“Morocco has taught me to be extremely grateful for everything that I have.”
Aida Azlin is a 28 year-old woman, born and bred in Singapore. She runs her own company called The Shawl Label (TSL) which not only sells ethical fabrics, but also accessories, stationery and more recently, online classes. Aida and her team ensure as much as possible that there is no wastage of resources in the creation of their products. Catering mainly to the Singaporean market, her company focuses on making purposeful items and serves to empower women.
She runs all these ventures while living in Tangier, Morocco, with her British-Moroccan husband. Through Skype, we reached out to her to ask what is it like being a businesswoman living in Morocco.
One of the challenges Aida faced while running The Shawl Label in Morocco is the difference in work efficiency. “Some people in Morocco can be very laidback which often results in stuff not getting done on time,” she says with a laugh. “When you run a business, that is really bad because it will mess up your whole timeline.”
However, Aida has hired a Moroccan tailor for about a year now and she is over the moon about her. Her name is Sanae, and Aida treats her like a sister. “Sanae is an amazing young woman who is super talented at what she does,” says Aida, “She makes every single one of my design ideas come to life and is a huge part of why TSL works.” She pointed out that a lot of Moroccans are highly skilled. However, they are not often given the best opportunity to showcase and develop their talents. While there are people who are inefficient and untrustworthy, there also those who are good, sincere and hardworking like Sanae. “All we need is lots of patience.”
It seems that wherever Aida goes in Morocco, she meets amazing Moroccan women. One particular woman who inspired her is Hajjah Rahmah, an old lady she met at the souk she goes to source for TSL products. Hajjah Rahmah is a scrap fabric collector. She collects scrap fabrics from tailors all around the city and sells everything she has.
“She’s old and frail but she goes to work with a smile everyday,” says Aida, “When asked how much she sells them for, she always, always says, ‘Pay however much you want, my child. May Allah bless your parents.’” She may not earn much, but every day she will be at her tiny little store, ready to serve anyone who comes to her.” In contrast, how many of us complain about our jobs despite working in comfortable, air-conditioned offices, earning more than Hajjah Rahmah does?
A Changed Woman
For Aida, it has not been an easy transition from living in Singapore to Tangier. After all, Singapore was where she grew up. “I think if you speak to anyone who has uprooted their life and moved somewhere else, they will tell you that it will definitely have changed them.”
Living in Morocco made her a tougher and more independent person. She learnt to be more discerning and learnt to adapt quickly.
“Before we got married, I’ve been to Morocco 4 or 5 times,” says Aida, “I even did an internship there. So I really liked Morocco. But then I realized visiting the country for 2 months is not the same as living in that country.”
So when they moved to Morocco, she went through 3 phases. The first phase was the Honeymoon Phase, when she was really in love with every single aspect of Morocco. The second phase was the Denial Phase where she kept thinking “Nothing is efficient, I can’t go out as and when I want…” and it was just starting to sink in that Morocco was not a bed of roses.
“Now I’m in my third phase,” says Aida, “Which is Acceptance. I’ve accepted it. So I just do whatever I can do with where I am.”
Best Hospitality Ever
Aida’s favourite thing about living in Morocco is the warm hospitality of its people. She feels that Morocco has the best hospitality that she has ever experienced. “They will treat you like a Queen. They will take very good care of you, and make their delicious local cuisine for you. They will go out of the way to make you feel comfortable.”
Perhaps one of the reasons why local Moroccan food tastes so amazing is because of its readily available fresh produce, which is sold at super affordable prices. This is in contrast to cities such as Singapore and London where anything that is organic and fresh are sold at exorbitant prices. “And the seafood is just magnificent!” says Aida, “My mom who has visited Morocco before also remarked that the food here tastes incredibly different – much fresher, without all the GMO stuff.”
Morocco’s lack of malls has definitely curbed an annoying habit that all urban-dwellers suffer from – consumerism. “I haven’t bought anything for a few years now which is awesome!” says Aida, “Everything that I need, I either have to make them myself or get some fabrics from the Souk and get my tailor to sew them. This helps to support the local shopkeepers and tailors here.”
She also loves how the Moroccans are very family-oriented. Aida tells us how in Singapore, she usually visits her extended families during festive occasions such as Hari Raya. However, in Morocco, her aunts and uncles visit them every other day just to have tea and chat. Every Friday, after Jumu’ah prayers, they would all gather and have couscous together. “I like how everyone is really close,” she says.
When probed about the future, Aida feels that Morocco will always be Shawl Label’s base as it allows them to do their work. “I’m very productive here,” she says, “It’s quite cheap to live here so it allows us to save. But we try to travel every 3 or 4 months back to Singapore or England. We are not bound to a particular office or country since our work is online. We can go anywhere, really. But Morocco will be our base for a long time to come.”
Hang on for Part 2! Where Aida recommends us things to do and places to go in Morocco!