The small city of Khenifra is located in the mountains of Mediterranean Atlas. Its inhabitants depend on traditional industries and handicrafts such as weaving, wood carving, and pottery. Women, in particular, have long relied on these trades to help provide income for their families. Artisanat des Femmes de Khenifra, a group of 17 female artists, was formed with the assistance of U.S. Peace Corps volunteers to help their families overcome poverty, educate their children, and create new markets with their new take on a traditional craft.
The djellaba is a traditional outer garment worn by both men and women in Morocco. This traditional long caftan is normally ornamented with small buttons, and it is these tiny items that form the basis of Artisanat des Femmes de Khenifra’s product–jewelry. The making of intricate djellaba buttons requires great skill and concentration, with one button taking up to 10 minutes to complete. Using a needle, the women knot sabra, a vegetable silk made from cactus, into buttons. These buttons are then combined into unique jewelry designs including necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. Each woman creates her own pieces of jewelry from start to finish, the color and styles reflective of each artist.
The women make their designs at home then meet weekly to review each other’s work and collect payment for their items. Working together has given them the power to expand their product line as well as the areas to which they sell. As a collective, they have been able to reach their goals of creating sustainable incomes for their children from the crafts they learned from their elders.