Here at The Grampians Goods Co., we’ve recently collaborated with Made In Tangier, a gorgeous enterprise by Pin Affleck, a Western Victorian girl from way back who now calls Morocco home. Pin’s story is nothing short of enchanting—so we wanted to profile her here in the blog, Mountain Musings, to celebrate the launch of this exclusive collaboration with Pin, our divine organic cotton pom-pom hand towels, woven in our bespoke brand colour combo. Read on for Pin’s incredible story—but trust me, you’ll want a cuppa or a big glass of wine for this read, it’s exquisite!
Morning Pin, please tell us a little about yourself; who are you and where do you come from?
Raised on our family property in Western Victoria. I was born ‘Virginia,’ I was soon nicknamed ‘Pin’ and it stuck.
Our family farm, ‘Minjah,’ had been in Dad’s family for almost five generations and whilst I wasn’t a natural farmer, I loved the outdoors—climbing trees, writing my memoirs, building cubbies and baking cakes. Oh, and not forgetting my love for the old Singer sewing machine which I used all too frequently!
I had the most adventurous, safe and enjoyable country childhood, with a loving family who nurtured my creative side and love for storytelling and dreaming.
Do you have any fond memories of Western Victoria, or of your childhood on the farm?
I have the fondest memories of Sunday picnics in the Grampians with childhood friends and cousins—those ancient, groaning gum trees would shield us from sunshine and rain (or more typically in Victoria, both).
The parents would sit around a fire and talk for hours, whilst the children ran completely free exploring the Grampians, finding beetles and insects, and we’d drive home as the sun was setting, completely exhausted and blissfully happy.
The same goes for my childhood on the farm. It was completely free, unaffected by the outside world and we grew up on a diet of meat from the farm, eggs from the cookhouse and vegetables from the garden.
When I went to boarding school in the early nineties, my city friends couldn’t believe that I’d never eaten McDonalds and that one of my favourite pastimes was writing and sewing!
Life as a child in Western Victoria was incredibly stable, we quite literally lived off the land and for this upbringing, I am very grateful.
As children, we were taught to be thankful for everything and were most happy swimming with our horses in the dam after school. Anything to escape maths homework.
You clearly grew up to adore travel—where did this come from?
My desire to travel and explore the world began during those early years, born from a combination of my idyllic upbringing, as well as from the pages of the books I would read each night, under torchlight.
As soon as I was old enough, I packed my bags and began my explorations.
Since then, I’ve picked grapes amongst Etruscan ruins in Tuscany, and soaked up many a sunrise in Luxor, Egypt. For me, Istanbul holds fond memories, just as London and Paris never fail to excite me. Cairo is a place to which I would run tomorrow, and the Italian countryside sends shivers down my spine.
As a hopeless tourist but an avid traveller, I leave a little piece of my heart behind in every place to which I travel.
And when did your interest in art and culture begin?
In my younger years, I completed a Degree in Fine Art, and then I undertook a four year stint at Sotheby’s Australia, the well-known art marketplace. This furthered my love and understanding of art, along with an intrigue for anthropology.
In my early twenties I spent several consecutive winters living in a village in the Indian Himalaya, where I became familiar with the textiles of northern India, Nepal and Tibet.
Each time I travelled back to Australia, I would find utter joy in the hustle and bustle in the bazaars of Delhi and Bombay. It was throughout this period of my life where my love of collecting fabrics began.
In 2005 I landed in Istanbul where I worked with the acclaimed American photographer, Josephine Powell. Together we collated her collection of photographs and textiles in her flat overlooking the Bosphorus River and across to Topkapi Palace.
Powell’s journey to Istanbul began in the late 1950’s, when she made regular trips in her Land Rover across Central Asia from the Hotel Kabul, Afghanistan, through Anatolian communities, and onward to her flat in Rome. Throughout these travels she lived with people across the Anatolian plains, and it was there that she developed an appreciation of vegetable dyes and local weavings; in particular, flat weave carpets.
Throughout my time with Josephine, I gained knowledge about each and every weft and warp she’d collected in her travels before she settled in Istanbul, Turkey.
You’re now based in Morocco—how did that come about?
I’m not sure that I’d planned to settle in Morocco—it came about by accident when I was living through a freezing Paris winter at the beginning of 2018.
One afternoon, I decided on a whim from a Parisian cafe terrace, to book a flight to Marrakech, and the moment I landed, Morocco stole my heart.
