Tuesday May 21st, 2024
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Morocco’s Oumaäti is Two Sisters’ Handheld Ode to Their Nation

Through minimalist aesthetics and empowering visuals, Naïla and Oumama Charkaoui are bringing new light to their homeland.

Ziyad El-Helbawy

Morocco’s Oumaäti is Two Sisters’ Handheld Ode to Their Nation

Growing up immersed in her father Maäti's leather workshop, sisters Naïla and Oumama Charkaoui observed the mastery of their family’s artisanal techniques. Both sisters then went on to study fashion - Naïla in Paris and Oumama in Casablanca - yet found their true passion lay in their roots back home. As time would have it, in December 2021 Naïla and Oumama would unite their expertise, their aspirations, and their visions to launch Oumaäti, a minimal yet robust leather accessories label, in the heart of their homeland.

Now, under the Charkaoui sisters’ creative direction and strategic guidance, Oumaäti - both an ode to their father and a transliteration of ‘my nation’ -  preserves ancestral skills through a preservation of craftsmanship through collaborations with local Moroccan artisans. Each collection thus shares the stories of strong women who have left their mark on the founders through the label namesake bags, while accentuating clean lines, robust construction, and the signature ‘M’ flap as a nod to their father.

“Oumaäti, for us, is more than a brand, it's a commitment to reclaiming our family legacy, preserving Moroccan artisanship, and proving that the treasures of tradition are worth cherishing and evolving,” Naïla Charkaoui tells SceneStyled.

In a recent virtual sit down with one half of the founding siblings of Oumaäti, Naïla Charkaoui, SceneStyled spoke to the young entrepreneur on her journey of launching the label and honouring her family’s decades-old legacy.

I find it quite interesting that both you and Oumama pursued fashion in such different landscapes, could you tell me more about your professional education?

Growing up, my sister and I were immersed in the world of leather. Witnessing our father's artistry in crafting bags indeed shaped our childhood. Ironically, in pursuit of broader horizons, we both ventured into fashion studies, and not necessarily leather. I, Naila, in Paris and she, Oumama, in Casablanca.

It's a bit amusing looking back because, although we could have specialised in leather goods, we chose the field of clothing. These years of study enriched us with new skills and techniques, but more importantly, they led us to realise that sometimes what we seek is right in front of us, which was the legacy of our father's workshop.

In Morocco, many artisans hope their children carry on the tradition, yet not all choose this path. Oumaäti, for us, is more than a brand, it's a commitment to reclaiming our family legacy, preserving Moroccan artisanship, and proving that the treasures of tradition are worth cherishing and evolving.

The realisation struck us, compelling us to take action and birth Oumaäti. While we had  discussed the idea for over a decade, it took courage to finally embark on this journey. Now that we have, the joy and gratitude we’ve experienced are beyond words.

I’d love to hear more about your father…

Our father is a dedicated soul who has devoted his entire life to his passion for crafting leather goods. His approach to work is that of a perfectionist, and his method has been a constant source of admiration for us. Witnessing him labour with love and precision on each piece has been more than inspiring. It's like watching an artist paint on a canvas, infusing each stroke with a piece of his heart.

As we’ve grown older, we’ve come to appreciate not just his craftsmanship but also the sacrifices he and our mother made, side by side in the atelier. It’s a testament to their strength and perseverance, turning our admiration into a deep sense of gratitude for the legacy they’ve created.

All of this has been a guiding light for us, sparking our desire to follow in his footsteps.

Could you walk me through the decision to name your brand Oumaäti?

Oumaäti officially began its journey in December 2021. Initially, we envisioned naming the brand ‘Maäti’ which is my father’s first name, but we discovered that  a larger brand had already claimed a similar name. This setback led us to reconsider.

At that time, I, Naïla, was in France, fulfilling work commitments, and all I longed for was to return to my family in Morocco. One evening, walking home from work, I pondered who might still be at the workshop, working tirelessly. The answer was Oumama, my sister, and Maäti, my father. Combining the two first  letters of my sister’s first name ‘Ou’ and my father's first name ‘Maäti’ resulted in  ‘Oumaäti.’

Saying the name out loud multiple times, I realised that in Arabic, 'Oumaäti'  translates to 'my nation' and 'my homeland'. It struck a chord, basically symbolising our commitment to working with our family, alongside Moroccan artisans deeply rooted in their craft.

Oumaäti is the fusion of family, nation and heritage.

What would you say inspires you?

In crafting our designs, we intended to pursue a minimalist approach, focusing on clean lines and robust shapes. The inspiration behind the shape of the flap originates from a personal touch—the initial “M” for our father’s name.

Growing up in a humble and modest family, we cherished the beauty of simplicity. Our fondest memories involve staying at home, inviting the whole family for tea instead of seeking out fancy places. These seemingly minimalist moments were, in fact, the most crucial in shaping who we are today. Likewise, our bag designs mirror this simplicity, combining it with strong shapes that give our bags a powerful and distinct allure.

We also draw inspiration from the classic bags crafted by our father, the timeless  collections of the '70s and '80s, and infuse modern touches for a unique fusion.

Your editorial shoots are so dream-like and so very strikingly Moroccan. What inspires the direction? How would you say you pay tribute to Morocco through the label?

The rich and beautiful Moroccan culture flows through our veins, and we wear our country’s identity with pride. Each Oumaäti shoot is a nostalgic nod to a cherished moment in our lives, reflecting our experiences. It’s either the way we dress, the location, or the music that accompanies us. For instance, the caftans used in our shoots are the same ones my mother and grandmother would wear during family gatherings. Every detail is meticulously crafted to evoke memories.

Could you walk me through the label’s offerings? I noticed they’re named after individuals - are these specific names you wanted to honour?

Each model has a distinct name, and each name represents someone who has left a significant mark on our family. Through these names, we share stories and  anecdotes, offering a glimpse into our personal experiences.

This approach allows people to connect on a deeper level, and we’ve even had cases where  customers purchase a bag because it bears the name of their mother or narrates a story that resonates with a particular moment in their lives. It’s a beautiful way for our creations to carry not just a functional purpose but also a touch of personal significance.

How has the experience with Oumaäti been since launching?

The journey with Oumaäti since its launch has been a mix of highs and lows, as is typical for any brand. As young creators, launching a brand comes with its set of  challenges, but what makes it unique is that it's a family affair.

Everyone you see  in the photos is a member of our family, and Naïla’s husband is the one behind  the camera for the photos and videos. Sometimes, it feels like we wear multiple hats: accountant, model, stylist, content creator… It's not always easy, but working with the people dearest to us makes it incredibly special. We wouldn't trade it for anything.

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