The Nopo artisans share stories about mothers, motherhood, and entrepreneurship
Written by: Arianna Meschia for The Nopo
I left home when I was barely more than a child, eighteen years old, a suitcase full of plans of what I would do and who I would be. In my trips back home over the next twelve years, people and places have come and gone, but one ritual has remained stubbornly present: my mum greeting me with a piece of focaccia at the airport, and once back home cooking all my favorite Sicilian food.
Mothers are like that. They exist in a world that stretches beyond time and space, they hold families together, take shapeless seedlings and help them turn into beautiful creatures - men and women and everything in between - of their own.
This Mother’s Day, The Nopo is celebrating all mothers - present, past, and future - by sharing the stories of inspirational motherhood from some of our artisans.
Patricia is a former industrial designer from Chihuahua, Mexico. When her first son, Nicolas, was born, she completely changed her career and started studying ceramics.
1) How did having Nicolas help you take such an important step?
I was the lead designer in an aerospace company, specializing in the design of plane seats. The job was amazing: stimulating projects that I worked on with a team of very competent people who all worked to combine their skill sets towards a common goal. But the management wasn’t always great, and very often my days at work turned into way too much stress that I didn’t want to inflict on my baby. When Nicolas was finally born, he gave me the final push to let go, so I really owe it to him and to becoming a mother if today I am doing what I love most, ceramics.
2) Is reconciling your lives as a mother and as a business owner and artist difficult?
The thing I struggle with most is managing my time and making the most of the hours I have when the kids (who are now three) are with their grandparents or the nanny. Since my second child Andres was born I feel like I am living in a perpetual state of lateness! Sticking to deadlines is challenging at times, and that’s especially precarious for an art as exacting and time-sensitive as ceramics. Somehow I always pull through though, because I can be flexible with my time and often do take work home with me… My kitchen has been taken over by clay more than once!
3) Are you bringing up three little potters?
I don’t know if they will definitely follow in my footsteps, but I take them to the workshop very often and they use the scraps to make their own creations. It’s all very funny until they touch the finished pieces and I go hysterical! Luckily, my studio is in the same building as my husband’s office, so if it all gets too much we can switch babysitting duties around.
4) How inspiring are your children in your everyday practice?
They are absolutely the single most inspiring element in my work and life in general. Everything I do, I do for them. I hope that by developing my ceramics work as a sustainable small business I can teach them about conscious consumerism, the importance of creating things with your hands, and the value of building a community around that.
Samia is a jewelry designer from Casablanca, who creates “neo-Berber” jewels inspired by the Amazigh matriarchal culture.
1) What inspired you to start your jewelry brand in the first place?
I grew up in Casablanca surrounded by a real melting pot of western habits and Moroccan traditions that today informs my jewelry designs heavily. After some time in Paris where I had a job in marketing, I felt dissatisfied with the usual routine of life in a big city and went traveling to Southeast Asia for seven months. During a hike in Vietnam, I met a group of local women beautifully adorned in traditional clothing and jewelry. We started sharing stories and by the time I left, I felt like a profound connection had been made, so much so that one of them gifted me a pair of earrings and said to me ‘Now you look like one of us, like my daughter’. At that precise moment, I felt the pull back to my roots grow stronger than ever, and when I got back to Morocco, I named my brand Yelli, which means daughter in the Amazigh dialect.
2) How does Amazigh culture inspire your jewelry making?
I got interested in Amazigh history when I saw a book at my parents’ after coming back from traveling. It told the story of proud communities where beautiful women use jewelry as a way of affirming their identity and their belonging. In Amazigh society, jewels are passed on from grandmothers to mothers to daughters, like an heirloom that carries a small piece of your ancestry within it. In that sense, my jewelry is timeless because it celebrates this culture but also because it is suitable for women of all ages.
3) Is your mother supportive of your craft and career?
Absolutely! My mother has been and continues to be the biggest inspiration of all. She has a very strong personality, she studied a lot in her life and is a doctor, which in itself is quite an uncommon sight in Morocco. She was always present even though she had a busy job and I think I definitely inherited her dedication to work, which has been useful in my development as a female entrepreneur. We actually look quite alike and are very close, almost like sisters more than mother and daughter. She’s always been very supportive, giving advice and being my first and best model! Though she has fierce competition from my grandmother…
4) Tell us about her.
My grandmother is an amazing source of strength for the whole family. She is still very independent and insists on living alone in Casablanca, though her family is originally from Fez and she was actually born in Dakar since her grandmother was Senegalese. My mother is extremely close to her, and their relationship definitely molded the relationship I have with my mum. My grandmother is quite different though, she’s obviously from another generation and can be quite reserved. We tend to have more casual conversations about everyday life, but behind every small word, every small gesture lies an astounding amount of love and pride, that I hope I will keep earning with my work.
