The Moroccan-Norwegian designer sat down for a remote chat with MWN about his mentorship program, sustainable fashion, and the importance of human connections.
Somerset – Moroccan-Norwegian designer Anwar Bougroug is passionate about connections with his roots, building a tolerant and open-minded community, and exquisite Moroccan craftsmanship.
The designer, whose fashion house Bougroug continues to hit headlines with its fascinating take on the future of fashion, appeared on the Forbes 2020 Africa 30 Under 30 to watch list. An up-and-coming, groundbreaking talent, Anwar is not afraid of breaking down barriers and sees the world with unique vision.
“My brand is my dream world,” he told Morocco World News, breaking into an infectiously sweet and genuine smile. On a Zoom call from Oslo, the young designer shared his connection and love for Morocco with MWN.
“I used to travel every summer to Tangier with my family,” he began, shyly. Overtaken by his own enthusiasm, Anwar explained how he fell in love with Moroccan craftsmanship.
“We used to create things for weddings, for our house, so I was already in this craft world where everything was possible.”
Passionate about creativity from an early age, he recalled that he spent his childhood summers sewing. “We were creating caftans for my mom and my sister, suits for us, jellabas, everything!”
“We could decide how it was supposed to look and also the fit which was amazing … it was kind of like this whole concept of creating things. It took more time, it was more expensive but what you end up with was something you have forever,” he said.
“I knew I needed to tap into that because that’s exactly what I wanted my brand to represent,” Anwar explained earnestly.
The Moroccan-Norwegian designer is self-taught and learned to sew from watching YouTube videos, though he did later attend design school in Stockholm.
“I have a younger sister and I used to sew garments, I learned on youtube, and I used to make things and then I used to force her to be the model and we would recreate Vogue covers,” he laughed.
‘Every item has a story’
Anwar’s eyes danced as he described the feeling of taking a two dimensional fabric through the journey to becoming three dimensional and living as a garment.
After developing his design skills and impressive eye for minimalist fashion in Scandinavia, Anwar returned to Morocco to launch his own fashion brand in 2016.
Simply named Bougroug, the fashion house promotes a gender-fluid aesthetic that blends the “Bohemian” spirit of Morocco with the straight lines and clear cut clarity of Scandinavian fashion. Bougroug lovingly crafts unique leather bags, clothing, jewelry, and home decor.
Anwar’s love for design is not limited to clothes, and Bougroug’s lovingly crafted unique leather bags, jewelry, and home decor. He explained to MWN that he hopes to add Moroccan thuya wood and ceramics to the Bougroug collection soon.
Bougroug has been an indisputable success and now boasts a main office in Stockholm and a production office in Marrakech, where Anwar connects with traditional Moroccan artisans to craft his unique pieces.
“Our bags are handmade, they’re not perfect, they’re full of mistakes and this is something we are proud of because they’re made by real people, and sometimes just by one person.” Anwar’s pride in his workforce and their incredible talent echoed in his voice as he described Bougroug’s artisans.
“These people are super skilled and [the bags] are not going to be identical, like what we’re used to in a highstreet store, so it’s about educating customers and helping them understand you’re not just tapping a button and getting a product, it’s a process.”
“Every item has a story,” he emphasized.
Brimming with excitement, Anwar told MWN about one of the weavers he works with, a talented woman named Rachida. “A new line of scarves is coming up and I want her to be part of the process as an artist.”
Bougroug is about people connecting with their craft, but it is also a fashion house with a conscience.
A focus on sustainability
“Sustainability is everything,” Anwar enthused, explaining the role the Moroccan artisan community plays in Bougroug.
“We want to create with a purpose, we don’t want to create things for Instagram, we don’t create for single use, we want our pieces to have a very long life cycle,” he emphasized.
“We use a lot of leftover fabrics from other productions and we give them life, we work a lot with bespoke and made to measure, so we really try to tap into where things are made slower and where the customer will appreciate what they get in their hands.”
Anwar’s expression became serious and stern as he talked about the impacts the COVID-19 pandemic will have on fashion. The pandemic has made the trend for “disposable fashion” feel “quite obsolete,” he explained.
“It feels superficial the way we consume and the way we wear things, and I think we’re going to go back to really appreciating handmade stuff and more unique items.”
The fashion industry is “not based on sustainability, because it’s based on creating needs that aren’t there in the beginning,” he mused. “So you’re seeing a bag and you want it because you like it, but you don’t need it.”
“As a brand it is our responsibility to at least, even though we talk about desire and fantasy and storytelling, it’s “about making sure each item is made in a responsible, holistic way,” Anwar said seriously.
Deep concern filled the young designer’s usually vivacious expression as he talked about the impact of COVID-19 on Moroccan artisans, particularly those who work with Bougroug.
“A lot of them have reached out and said if you have any work for us now is the time,” he said, looking away from the Zoom camera.
Anwar explained he is stuck in Norway because of the flight bans and cannot do anything to help them; the concern and fear for the people he has grown so fond of was tangible in his voice.
The pandemic, however, has not slowed Anwar down. The designer recently launched a mentorship program for young creatives in Africa to help them hone their skills and live off their crafts.
Wanting to give something back to the community and motivate other creative young people during this difficult and unprecedented time, Anwar launched the digital mentorship program.
The program has already helped designers, photographers, tailors, models, and stylists from South Africa, Sudan, and Botswana, to name a few. The mentorship program helps creatives to identify what is holding them back and come up with a personalized plan to break into the industry.
Anwar was genuinely surprised that the program took off so quickly. He recounted to MWN how he shared the offer on Instagram, and a number of influencers reposted it. Within a day, the Moroccan designer had received scores of cries for help.
“It was super exciting!” Anwar grinned.
He explained that many of them are facing similar challenges. “The exposure and the trust is very difficult” for young people in Africa trying to break out in the arts industry.
“You have to convince people you are worth it, which I think people coming from Paris, for example, don’t face as much.”
It is a longer step for young creatives from Africa to break through barriers of stereotypes and gain the recognition their talent deserves, Anwar told MWN. He has been overwhelmed with the unique talents of the creatives who have reached out to him and hopes the program will make a real difference.
“Our motto is community, craftsmanship, and connection. I love that craft is about community, it’s about family, it’s a tight-knit community and we are all striving to create a better world. We want sustainable products, and we want to live from and with our craft.”