It’s not always easy to think outside the box… Meet ABURY Founder Andrea Bury who talks about her view on ethical business practises, starting her own sustainable foundation and how she believes design has the power to change the future.
Name: Andrea Bury
Occupation: Founder – ABURY and ABURY Foundation, Founder TEDxMarrakesh
1) Would you mind explaining to us how you founded ABURY and where you drew your inspiration from to start such an amazing sustainable business?
I studied economics and was running a small boutique marketing agency in 2007 when I went to Marrakesh to renovate a riad (old house in the traditional centre of the city) to create a ‘think tank’. On the site and while working with the craftsmen I was captivated by the immense handicraft heritage of the Moroccan people. These men and women passionately and skilfully carved, tinkered, blew, sewed and embroidered their way into, frankly, what can only be described as magic. Sadly though, some of these skills were vanishing as the price for ‘handmade’ was decreasing mainly because of cheap Chinese imports. With them, the beauty, wisdom, identity and stories were also at risk of being lost to the past. This is when the idea came up. I thought by bringing young international designers to the craft people we can infuse the old world appeal of handicrafts with a spunky twenty first century spirit. And then sell these unique pieces and re-invest parts of the profits in further education for the community.
2) Why is preserving traditional old-world crafts so important to you and what do you hope to achieve by being able to pass these traditions forward into a forever-changing, modern world?
I think it is important to be forward-looking and not being stuck in the past. Having said that I also believe there is a lot of wisdom in the past and it is worth remembering it and taking it with us into the future. Loosing old traditions means also loosing stories, knowledge, values – parts of our roots and cultural identity. Taking them to the future doesn’t only mean creating work for people to make a living but also helps us not to forget where we came from, our values and finally the connecting bond between all humans.
3) How do you view your innovative designs to be a key for your ethical business?
I believe ‘design has the power to change the world’. It is not only about the designed end product it is also about the process. The process is a joint emotional path of the designer and the artisan. The product is a work of passion and love – where people of different cultures meet and create something together. Each product is testimony and proof of the power and beauty of intercultural exchange and cooperation.
4) What are your main goals and objectives in running an eco friendly business and how does this reflect in your everyday life?
Today there is no other way than to start an eco friendly and ethical business – it should be the rule – not the exception. We have to create successful role models for others to make it more attractive to create these kind of businesses that have the human and natural approach in their DNA. But having said that – it is impossible to be perfectly eco – but I think it is important that you are aware and try to find solutions. The same is valid for the private life. Yes – I am vegetarian – but I am not vegan and I don’t think everybody has to stop eating meat – but do we have to eat 80 kilos a year in average? No matter which sausage? With a little awareness you could start eating regional meat and maybe only 2 days a week and not twice every day. And yes – I try to avoid disposable plastic – but it is super hard and sometimes the comfort is just too high and easy. I am flying a lot which is really bad … but I am using public transport and the train in Germany. So nobody is perfect …
Today there is no other way than to start an eco friendly and ethical business – it should be the rule – not the exception.
5) You currently work with artisans in both Morocco, Ecuador and Romania. Are you looking to expand your ethical brand into other countries and continue the traditions of these artisans?
We started in Morocco and then went on to Ecuador. We also did a project in Romania. Our goal is to add one new craft community from another country every year. So now we are just planning to make an open call for small artisan businesses to apply to receive a designer from us next year.
6) You collaborate with different designers around the world for your collections. What criteria do your designers need to possess and how do you find them?
We find them through an annual open call – the ABURY Design Experience. Designers have to prove their creativity, love for crafts and detail and they have to make a one minute video that explains why they would like to be the next ABURY designer. The winning designer gets a grant to go to a craft community for two months – living and working there and creating a collection with them. It is not easy to work with traditional artisans. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPdhfP9LrrU
7) Each one of your vintage bags has a unique fairytale story to share. Tell us about this.
When I started collecting the vintage bags I always received a story from each one of the salesman. I loved this so I also dived into berber tales and started collecting them as well. So with every vintage berberbag you also receive one of these old berber tales that are about to get lost as the crafts themselves as well.
8) You talk about co-prosperity (which I love!), giving back to the community and how each working hour translates into an educational hour for the ABURY Foundation. Tell us about this.
We believe that everybody has amazing skills, they just need an environment where they can blossom. And to create these environments is the goal of the ABURY Foundation. When we started, it was clear from the beginning that we wanted to give back directly to the community/region we are working with. In Morocco education is still one of the most urgent issues in development politics. So we did a brainstorming session and the hours concept was the idea of the second designer we were working with. And I think it is great – hours are something that everybody can relate to. When a bag took 24 hours to make – that implies quality, but also that a person has been paid fairly for 3 days of work – and on top it adds to the school. At the moment we have 40 women and 60 children going to our school – which means in the past 3 years we have already created over 75.000 hours of education. Through funding and donations we make sure that the school is not solely dependent on sales – we actually have created more hours than we have sold products at the end.
9) What do you think has been your biggest achievements so far in both your personal life and your professional life? How do you think this has helped you grow your sustainable business?
Puh – this is a tough question – I don’t feel like judging anything being a ‘biggest achievement’. If at all, then it is that I am really happy with what I am doing – day after day – in my private and my professional life. I am really proud of the ABURY team that makes all this happen. If you believe in what you are doing – you do it – no matter what comes in your way. I guess this is what then helps to grow the business.
10) Where did your entrepreneurial spirit come from?
No idea. My parents have been both employees – so no entrepreneurial education at home. When I started working in the mid 90s there was no start ups and freelancers. And I was admiring my bosses and thought I would never be able to create my own company – which I just did then two years after. It just felt like that I had to create my own environment.
11) What advice would you give to anyone else who wants to start their own ethical brand that you have learnt along the way?
I would never start a company alone again. Look for a co-founder who has complementary skills. someone who is sharing your fears and your successes – someone you can bounce ideas with and take decisions together. Someone who you highly respect in what they do in their field. It is always more difficult to bring in people later. And believe in your idea – it will take time – successes doesn’t come overnight (well sometimes they do – but not very often).
12) What’s next for Abury?
Mid-October we launch our new blogzine ‘One of a Mind’ – one of a kind stories with an ‘of one mind’ attitude. It is the first cultural lifestyle magazine in which we present another country / culture every two months . It is also connected to our online store where we present up to 10 designers from this country who work the same ethical way as we do – and we tell their stories transparently in the blogzine. So you can learn about production processes of blogprinting, the favourite traditional meal of a designer, where materials are sourced, etc. On our way we met so many amazing ethical labels that nobody knows in our world that we decided we want to use our platform to tell their amazing stories and bring also their unique products to our customers.