Lucia, Lucia Macarenä
Lucia Toribio is a fashion designer based in Oaxaca, who has been juggling new motherhood and growing her business during the pandemic.
1) How was becoming a mother at such a peculiar time?
My daughter Emma was born in November 2019, about four months before the first lockdown, and I found myself being a new mother during quarantine while trying to keep my young business alive. My husband and I moved back to my parents in Oaxaca and in the space of a few weeks, we went from being a new family with a nanny in bustling Mexico City to ten people living under my parents’ roof with a small baby! The whole thing was very stressful, there were days when I felt guilty for bringing a child into this chaos, but then all I had to do was look at Emma’s chubby cheeks and bright smile to feel at peace again.
2) How do you juggle being a woman entrepreneur and a mother?
When Emma was a newborn and we were in Mexico City I was still able to see my artisans at times, but when we moved to Oaxaca my life became 24/7 family and baby. I put my brand Lucia Macarenä fully on hold for five months and often felt like I was failing my professional life and sacrificing a big part of who I am. Now that Emma is more independent I have started planning, designing, and trying things out, and I hope to go visit my artisans soon. With hindsight, I’m very thankful for the time I had with Emma, if we had stayed in Mexico City I probably would have called the nanny more often… I’m a bit of a workaholic!
3) Are there societal prejudices around being a mother and entrepreneur in Mexico?
It really depends where you are. Mexico City is generally quite fine, having a nanny is a very normal thing and in lots of couples, both partners work either full or part-time. Things change in rural areas, and here in Oaxaca, the concept of someone outside of the family being paid to help mind your children is quite uncommon. Though people might not say it, they probably will think you are a terrible mother for “abandoning” your child to go to work.
4) Is Emma growing up to be artsy like her mum?
Arts really do run in the family! I got my artistic side from my mother, who was an all-around incredible inspiration in my life. She raised four kids while being a full-time teacher and was an unfailing presence: taking us home from school, asking about our day, cooking lunch, and helping out with homework. My mum always encouraged us to be artistic and often spent time creating beautiful things with her hands. Now that Emma is a bit older she follows me around playing with fabric offcuts and I hope she’s slowly developing the designer eye… She definitely has good taste like her mum though, she’s already obsessed with bags!
Lucia’s Pick for Mother’s Day: Zaavia’s Tina Handwoven Mini Bag
Rhita, Rhita Créations
Rhita Benjelloun is a jewelry designer originally from Fez, who left her career as an architect to dedicate herself to her true passion - jewelry. She remembers how supportive her mother was of her choice.
1) Is your mother an inspirational figure for you?
My mother is quite honestly the strongest person I know. She was a young mother, having my older sister at 24 and me at 29, and for much of our early childhood, she had to raise us and maintain her career all alone, because my father was a diplomat and had to travel and be absent a lot. She had some help from her parents, but she genuinely soldiered through with a never-ending amount of energy, love, and enthusiasm for everything we did. She had a quite traditional upbringing but was able to turn her life around completely and raised me and my siblings with a very open-minded approach to religion, culture, politics, and more.
2) What is it like in Morocco to be a working mother?
In Morocco, the hardest thing is to keep your job once you become a mother. Unfortunately, motherhood is still seen as a liability, and too often women have to abandon their careers after the first or second child. Not my mum. When my older sister was born, my mother was actually in medical school, and don’t ask me how, she managed to finish her course, graduate, and become a really appreciated doctor, which in the late 70s wasn’t exactly a common sight. When my brother came along too, she was a woman doctor in her late twenties with three children and a career to nurture and develop - basically a superhero!
3) How has your mother inspired your work as a jewelry designer?
Even though I am based in Rabat, my family roots are in Fez, where my parents are from. When I was working on my collection Traces, which was a real journey through my past and origins, I created a centerpiece locket necklace inspired by a specific pattern of embroidery found in Fez, called Terz del Ghorza, which means counted-thread embroidery. The necklace was the centerpiece of the collection, and I naturally named it after my mother, Bouchra, a first name of Arabic origins which means “good news”. I’m not sure if she saw the connection though!
4) Was your mother supportive of your choice to abandon architecture?
Well, as liberal as my parents are, I think it was still a bit of a shock when I told them I was going to leave my secure job as an architect to become a jewelry designer! Creative jobs are still seen as quite risky and not as prestigious as architecture, medicine, or the law. But my mother was very supportive of my choice nonetheless, never judging but rather just being next to me in case I needed help. She has great taste and often gives me very good feedback on the designs - if she doesn’t like something, you can rest assured she will tell you!
Rhita’s Pick for Mother’s Day: Anna Lebrija’s Caribbean Teapot