After a few weeks of travelling by train around this beautiful country, I came to spend a weekend in Tangier with a dear friend of my family who was also raised in country Victoria, and was a childhood friend of Dad’s.
What is it that you love about Tangier and Morocco overall? What kept you there?
Tangier is the strangest place on the planet! It’s one of those secret cities where everything is very much ‘behind closed’ doors.
But for some reason, I found those doors being opened for me, and the expatriate community here welcomed me with open arms.
I took a flat before I returned to Paris, and was living here three months later. We painted the walls, had curtains made by the local weavers, and unpacked boxes of books that I’d sent from Paris—I’d arrived here with a suitcase full of clothes, my laptop and not much else.
Within weeks, my flat looked as though I’d lived in Tangier forever. These days my heart truly rests in Tangier, and it entirely fulfills my love of textiles and beautiful things.
Morocco itself is a beautiful blend of modern and traditional; whilst there is a booming middle class growing as Morocco joins global markets and is very much a country belonging to the 21st century, there are still traditions that are strong and very much linked to the Islamic faith, that will endure the 21st century and beyond.
One minute I could be weaving through streets, sourcing goods from local artisans in very traditional neighbourhoods, and the next I’m in a bustling, busy boulevard that could belong to any small city in the world.
So, how did your business, Made in Tangier, come about?
In 2019 I held my 40th Birthday just outside Tangier at the famed Chez Abdou, a seaside restaurant that embodies kitsch like no other place I’ve ever visited.
Abdou has hosted everyone from the Rolling Stones to royalty, and on that beautiful summer’s day 60 of my friends from as far as Australia and the USA joined me at the table.
As the rosé flowed and the sun fell behind the Atlantic, I had a feeling I may have found my true home away from home.
As I waved my friends goodbye through tears at the end of the week, they left with suitcases full of textiles that had been woven throughout the week as we explored the magic of Tangier.
An idea was born at that moment—I would ship beautiful artisanal products to each corner of the globe.
Textiles became my focus, and in April 2020 just as Covid had locked the entire world into a new corner, I launched Made in Tangier.
My sister Sophie who lives in the Tasmanian Midlands, set up the website and fortunately, I had photographed the entire first range before the Covid lockdown came into play in early March.
Each night I would sit up in my Tangier kitchen writing content for my website while my little tech wizard sister worked across both time zones to make it all a reality.
Launching a business just before a global pandemic must have been a challenge—tell us about that!
While Covid and the early stages of the lockdowns were daunting, at the time I had no idea what it would mean for the business.
I had imagined daily trips to our weavers with a little sketchbook under my arm and a list of orders.
In reality, the local authorities signed special movement papers per quartier (neighbourhood), and we were made to wear mandatory masks from early March, 2020.
I was able to shop locally at the market and the pharmacy, but everything else was closed and I was restricted to moving within just my local streets, no further.
Fortunately, the weavers are located just a five minute walk from my Tangier flat, and two looms were still clunking when I arrived with my first orders; many of which were from my family and friends in the early stages.
I agreed with the weavers that I’d come once a week with orders, and we’d hold meetings at a distance from behind our masks.
In hindsight, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing! But the collection grew and the orders continued to come in.
I spent hours on emails explaining that we had plenty slowing us down and that logistically it was not as simple as I’d imagined. People were patient and kind, and I think also a little bit grateful for the stories and the armchair travel, wherever they may have been in the world.
As things eased a bit in July, 2020, we saw the town opening up again, bit by bit. More weavers returned to work, and soon the looms were clunking away in multiple numbers!
The power of Instagram and online shopping has been my saviour. Since our inception, the clientele has grown from family and friends, to shops and brands, to complete strangers, and everything in between.
Is there a language barrier, operating as an English-speaking business owner in Morocco?
In my corporate life, I used to wish for a three day week—in my weaving life, I wish we had more days in the week. There is so much to do, hurdles to jump and challenges to contend with—one of which is the language barrier.
The Moroccan people speak darija, which is a melange of classic Arabic, French and Spanish. Darija is a very complex language, it is purely phonetic and is not written. A lot of people I work with speak just Darija and no French (and not a word of English).
Whilst my french is questionable, I can get by, but it’s not much use if the person on the other side is limited to Darija!
So, I’ve learnt to count (badly) in Arabic and I can string together a few phrases most of which are the standard ‘god bless you’ ‘have a great day’ ‘thank you’ ‘thanks to god’ ‘you’re welcome’ and my favourite, ‘inshallah’ which means ‘god willing’.
