Interview: Sandra van Aanholt, founder of interior brand The Souks

by | 2 06 2021 | Interviews, Travel

6 years ago, Sandra went on her first trip to Morocco. A couple of months later, The Souks was born out of a passion for unique cultures and craftsmanship. An interior brand from Amsterdam, The Souks offers cushions, blankets, rugs and since short, ceramics – all either vintage finds or ethically sourced and produced in Morocco. We talk to Sandra about the background of the brand, her connection with Morocco, giving back to her local partners and more…

How did you start The Souks?

Six years ago I went on holiday to Morocco for the first time, when I spotted beautiful cushions in a tent in the desert. I really wanted to take these home, which wasn’t possible so I started looking for comparable cushions and, once found, brought about 10 of them back to the Netherlands. They sold really quickly to friends and family at first. The next time I went back to Morocco, I brought back two rugs, which sold to a stylist within a day. That’s when I knew to keep going!

mizar & alcor
the souks interview
What to you, is the essence of The Souks?

The brand stands for a mix of everything that makes this country so unique: a dynamic culture, passion for craftsmanship and richness in precious materials.

The Souks promotes the quality of handmade products. By delving deeply into the culture and home styling, I’m thoughtfully creating a highly edited collection consisting of unique designs. Every shop item has a vintage feel to it and is one of a kind.

The philosophy of The Souks is about supporting the small entrepreneur. My frequent visits to Morocco help me to build strong, healthy relationships with my local partners.

How did this change your own life and outlook on the future?

Dividing my time between Morocco and The Netherlands (Amsterdam) is a perfect combination for me. I always feel a certain calmness while I’m in Morocco, maybe because of the more relaxed vibe. By now, I really need to spend time in Morocco to be able to handle the fast-paced life in Amsterdam. Although it is definitely less busy at the moment, there are many influences and to do’s to handle all at once. Sometimes, a little escape to Morocco is all I need.

Some of my suppliers still have a very old phone, which is a conscious decision. As soon as I’m there, we really sit down with a hot cup of tea to talk, instead of constantly talking on the phone. I feel more at ease and I think that is something I really want to create for my brand as well. A certain kind of calmness.

In the future, I want to spend even more time in Morocco to create beautiful pieces together with the team, look into new collections, product lines, etc.

What does Intentional living mean to you?

My work-life balance is important to me, I eat healthy because I’m convinced of the positive effects this has on my daily life and my energy levels. I very much value my morning and evening routine, for example taking the time to wake up in the morning and only turn on my phone after breakfast. Evenings are often quiet and reflective of the day, in my very own rhythm. Open communication and honesty are essential to me. I believe that as long as you stay honest with yourself and your surroundings, you will ultimately spend less time worrying. Focus on what you are good at and outsource the rest!

Why do you think handmade and authenticity are so important, especially in your business and the time we live in?

Giving products a second life is a beautiful thought since so much is being produced already. If our products are not vintage finds, we always produce new collections sustainably, with small orders and pre-orders to prevent overconsumption and residual orders. All products are checked by our team in Morocco and shipped with the utmost care and sustainable partners to the Netherlands and then to our customers. This is our way to strive and keep our ecological footprint as low as possible, personally and professionally.

How do you find the right local people to work with?

By being present in Morocco, making connections in person, not just via mail/text. I noticed quickly that that is the best way to build a relationship with suppliers. One moment they are your best friend, the next you will not get a response to your texts. You simply have to be there. Face to face is so different from online, which has made this year more difficult for me. At the moment I am not able to travel to Morocco, I try to stay in touch via face time, calling, and texting, but that’s not an option for everyone. Luckily I spent a lot of time in Morocco during the last few years, which really benefits me now. Otherwise, Covid-19 would have been a way more difficult period for The Souks.

How do you make sure to give back to the local suppliers and artisans?

Being there and not only thinking about the lowest price but also the quality they deliver. I can easily produce a certain cushion for 2€ cheaper, but I also think about my partners and their families, which ultimately is more important to me than those couple of euros.

I try to be there for my partners, continuing to place orders also during the first lockdown, buying remaining stock and helping them to sell products. Of course, it is not just about money, but that is what is often needed most. Especially during difficult times like right now, with no safety nets provided by the government like in the Netherlands. I try to think along with them, come up with new business ideas, listen to them and occasionally just chat about life.

What are future plans for The Souks and your own life? A dream maybe.

I have been dreaming about living abroad for a while now, maybe in a small Riad in Morocco with a beautiful garden. Which actually seems like a pretty realistic dream. Renting it out whenever I’m back in The Netherlands.

I also notice that more and more people ask me for business advice, which might be another road to take in the future. And of course, I want to keep on creating for The Souks, innovating our collections and way of working.

Any advice for someone who dreams of starting their own business?

Try to stay true to yourself, do what your heart desires and you will be successful.

the kip
the kip

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