“You have to smile a lot when you’re young so that you have positive wrinkles when you’re old.” – Interview with Andrea Kolb from Abury

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I had the opportunity to meet in person the founder of Abury. It was a pleasure to meet Andrea, especially since I’m a big fan of the Moroccan culture. She welcomed me very warmly in her showroom in Prenzlauer Berg. How renovating a house in Marrakesh caused opening a company, you can read below.

Thank you very much for agreeing to do the interview.

Where does the name Abury come from, and how did you come up with the idea behind it?

I was inspired by a country. I moved to Marrakesh in 2007, originally to renovate a riad. A riad is a typical house in the Medina, the old town of Marrakesh. We bought one of these houses and renovated it. It’s a small guest house now. So, I stayed there for two years – not permanently but a lot of the time. We only renovated it with traditional crafts; we were working with a lot of wood. I was fascinated! At the time, I received as a present one of these old bags. I took it back here and all my girlfriends were like: “What is this, can you bring me one as well? Where did you get it from?”. So I started collecting them. Each time I bought a bag, the person who was selling them would tell me a story about the background.

Meanwhile, I learned more and more about the local people and their crafts. Because of mass production, the craft isn’t valued anymore; people don’t get the price it is worth. A lot of the things you can buy in the Medina are actually produced in China. Children used to learn the crafts from their fathers and grandfathers, there weren’t really any schools. It was a family business. Now, there aren’t many alternatives for children, and they aren’t learning much. There is a very high unemployment rate among young professionals. Next to that, women have obvious difficulties, especially the ones above 20. In 1999, the king of Morocco changed and the new one has been developing a lot of projects focused on women. Young girls go to school nowadays; before that, they didn’t. Still, the literacy rate of women over 20 is about 60%, there’s a huge potential which isn’t used. It’s not that these women aren’t intelligent, they just don’t have access to education.

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With all of this happening around me, at a certain stage I started thinking there must be a solution, a way to bring the two worlds together. In our world, we are looking for the special, the individual, and the hand­made. Because of globalization, all shopping malls look the same – you buy something from H&M and see a hundred people outside with the same pullover. On top of that, they have all been produced in Bangladesh for 10 cents per hour. This is how I actually came up with the idea.

As I’m not a designer, I bring the young and international talents together with craftsmen. First of all, it’s really great to experiment with bringing different cultures together – what happens when a Brazilian meets Moroccan, or maybe a Japanese goes to Brazil? This is already worth winning. Obviously, there’s more behind. We want to bring crafts in a new context, and deliver them on a high quality level. Crafts can only survive as high quality – you can’t produce a million pieces. You have to reach a certain price, and then everything has to be done really well. What we started with was working with people from the quality management, and ensuring that they have a clear idea of our perception. It’s really interesting working with different cultures. Sometimes, they have a completely different view on things – which is interesting indeed, but also very challenging. You need to find a common way without saying: “No, it has to be different.” You want to make them understand why it’s different, and walk the path together. The first collection was from a French designer. This is how I started.

You asked about the brand name… In the beginning, I had a different name in mind. Then a friend of mine came up with the idea of “Abury” and suggested it to me. Actually, it comes from my maiden name, which is Andrea Bury. At first, I thought the idea was completely stupid, but then he said: “You don’t have to tell anybody!” [laughing] Another friend of mine got some feedback on the name, and it was very well perceived. The associations were positive or neutral, and after the people were informed that it’s a fashion brand, they were like: “Ah, Mulberry, Burberry, Abony, Ivory…” My friend said: “The name isn’t taken yet, it’s easy to pronounce, and it’s short. You have to take it.”

How would you define a woman entrepreneur? Do you think you are one?

I think it’s every woman who is taking the risk of standing on her own feet, trying to follow her dreams and build something, no matter if it’s big or small. I think this is the mindset of an entrepreneur. I would be honored if people think I’m one; I do consider myself as a woman entrepreneur.

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You have traveled a lot and have a good overview of other cities. Why did you choose Berlin as the city for your company?

I think that in the last years, Berlin has become a very interesting melting pot, especially in the creative scene. There are a lot of international people coming to Berlin because it’s still affordable to live here as a creative person – that’s why you have so many influences here. This is inspiring for me. I love travelling and going away from Berlin, but I always enjoy coming back. I think it’s one of the coolest places to be in Europe.

I see that there are only females in your team, which is not usual and I’m happy about that.

