Need to Know

Ouive’s Handmade Moroccan Rugs Celebrate Centuries-Old Handicraft

Founder and photographer Kristina Williamson turned an off-the-cuff trip to the country into a way to prioritize one-of-a-kind creations and the artisans who make them.

Credit (all images): Courtesy of Ouive

Even if you don’t know Ouive by name, you likely know its hand-knotted Moroccan rugs by sight. Hand-dyed yarns in magenta, tangerine, and lilac hues create tessellating geometric patterns with imperfections befitting pieces made by hand, not factory machinery. They’re a respite from the sterile, algorithmic sameness of tasteful neutrals that has overtaken a certain corner of Instagram.

As a professional photographer, founder Kristina Williamson has long held an appreciation for visual storytelling. So it’s fitting that an impromptu trip to Morocco for creative inspiration laid the foundation for the Brooklynite’s enterprise with the country’s skilled weavers. “I was fascinated by the rugs as a form of visual storytelling and also the crucial role the women artisans played in preserving the craft,” she says. The company now works closely with Moroccan weavers who hand-knot custom and ready-to-ship commissions from their homes and villages.

The company recently debuted sample swatches and color-matching services for its made-to-order and custom rugs to better work with swatch libraries and design firms. “It’s been a real game-changer,” says Williamson. Still, Ouive stands out the most for its ability to flout—rather than conform to—certain industry norms. Working with small groups of weavers rather than factory production better suits Williamson’s preference for working in lower volume orders and more experimental patterns.

Below, she delves into the unlikely commonalities between photography and rug design, and catering to modern tastes with centuries-old crafting traditions.

How does your art and photography background relate to your role overseeing Ouive?

It certainly informs my creative direction of Ouive. From a design perspective, I pull a lot from drawing, color theory, and photography. I’m used to thinking through the scope of a camera’s frame: seeking out pleasing, balanced compositions; playing with color, light, and pattern. I use this same way of thinking–and seeing–in my rug designs. They both trigger a similar creative instinct towards balance.

Sketching and swatching yarn dyes in the design process.

From a practical standpoint, being a photographer allows me to understand how to accurately represent the colors and textures of our products online.

Being raised in a family of self taught creative women has perhaps been the most influential. I grew up learning how to sew and quilt from my mother and grandmother. This gave me a strong appreciation for craft and passing down traditions at an early age. This experience is what most informs my vision for Ouive–placing the value of living with art and appreciating handcrafted works at the core.

Tell me about Ouive’s partnership with Morocco’s Amazigh weavers. Why was the production of Moroccan rugs, specifically, and working with the Amazigh people to create them so important?

I was inspired by the quality and diversity of rug styles in Morocco, which vary widely from region to region. For our Time Capsule rug collection, we worked with Amazigh weavers from the Anti-Atlas mountain region because they’re known for their exceptionally detailed weaving style. Together we produced the world’s first customizable line of Zanafi rugs, a style of flat woven rugs unique to this region. The Anti-Atlas is also known for its high-quality local wool and is one of the few remaining places in Morocco that still uses hand-spun wool, which is the best of the best in terms of quality and durability.

Founder Kristina Williamson. Credit: David Willems.

What are the benefits of working with small groups of weavers using traditional techniques compared to a factory production model?

A handmade rug carries the evidence of the maker’s touch, which gives it authenticity and character that can’t be replicated by machine-made rugs. There’s an organic feel to them. They are perfectly imperfect.
It also frees us to be more experimental working in smaller volumes. Our yarn is hand-dyed for each rug, so we don’t have the pressure of large batch production weighing over our creative decisions. It gives us room to play, not to mention ensuring each rug is one-of-a-kind and is contributing to the preservation of the craft.

Is there anything you wish was better understood about Ouive?

Ouive is more than just rugs. We recently launched a capsule collection of vintage rugs, and have a new line of footwear debuting early this spring. Our guiding principle is to build a home filled with pieces you love, that will outlast disposable trends and be a part of your life as you move and grow. This flows through all of our collections: rugs, pillows, ceramics, leather goods, and wearables. We believe the most sustainable item you can own is one you know you’ll keep around for a long time and appreciate as art as much as for its function.

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