch is to be served. A local woman has been hired to whip up a feast and is set up on the roof with large pots and a small burner where she spends the next few hours preparing a three-course banquet.

Handmade accessories are the backbone of Mushmina and Madam Miriam is there to show the artisans how the cooperative can take their business of handcrafted custom products to the next level. She fills the workers in on the benefits of being a cooperative and offers advice on best practices, including how to open a bank account and sharing expenses, to ensure that the co-op is a success.

Madam Miriam concludes her presentation and lunch is served! The meal kicks off with mouthwatering prunes and goat meat, a dish usually reserved for Moroccan weddings and is followed by Sfia (one of Heather’s favorites), a steamed pasta dish that is garnished with cinnamon and powdered sugar. For dessert there are heaping plates of fruit to top off the enticing meal.

The ladies take Madam Miriam on a full tour of the workshop and training center and pose for pictures with her before Heather drops her off at the taxi station to head back to Settat. It’s been a productive day that leaves a strong impression on Madam Miriam who has seen firsthand how hard the women have worked and how focused they are on making the cooperative a success.

The day isn’t over yet though. Now it’s time to put on a full celebration and Heather returns to find a party atmosphere in the streets where neighbors have gathered to sing and dance outside the workshop. The Abidat Rma drummers, traditional storytellers and poets who dress in colorful costumes and perform at events throughout Morocco lead the exciting and happy occasion as more milk and dates are passed around for all to enjoy. The festivities are a total surprise to Heather who is surrounded by the crowd of neighbors. Kenza is behind the opening party and confides in Heather, “After all the paperwork and running we have been doing, I wanted to throw a real opening party!”

The industrious ladies of Oued Zem waste no time. A week after the exuberant opening of the workshop, they have already hired a teacher to start training students three afternoons a week. The cost of the lessons is 100 Moroccan Dirhams (MAD) per month, the equivalent of $12 dollars and the fees will be split between the teacher and the ladies of the co-op. The earnings generated by student fees will go toward defraying some of the costs of running the center. The Flying Camel Center is off to a great start!

Ladies

Fatima Zohra, Hanan, Malika, Zohra (and her son Youseff), and Moi from Errachidia

Flying Camel Workshop (4)

The training begins. Pattern-making, sewing, and literacy.

Flying Camel Workshop (2)

Sadia the teacher and Kenza the co-op president

Lalla Miriam

Halima even came from Boujad to meet Lalla Miriam who came from the cooperative administration in Settat

Abidet Rma

Abidat Rma drummers in the street

Naema and Khadiga and Hiba

Naema, Khadiga and our little mascot Hiba

Come see Mushmina at Pier 94 NYC, NYNOW /Artisan Resources. Booth #34015

Last chance to preview & order our Spring 2014 collection…

Today Feb 3rd, 9am-6pm

Tomorrow Feb 4th, 9am -5pm

We hope to see you there!

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