Do you think that the fashion industry is rather feminine? 

There are a lot of companies designing clothes for men and having mostly women behind them. I think that maybe fashion is one of the industries that actually offer women a big career, since it’s a very feminine subject. Still, if you look at the big companies and huge conglomerates, there are a lot of men working on the top. If you look at designers, I think you’d find both men and women.

For example, there is Vivienne Westwood, Donna Karan, and Jil Sander; but there is also Karl Lagerfeld, Tom Ford, and John Galliano.

To be honest, I didn’t make it on purpose. I have a feeling that there’s a young generation ofwomen who have a dream, and it’s not all about the money. They would rather go their own way and work for something they feel passionate about. As we are a start­up, we obviously can’t pay huge salaries, it’s more about dedication and passion about doing this work together. These girls are professional and fantastic. They are excellent in their fields, and still they are like: “No, we don’t want to work with Chanel; we’d rather fight for this little start­up and share the dream”.

Who has inspired you the most and did you have a mentor in the beginning of your career?

In my personal life, it would be my grandmother. For me, she was the most influential. I always keep this picture, her telling me: “You have to smile a lot when you’re young so that you have positive wrinkles when you’re old”. I was very serious as a child, but this is the kind of woman she was. In my career, I’d say I did have a mentor. There were the boys from the first agency, I always contacted them when I did something new. I tried to get their opinion, see how they would react. They are very straight­forward while I’m too passionate. Sometimes, it’s good when somebody looks over your work and says: “OK, girl, focus!” It’s really hard to have people who care about you and would give you an honest feedback, unlike friends who are always telling you: “Wow, this is great, go on!” That really helps starting a business.

What kind of advice would you give to women who are willing to start their own business but are stuck in a 9–5 job?

If you really want to do it, then just work from 6–11 on your dream. [laughing] It’s what I did, and many others did too. A company is not started by doing nothing. I’d say that the second thing would be making a good plan. Think about how much money you have, how much you will need, where you want to invest. The worst thing is putting a lot of work in something and reaching a point where your dream won’t come true because of lack of money. Maybe find people with the same vision, so you can share tasks. Then, find the right point to switch completely and make it real as your own business.

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How did you learn French? 

In school, I took French as one of my subjects in the Abitur. To be honest, I hate it. I thought that after my Abitur it would be gone forever. I focused on English speaking countries at first. Then in 2007, I just went to Morocco. It was tough at the beginning to reopen this little door. When I came back, I took some classes to refresh.

I understand that you are communicating with people from Morocco in French?

Yes, I don’t speak Arabic, which is a pity.

And they don’t speak English at all? 

Not many, and not good enough.

At this moment you are collaborating with people from Morocco and Ecuador. Are you planning to collaborate with other foreign countries?

I would really like to do something in Asia. Right now, we are doing a research to find out who we can work with, what special crafts there are, where help is needed. In the end of this year, we will launch an international contest for designers to apply for becoming an Abury designer. We used to find designers through ESMOD International Fashion School, and it worked pretty well. We now developed a good concept for people from all over the world to apply and become part of the community as a designer. They will get training from us, and will have a mentor. Let’s see how it goes!

Do you see differences between Morocco and Ecuador? What are the main ones?

The funny thing is that the difference is not that big. Actually, the challenges with both have been really similar, especially regarding women. In Morocco, we started our own corporation, while in Ecuador we are working with an existing one, which makes it much easier because you already have a structure. This is what we learned in Morocco, that it takes two years to set something up – it’s too long to make it.

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How does one day of Andrea’s schedule look like? 

A good thing is that no day looks like the other! I like travelling and meeting people. Two or three days I spend here, in the store. On Monday we have our meeting, and afterwards, it depends. I make interviews; work a lot on the computer on things like presentations and photo shoots; do bookkeeping.

So you don’t need to stay in office, take a look at your co­workers? 

I am a strong believer in giving space to people. We define what has to be done. For example, one girl is here only two weeks per month, the rest of the time she spends in Portugal because her family is there. She is such a creative person; she needs her working space to do things. I think this makes a spirit! They all love freedom, and in the end you do so much more – they are responsible for the projects, and want to prove that they can handle them. It’s the positive aspect of a small company; if you become bigger, you need to have more structure. At the moment, it works perfectly.

You are giving a lot of speeches. Where can we meet you next time? 

There will be one event on the 20th of October in Stuttgart.

Thank you very much for interview.


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