KAHINA™ turns 10, episode 5: Designing a brand

 In Berber Women, Blog, Giving Back, Katharine's Journal, Morocco, The Kahina Story, Uncategorized

In many ways, the design process was one of the most challenging parts of creating KAHINA. While I had a clear vision for the brand direction in my head, that vision was hard to articulate to designers. Luckily, I had enlisted the services of a very talented friend, Michael Souter of Souter Partners (then known as Territory Design). Michael’s esthetic is decidedly edgy and minimal, and his strength is working with luxury brands, all important components of the design as I had envisioned it. But something was missing. Morocco was about color, and people and texture. How could we bring all of this to life in a minimal, urban and contemporary way? It was over dinner with another good friend Erika Alonzo when we came up with the idea of collecting signatures of the Berber women of the cooperatives to use on the packaging. This is a common motif now, but at the time it wasn’t. And because the Berber women couldn’t even write their names, I thought this was a wonderful way to bring these women to life and to give our customers a glimpse into their world and understand the impact of the product they were producing.

I contacted Majid and asked him to gather the signatures of the women the next time he was planning to be in the region. Months later, as Michael and his team continued to struggle with satisfying my vague desire for some “Moroccan-related texture” on the sleek and minimal packaging he had created, that a page of signatures came through on my fax machine. My heart lept at the beauty and simplicity of these signatures on the page. Each was a piece of artwork and I could see the women’s personalities shining through. Unfortunately, they were in a light pencil and the resolution was not good enough to use in our design. The solution? Back to Morocco with Sharpie pens in hand to collect the signatures myself.

Back to Morocco I went to visit the ladies. I brought scarves I had bought for them on Canal street as gifts, and salt water taffee for their children (I don’t know why I thought this was a good idea). The spirit was lively as I sat with them and discussed their lives with them via a translator. They happily cooperated with my requests to write their names as best they could with the Sharpie pens I brought. Only one of them could actually write her name, having learned through the literacy classes offered by the cooperative. Others claimed that they were too old to learn to read and write, but they enjoyed the camaraderie of the other women. It was a happy time and I felt sure that we were moving down the road toward a long and productive partnership that would help to elevate these women from the difficult lives they had recounted to me. I promised to provide financial assistance to the cooperative’s social programs via donations from my company as soon as I made my first sales.

kahina berber women signature

I wrote each woman’s name above her signature as dictated to my by a translator.

One woman used the five-pointed star which is the emblem on the Moroccan flag as her graphic mark.  I loved it so much that I included it as a separate design element in our packaging.

Back in New York, signatures in hand, Michael and I completed the designs for the bottles. There were other decisions to be made: about paper for the boxes, design and printing for the brochure insert, and more. With Michael’s patience and the guidance of some good friends, especially Ann and Will Brennan, Andy and Diane Harwood, Maria Devaney, Heather Phillips, and my husband James, we were finally ready to go. This was the moment of truth. As of yet the amount of money I had committed was not too terrible. But meeting manufacturer’s minimums, printing boxes, and purchasing and printing bottles in quantity was a real financial commitment. What had been a fun exercise in making a vision come to life, all of a sudden became a terrifying reality. For the next 9 months, I couldn’t walk into a department store beauty department without breaking out into a cold sweat. There was nothing that resembled my products in their black bottles. What was I thinking? And more than that, all of the emotion I had poured into the development of the brand was to be nothing more than another box on a shelf. And which shelf? Where were the people who would sell (or buy) my products?

Stay tuned for more…

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