Inshallah finishes every sentence—‘see you tomorrow,’ I will say as I leave the workshop, which is met with a string of ‘inshallahs’ from the looms. The following day I am met with ‘hamdulillah’ (thanks to god) when I show up. So we leave ‘god willing’ and arrive thanking god!
When I jump into a taxi and give directions, the driver pulls away saying ‘inshallah’ and when we arrive at the destination a chorus of ‘hamdulillah’ comes from each seat. Thanks to God, we made it!
Do you work with anyone else, other than your sister managing the website?
I have a wonderful translator/business assistant who negotiates prices, strengthens relationships with our weavers and helps me to understand the culture when I become puzzled or have any questions. He has the patience of a saint and the heart of a lion.
We spend each day together and have jumped many hurdles over the past year. I am so proud of what he has achieved from scratch in such a short period of time.
Each Saturday morning we are joined by my intern who has recently completed her Masters in International Business and Marketing.
So together, we make a little team of three.
Along with our team of three, our weavers have become like family to us. There’s Nordine, Hassan, Abdelslam and at least three Mohameds, all of whom weave to the tune of ancient Arabic love songs that crackle out of an equally ancient radio.
These days, my favourite place is on a stool by a loom in a tiny loft in the weaving courtyard, iPhone in hand as I process orders from around the world, listening to our weavers working their magic.
The past year has been crippling for the artisans of Morocco who rely so heavily on tourism, so to be reminded quite regularly from the loom that the orders I bring have helped families throughout this time, is incredibly heartwarming.
What is it that you love about the artisans you work with in Tangier?
The artisans I work with are the most magical people—everything is translated to me and I’ve never seen such gratitude in my life.
Each person has a different personality and story, some of which are incredibly hopeful, others heartbreaking. But they never stop smiling and their work is awe inspiring.
I recently wrote on my blog that the way the weavers move puts a suburban Pilates class to shame! It is incredibly technical and requires a great deal of strength.
We’ve just completed the holy month of Ramadan where Muslims fast from dawn until dusk for a whole month. Whilst they eat at night, this month is incredibly challenging both mentally and physically, particularly if your work is physical.
The charity shown by Moroccans is wonderful, and I will never forget my translator rushing to the aid of an old woman being lifted into a car on a plastic chair by three young men.
With a huge bag of Made in Tangier napkins and hammam towels slung over his shoulder, he formed the fourth set of hands, popped her into the car and then continued on his way as if nothing had happened.
Moroccans are incredibly caring people, most are deeply religious and they are very much guided by Allah (god). No is not an answer, yes is the ultimate answer, and God Willing, we will get there.
Do you find it tough, often needing translation? Do you miss speaking English regularly?
In Tangier we also have a fabulous expatriate community who have welcomed me like family.
Each day is spoken in a million languages—I’m always blinking, usually confused as I listen with great interest to everything (and chuffed when I understand).
But at the end of the day, I’m hugely grateful for moments with friends with a gin and tonic in hand and where the conversation flows in English!
I cannot wait to travel around Morocco more, we have been very much locked down in our cities of residence for the past year, and whilst that is surely set to change, I am also grateful for all my friends who have guided and supported me whilst I’ve set myself this ‘small’ challenge a long way away from home.
Speaking of home, do you miss it?
Yes, I miss the region terribly, but find great joy visiting my sister and her husband and their two adorable boys at their farm in the foothills of the Grampians, and have family scattered throughout the southern parts of Australia.
Mum and Dad have settled at Peterborough where we spent childhood summers with our Grandmother. My other sister lives just outside of Port Fairy with her husband and their two delightful little boys (one of whom I’m yet to meet!). The baby of our family (my tech whizz!) lives with her husband and two further delightful cherubs, in the Tasmanian Midlands.
We are all country people at heart, and whenever I travel outside of Tangier along the Atlantic Ocean for lunch by the sea, I find great comfort in the country villages and sprawling pastures where camels, sheep and donkeys graze.
Sometimes the landscape looks so like the ever changing landscapes of country Victoria—of course, it’s not the Western District of Victoria, but it is similar in so many ways.
I dream of the day when travel again becomes a reality, where I will visit my family and friends, many of whom are still in the region.
For now, I am happy producing textiles in my home away from home, Tangier.
Check out our Moroccan Collab with Made in Tangier
Have you seen our collaboration product with Made in Tangier, the organic cotton pom-pom hand towels in our bespoke brand colour combo.