When we got word that M. Montague and Raven + Lily were launching a home goods collaboration, we had to find out more. So, we virtually sat down with the founders, Maryam Montague and Kirsten Dickerson, to chat about the new collab, ethical goods, and supporting women around the world. Sound cool? Keep reading for the awesome story behind the new Moroccan home collection of eco-friendly blankets, pillows, and poufs…
Maryam: I own Marrakech’s give-back hotel, Peacock Pavilions. One of the things that I admire about Kirsten is that she takes her values wherever she goes. So when she was coming to Morocco, I think it made a difference to her that we were social entrepreneurs running a heart-centered business. She booked a shoot at Peacock Pavilions (as well as her 40th birthday celebrations) and it was the start of a beautiful friendship. Because of my work in the design field and my book, Marrakesh by Design our collaboration emerged from our common love for Moroccan design.
Kirsten, Raven + Lily is providing jobs for women in 10 countries! Take us back to the beginning and where the idea began – where did you partner first?
Kirsten: The idea for Raven + Lily was born when my love of design collided with my passion to empower women. I was connected to the design community in LA through the creative work I did alongside my husband for music videos and film (I was a stylist/art director and he was the director). I was also a volunteer leader for various non profit efforts that empowered at-risk women locally and globally. Many of the non profits I knew started training women in design related skills, but had no design input of sustainable market to sell the goods made by the women.
I loved the concept of dignity oriented work that could ultimately break a cycle of poverty for these women. A group of LA based designers agreed to volunteer with me to figure out what it would look like to partner with these efforts by designing to the skills of the women and testing the products in the Western market. We started as a non-profit in 2008 and later moved into a social business model in 2011. Our first partnerships were in East Africa and India, representing about 75 women. Today we work around the world (including the US) and help employ over 1500 marginalized women through our fair trade design partnerships.
Maryam, how did you develop such a connection with Morocco and decide to launch your businesses there?
M: My background is in international humanitarian aid, and I was posted to Morocco to run the country office of an international non-profit. Morocco was love at first sight! So beyond just taking a job, I decided to make it my home, too. It’s now been 16 years and I still love it just as much as the first day. Striking architecture, saturated colors, complex patterning. So much inspiration around every corner.
The Moroccan Home collection is beautiful! Tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind it.
M: Kirsten is minimalist and I am a maximalist. When I was designing the collection for Raven & Lily, I wanted to create a sort of ethnic minimalism, which would mix seamlessly with so many of the beautiful pieces that Raven and Lily already carries. The red, blush and terracotta colors were inspired by Marrakech itself, known as the Red City because of the color of its walls. From vintage cushions, to pale blush blankets and pillows. I also put a twist on the Moroccan pom pom blanket, adding sequined detailing believed to ward off the evil eye. I love to incorporate some ritual and magic into everything I do. I am obsessed with hand embroidery and used that to add an artisanal touch to cushions and poufs. We have used only the very best leathers in making our poufs.
We love that it is made by artisans in Morocco! What does the process look like from concept to finished product when working with artisans all over the world?
K: I think the easiest way to answer this is to share how we worked on this partnership. We always have a main point person on the ground of each group, so for Morocco that was Maryam. The process started by talking to Maryam about finding a way to employ the female artisans in Morocco while also giving back to Project Soar. We knew the collaboration had to be all about empowering women and it needed to follow our commitment to fair trade standards of production!
We sent Maryam the color palette for the SS18 Collection as well as our overall inspiration and product goals. We gave Maryam freedom to create something beautiful and fresh that would represent the artisans skills of Moroccan design but compliment our overall design vision for the new Spring collection. Once we finalized designs, she helped oversee the production and sample development with the women outside of Marrakesh. Then, I went to visit the women artisans with Maryam last October. We picked up final samples and photographed the whole story during my visit: the process, Project Soar, as well as stylized photos of the final designs.
We also worked together on curating special vintage pieces that would compliment the designed pieces…both giving back to Project Soar from sales. After that trip, my team worked alongside Maryam and a few other production point people within Morocco to ensure our final order came on time and with the quality expected. We utilize modern technology in all our partnerships: skype, email, what’s app and more. This has been so beneficial when working in so many cultures and time zones. I have people on my team who solely focus on production with our partnerships. It was a really wonderful experience to collaborate with on all this with my dear friend Maryam. I’m grateful we have such a good relationship and mutual trust which made the whole process really fun and encouraging for all involved.
What are each of your favorite pieces from the collection?
M: I love the blush colored pieces with the long cotton fringe. I wove together cream and pale pink wools to create the perfect color. So glamorous!
K: The blush pieces are my favorite too!
You both support efforts that empower women all over the world. What is your best advice to other women hoping to make a difference with their career?
M: Step #1 is finding your cause. It can be anything from human trafficking to gun control to saving the rainforest (and thousands of causes in between). Whatever it is, make sure that it resonates profoundly with you. Then see how your skill set could be used to support the cause. Reach out to organizations you admire, explain what you do, and ask how you can help. We all have the capacity to give back.
K: Don’t ever give up. If you have a passion to make a difference in the world, then you have to be willing to work hard, be flexible, and keep going even when its hardest. It takes time and commitment to truly make an impact for good in the world. When you start to see first hand how your business is being used as a force for good through your efforts/give-back, then I bet you’ll be unstoppable!