The Lust Series - Moroccan Treasures at Kat & Maouche
This Portland based brand specialises in selling special artisan finds from Morocco. A Berber-American family and company, owners Katen and Latif spent several years living in North Africa. We actually discovered them via their Instagram account, where they showcase their beautiful and colourful pieces, fun walking rugs stories and more. They are very much committed to the communities and cultures that they work with and this resonates in the selected pieces of art that you can find at their showroom. Read on to find out how the couple established their business and what inspires them.
What is the story behind the name?
"It's a latent family joke we've been waiting to use. In Algeria, Latif was raised in the household of his maternal grandparents after his father died. Their last name is Maouche, so, though it is not his legal name, it is how he is known there. My name is Katen (pronounced with a soft "a" as in "let the cat in"). So, when we got married we realized that if I were to take his name I would be Katen Maouche which doesn't look funny when written, but when said out loud is essentially "Cat and Mouse" with a slight lisp. I kept my maiden name, but it was a long-standing joke among family and friends. When brainstorming business names it popped up and just worked. It is obviously personal, pays homage to the dual cultures, and is unique enough that the URL was available."
We know you previously lived in North Africa. How did you start the business and make it to the US?
"I am originally from Oregon and Latif is from Algiers. We met in San Francisco long ago when I was working on a PhD in International Relations at Berkeley, and Latif ran the corner store in my neighborhood. (Thank you, Mama's Market!) In 2005, due to US immigration laws, we moved to Algeria indefinitely while applying for Latif's US residency. I was looking for a dissertation topic, exploring the Berber/Arab political issues in North Africa. At the same time, we were thinking about how to build a life outside of the US if we were going to have to do so.
We traveled a lot around the region and started picking up Berber art when we could. It became both a much better, more interesting way to understand the culture than a dissertation for me and a personal connection back to his Berber roots for Latif. By the time Latif got his residency, we had a small collection of Algerian Berber rugs and had started spending a lot of time in Morocco. I, tired of theory, had decided not to finish my PhD. We moved to Portland with this idea in the back of our heads, but it took the birth of our daughter, Salma, in 2009 to get the wheels really turning.
It became more personally pressing to create a life that gave her both cultures. We were reminded of how little is known here of Berber culture, art was that cliched bridge. We spent several years planning how to do it right, building a very good network in Morocco, saving money, researching, thinking about how to honour and represent Berber culture and art, how to source carefully. In 2014 we spent five months traveling and sent a container home to start a pop-up. We very quickly realized that to explain what we wanted to explain, to have the conversations required, we needed a permanent spot. So we are now a brick and mortar store in Portland, Oregon and plan to be here for a very long time."
What inspires you?
"We are so different in this regard. I am cerebral where Latif is physical. I need to really dig into art and books and history for perspective and inspiration. Latif needs to move and could walk through any city for hours, losing himself in it...or garden, from sun up until sundown as he often does. We both like people and are drawn to those a little on the outside, the unconventional. Those who think for themselves. We have a high tolerance for weirdness and inappropriate humour and honest conversation. Give us a noisy dinner table with a cast of characters. If Peggy Guggenheim could join us I'd be thrilled. And, of course, we both love to travel, draw inspiration from that place in between that lets you see things you would not otherwise see. Latif spent much of his life without a US passport so we are well aware that travel is easy only for those with nationalities that allow it so are hesitant to romanticise it. It is a privilege and we never take it for granted. The ability to do so, with Salma, is one of the great joys, and biggest inspirations, of our life."
Describe Kat & Maouche in 3 words.
"Arty, serious, irreverent."
What's next for Kat & Maouche?
"We just returned from a big trip this week (July '17) and are waiting for rugs to arrive. We hope to stay put for the Fall season, to spend some time writing and explaining what we've learned so we can present these well. We are now three years old and so far have been really winging it. I'd like the time and structure to do some serious research as we continue to grow. Our overreaching goal is for Berber rugs to be taken seriously as art and, given their current trendiness, that takes some time and effort. We are hoping to find some of both just as soon as we unpack."