Woven with tradition: How young Moroccan designers are embracing time-old techniques

As Moroccan craft and design continue to explode in popularity, we explore who is creating and making in the city of Tangiers

Sitting on the very edge of Africa, a quick 40-­minute ferry ride from Spain, Tangier has always been a destination for creative spirits who come to soak in the clear light reflected off the Mediterranean, while scouring the city's "fondouks" and studios for design inspiration.

Tangier is both a meeting point and melting pot of cultures, which gives the city’s craft and design scene a particular edge and energy.

Unlike Morocco's more well-trodden tourist destination of Marrakesh, you have to work a little harder in Tangier to find what you are looking for, but there is a great tradition of collaboration in the city's small artisanal studios. Many of these have been weaving and working with visiting designers for decades.

The best example of this is Fondouk Chejra. Hidden amid market stalls piled high with olives and women selling bunches of fresh herbs and vegetables, it is easy to miss the dark, understated doorway that leads up into this warren of weavers’ studios. 

The clanking of the looms is punctuated by the call to prayer, while piles of brightly coloured threads make the perfect daybed for a local cat or two. But rummage through the textiles sitting on these shelves and you might find a shawl that was made for a boutique in Paris or a pile of handwoven bath towels that are destined for New York.

If you are lucky enough to have both ideas and time on your hands, you could sit down with one of the artisans and get your own designs woven on to the loom.

As much as the design and craft scene of Tangier is about collaborations with visiting ­designers, there is also a thriving community of ­creatives living in the city. Young Moroccan designers, who appreciate the ancient skills of these artisans, are injecting these time-honoured craft traditions with a new energy.

One is Kenza Bennani, who is behind the brand New Tangier. Bennani has been inspired by the rich textile traditions of Morocco and is using them to create fashion that is both luxurious and functional.

Similarly, the textile designs of Djebeli are a wonderful example of the working combination of artisanal skill with a contemporary sense of colour and design. The Djebeli range of footwear is a result of this marriage between tradition and trend, and gives the classic Moroccan babouche-style slipper a modern makeover.

The Djebeli range of footwear sees the typical babouche style slipper of Morocco being given a modern makeover. Courtesy Djebeli

On the outskirts of town is Basket Weavers. The humble appearance of these makeshift straw studios belies the fact that they are inhabited by masters of their craft, who weave their magic with the simple materials of jute, straw and bamboo. The studio’s sun-dappled straw interiors are home to baskets and bags, lampshades and parasols.

The tradition of tiles runs deep in Morocco – from the intricate mosaic zellige style to the more robust handmade encaustic or concrete tiles. The process of creating them is as fascinating as the end product is beautiful.

In the workshop you will see stencils for all the traditional designs that have been used on the floors of ­Moroccan homes for generations, alongside newer contemporary designs that employ the same methods. It is this openness to design and innovation that is keeping these traditional crafts alive in Tangier.

And it is this sense of interpretation that gave birth to the designs of Zelart. Designer and artist Zineb Bennani has drawn on the zellige tiles tradition of Morocco and used this as a base for her own creations, shifting the traditional craft into the realm of art.

In doing so, she joins a growing community of Tangier creatives who are approaching the traditional fabrics and designs of the region with a new creative eye, from the simple lines of a kaftan to the form of classic slippers.