Unique handbags made from traditional tapestry
Being French and Algerian, traditional clothing has always been a significant influencer in the way I dress. Contrary to the typical French esthetic which is known for being simple, understated and color-minimalist, North African traditional outfits are caracterized by bold colors, rich fabrics, complex embroidery, the (over-)use of sequins, metallics and infused with symbolism. These are all elements that I consistently seek in the items I buy, although not necessarily all at once! More recently, I spent almost a year and half in Tunisia, where I took great pleasure in admiring hand-crafted tapestry, mirrors, paintings, ‘foutas’, leather work and mosaics. So it’s no wonder that I was excited to hear about Sorato, a young up-and-coming French brand using a traditional moroccan fabric, the Kilim, to make handbags.
Marine Sorato, the Founder of the eponymous brand, was inspired to make these traditional handbags during a trip to Morocco where she discovered the Kilim and was inspired to make herself a bag out of it. In her interview on the female-entrepreuneur-centered podcast Génération XX (which I highly recommend to any French speaker) Marine explains that at first, transforming this traditional textile into a fashion accessory was only a hobby and the first bags she sold were made in Morocco, photographed in Normandy and sold online – for fun. When she quit her job a few months later, she had no idea that Kilim handbags would be her next adventure. But eventually, she had to wrap her head around the fact that she could be a designer, even without any training, and that she could make a second, a third and an eighth collection.
Today, Sorato is a responsible brand whose products are exclusively hand-made in France from textiles hand-made in Morocco. This makes each piece entirely unique and one of a kind.
What is the Kilim?
Being a conscious shopper is not just about buying less items less frequently. It’s also about taking the time to learn about the pieces we buy, their story, their history and what they mean to the people who make them.
The Kilim is a tapestry made of hand-woven wool originating from Moroccan and replicated throughout the Middle East, North Africa and central Asia. In fact, the word Kilim is Turkish and designates what is known in Moroccan as Hembel or Hamdira.
To be more specific, the Kilim is a traditional Berbere or Amazigh craft. Berbers, of Amazighs, are a large minority throughout North Africa that have been present in the region since the antiquity. The Kilim itself is an art form that was born 4000 to 800 years BC and is considered one of the most ancient form of textile still used today.
As a nomadic people living in the desert or in the mountains, the Kilim is an essential part of their lifestyle. It is used not only to cover the floors, but also the walls to protect from the cold, beds, sofas and some are even made into clothing.
Traditionally, only women make tapestry and only men sell them. The fiber used to make the Kilim is always sheep wool, never camel wool or silk, but occasionally vegetal fibers such as cactus or alfa can be used to make thinner carpets. Traditionally, natural dyes would be made using organic materials such as safran, pomegranate skin, henna, poppies, cochineal, cumin, lucerne, madder, bark, indigo, cow urine or iron sulfate. But now, the wool is usually dyed directly by the producer with synthetic dyes.
The geometric patterns on the Kilim, while they may seem random to the uneducated eye, actually symbolize the life of the tribe, with zigzags representing water or travel, triangles representing a gathering of tents or a party, pyramids symbolizing social and family ties, to only name a few. Their symbolism varies from tribe to tribe, as do the color tones, the thickness and the richness of the embroidery.
You can purchase Kilim tapestry throughout North Africa and Turkey, but if you are passing through France, check out Rock the Kilim, a store with a collection of authentic traditional Kilims from all over Morocco.