«Every piece is a small part of Morocco, it’s a small part of me, it’s bringing two worlds together». Laurence Leenaert on LRNCE’s connection to the local craftsmanship and raw materials
Lampoon introduces LRNCE
Based in Marrakesh, LRNCE takes the world of ceramics, textiles, clothing, and more and brings it back to its roots, drawing inspiration from a trial-and-error process that fuels creativity. The founder, Laurence Leenaert, stresses how her relationship with the artisans and her willingness to experiment with new methods and art forms led to the lifestyle brand that LRNCE is now. Being from Belgium and having studied fashion, Leenaert founded LRNCE in 2013, starting small with just bags. Following a trip to the desert in Morocco, where she took her sewing machine and used the local materials to craft pieces, realization struck. «That’s when I took all my stuff and moved to Marrakech. When I moved the idea was to focus on the bags, and then I got in touch with the artisans. » she explains. This is where her story of experimentation started, and she saved up money to make samples. Her initial idea wasn’t even to sell the pieces she was producing, but just to try them out for herself. «The idea when I moved here was to do what I wanted to do. Like being away from the real world, I love this feeling, without people judging». Moving away from the strong community of artists in Belgium and Ghent, where everyone seemed to be working on their own thing but also trying to check what others were doing was one of the main reasons Leenaert liked to be in Morocco, fueling the feeling that she can do whatever she wants to do. With the addition of her now-husband to the team, the work became more structured. Now the main value that the brand proposes is the story behind the pieces. «Every piece is a diary, it’s a small part of Morocco, it’s a small part of me, it’s bringing two worlds together. We have so many unique pieces. I design for myself, I don’t make things I don’t like, and I don’t make things just to make them».
Creating products in Maeeakesh
Based on handmade, locally produced work, the connection with the local artisans that create the pieces is key for LRNCE. «You need to be there and to know your artisans and to spend time with them, to see the process» explains Leenaert. When it comes to a production process, things easily go wrong, so being based in Marrakesh allows her to visit the artisans, see how things are going, and answer any questions that may arise. She describes the process as a collaboration and stresses her relationship with the artisans. By working with the same artisans that she discovered five years ago, she is able to keep the production small and keep the connections she built. By moving into the medina, discovering where everything happens and spending time with them, Leenaert created a network of local artisans and craftsmen that not only helped her brand, but also her personally, to understand and adapt to the culture.
LRNCE’s production process
The process works in a simple way at LRNCE. Taking the production of ceramics as an example, LRNCE works with a family just outside Marrakesh, and an artisan called Youssef that does all the pottery. It all starts with an abstract drawing that Leenaert does. Although she explains that the communication was more difficult in the beginning, as her drawings were much less precise than what they were used to working with, now it all runs smoothly. «It was a process to understand each other and respect each other. But now I give him the drawings, we check them, and he makes a sample». The ease with which samples are made is necessary for the creative process. In Marrakesh, a minimum quantity isn’t required, whereas in Belgium it’s much more meticulous. «Here you just go and give your drawing to an artisan, and they will be motivated to make something for you ». This adds a level of freedom to LRNCE which is harder to find in Belgium. Even the need to plan financially and calculate the investment needed for the sampling process is erased, and all that is left is the freedom to make one piece and keep trying if it doesn’t work out.
Local materials, local customs
Almost everything is sourced from Morocco, and Leenaert explains how it wouldn’t make sense to work with materials from elsewhere. «This is also how the people here work. They respect the materials they work with». This adds another level of sustainability to the brand, as the supply chain and production remain small. Drawing inspiration from the cultural practices of Morocco, the production at LRNCE makes sure that nothing goes to waste, and they try to reuse materials as much as they can. «There’s this rule that you cannot throw things away, everything will be reused in every possible way». This, coupled with the fact that their work is on demand and that they work with very limited stock, ensures that the waste is reduced to the lowest levels. When it comes to the dyes that are used to create the patterns on the pottery pieces, the pigments are sourced from Safi, a village in Morocco known for its pottery. The pigments are mixed with glue from the trees, so that they stay on the clay, and the process is almost DIY. The only raw materials that aren’t sourced from Morocco are the handwoven fabrics that are imported from the mountains in France and Italy, mostly cotton or wool. «There is a team of women who spin them and dye them and then they come to Marrakech».
Empowering the community through design
«With the artisans, we start from zero and we grow with them, it has a lot of impact on all the families». Working with small local artisans and craftsmen is in itself a step to empower the community. The production and the materials sourcing are almost completely done locally, with no big companies involved. Leenaert explains the value she sees in supporting local businesses and adds the extra emphasis she places on empowering women too. Being a female entrepreneur working within the context of a different culture from hers, she acknowledges the differences and tries her best to mediate them while also trying to shine a light on the women that put effort into the pieces created, most notably in the creation of the carpets. «We spend a lot of time getting to work with this community of women and work directly with them so there is nobody else taking the money». With the broad range of products that make it a lifestyle brand, the supply chain risks being complicated and long, but LRNCE ensures otherwise through working with artisans that have their own ateliers and studios. This kind of small production helps in keeping the supply chain short, which Leenaert explains would have been much more complicated to achieve under one roof.
LRNCE’s next steps
As a part of a different lifestyle to what she was used to in Belgium, Leenaert describes the atmosphere as laid-back and spontaneous. As LRNCE doesn’t work with seasons, this is precisely the mindset that the brand needs. Her work comes from finding materials or artisans that seem interesting to her and putting no pressure on herself when it comes to deadlines. This is also how she explains the process that led to LRNCE becoming the lifestyle brand that it is now, just a series of experimentations that yielded positive results, and that were then shared with the world through the brand. «I just like what I’m doing, and I like to discover. It gives me energy and motivation to work». Balancing the sometimes-contradicting personalities of her and her husband keeps the business thriving, as he pulls the brand in a more organized and planned direction, while Leenaert ensures the creative energy. Their next goal is opening a hotel, she reveals. «It’s something completely different so it’s interesting to design all the rooms and all the spaces». With this new project, there are bound to be new products born during the creative process, as the focus now shifts to the entirety of interior design, including lighting, floors, and furniture. There is some order to the apparent chaos, and the way that LRNCE has worked with the lack of strict plans proves to have worked.
LRNCE lifestyle brand
LRNCE is a Marrakesh-based lifestyle brand with a focus on handmade ceramics, textiles, ready to wear, and more. Founded in 2013 by Belgian Laurence Leenaert, the main goal of the brand is to create unique pieces that use local materials and stay close to the essence of Moroccan craftsmanship, while empowering the community and creating strong bonds with the artisans and culture.