Laurence Leenaert’s love affair with Morocco and organic approach to design has developed into a thriving business
Can you tell us a little bit about your background? I’m from Belgium, and I studied fashion in Ghent. After that I did an internship in Berlin, at Bless [Bless is an innovative fashion label and creative platform that also encompasses product design, installations and events]. When I finished, I went back to Belgium and started my own brand, making bags. Some were leather, and my mother is a textile designer so others were made from fabrics that I designed and she wove.
How did you end up in Morocco? Four years ago, my sister and I came here on holiday. It was only for 10 days but I really fell in love with the desert, so I asked the guy who organised our trip if I could stay with him for a bit and work there. That was in M’hamid El Ghizlane, in the very south of Morocco. I brought my sewing machine, stayed for a month and it was then I thought OK, I can create anywhere I want so maybe I don’t have to live in Belgium. The desert was too crazy though. I knew Marrakesh from having stayed for a couple of nights when I’d arrived in the country, so I decided to move here.
How did you start the business? In the beginning, I just had my web shop selling bags, then I started to meet other creative people. There was a guy who wanted some sandals, so I made a sample and put them on Instagram. People were interested, so I started to make sandals too. Every Friday, I would do pottery with a small family, just to relax. I wasn’t a ceramicist, but I love to paint so that’s how the pottery began. Then I met two brothers in the Medina who wove blankets, so I thought maybe I should make a blanket for my house… it’s very personal, everything starts as something for myself, I show it to friends, people react to it on Instagram, people want to order and that’s how it evolves. Instagram has really helped the business, the biggest influence I think, otherwise I’d be here in Morocco and nobody would see what I’m doing! It’s great to show your work, and to not be scared, plus you can sell samples without having to make hundreds of pieces.
Where do you find your inspiration? My inspiration is here in Marrakesh; the symbols, the colours, as well as everything I learned before. I’m also interested in art, and when everything comes together it’s spontaneous, very in the moment. The sun, the palm trees, the people, the food even – it’s colourful and happy, and that’s what I want to show in my work. It doesn’t need to be perfect, in fact, I don’t like perfection, it just needs to be real.
How has the company developed? Our studio in Marrakesh is where we design everything. My boyfriend and I run the brand, and we have a team of six, including interns and an accountant, as well as 25 artisans that we collaborate with to create the products. We sell via the online shop, from the studio, as well as through The Conran Shop in London and Le Bon Marché in Paris. I want to keep things small, and not overproduce because pieces need to stay unique, and the ceramics take a lot of time.
What is it that you like best about what you do?
I love the freedom of doing whatever I want. Here in Marrakesh there are a lot of possibilities; if you want to design a wooden table, you go to the Medina, find an artisan and he’ll make it for you with enthusiasm – that’s what’s really motivating. There are no limits, everything is possible. Next year, I’m going to design something totally different; I’m focusing on interiors, so maybe furniture, maybe a hotel or bar in the old city, a combination of a whole lot of things – let’s see.
Lrnce products are available to buy at The Conran Shop. As well as ceramics, Laurence also makes beautiful mirrors and leather sandals.