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I came across her work during our Morocco trip last August. My friends and neighbors, being new entrepreneurs in the design area, told me about her creations on a Sunday evening at our rooftop while we were having vermut. I couldn’t help but to squeal in awe for the exquisite design and manufacturing background behind the brand, and the perfect balance of art, design and functionality their Instagram feed reflects. Soon after, we began our trip to Morocco and had the pleasure to visit the LRNCE showroom with nothing to photograph with but my iPhone 7S.

The name behind every piece of textile and ceramic is Laurence Leenaert. A Belgian artist/designer who, after a trip to Morocco with her sister, bought a return ticket and stayed for a month in the desert with her sewing machine in local communities. Then, Marrakech became an addiction and evolved to a permanent move after six months of going back and forth. She felt Marrakech had something Belgium was missing.

It wasn’t just a hunch. Laurence started to work with locals in North Africa to create sandals, carpets, textiles, ceramics and everything that came out of her creative mind that could be materialised. Today, after only 5 years since the launch of LRNCE, the brand is featured on every lifestyle, decor, fashion and kitchen magazine that you can think of.

Today, Laurence shares with us a bit about her childhood, her motivations and her struggles as a business woman living in a country dominated by men.

Thank you for sharing some of your time, Laurence. I’m super happy to have you as this month’s interview on GADRIANA. When did you know you wanted to be a designer?

I was 17-18 when I decided to go to Art School, I spent my youth on the countryside surrounded by horses and in love with nature. My mother is a textile designer so she always showed me textiles, artists, took me to fairs, and one day my teacher in high school (we had an art class 2 hours per week) told me I should go to Art School and not waste my ‘talent’. So I was like okay, why not? And I moved to Ghent (a big city for me back then) and did my application test for Fashion at the Royal Academy of Arts Ghent and I was selected.

Which obstacles did you find when starting your own company and later moving to a different country with different customs regarding women’s role in society?

When graduating from Art School you don’t realize how working really is. You only focus on the creative part, but the business part is so, so important, too. As I’m living and working in a men world over here, I love to stand up for myself and show that I can own my business and be able to manage and organize.

The first 2 years I did everything by myself, it was very interesting to find out by myself how business work because it’s not only about creating, there’s also the structure, the paperwork, the financial part. Here in Morocco they are not used to women having their business, so it was a challenge to make everything happen. But honestly, I can’t complain, everybody was very, very helpful. You don’t let anybody feel the difference between a woman and a men. I never changed my way of dressing, I don’t wear sexy clothes at all but I wear shorts, I wear dresses.

“It was very interesting to find out by myself how business work because it’s not only about creating, there’s also the structure, the paperwork, the financial part.”

I read you started the company with a very small budget. How did you approached the women from local communities to produce your designs?

When I moved here the men didn’t take me seriously, I was 25 years-old and I was going to tell them how they should make something and how it should be done. So, it took some time to win their respect and confidence to make something new and different. They are also very religious so it was also not very convenient to get closer to them. There is always a men in front of a woman, so to get closer to the woman, you need to win their respect and take time to get to know the whole family, this way you get to know the women and talk with them.

From seeing your designs, I get the feeling they’re very personal. Where does your inspiration comes from?

It’s very into the moment, very spontaneous, personal as I want to be very close to the production, artisans and the products. I follow the whole process, even the photos I take. So I start from zero, drawings, sourcing materials to the final part, taking the photos and putting them on the website.

What’s your most important value regarding your work as a designer?

To be very respectful towards the artisans, people you work with and to stay true to myself.

“My designs are into the moment, very spontaneous, personal as I want to be very close to the production, artisans and the products.”

Do you have any advice to women who want to start their business? Maybe something you wish you knew before starting LRNCE.

Be sure of yourself, follow your instinct, don’t be scared to fail, everything is possible if you really want it, of course there will be a lot of downs, but the ups are the parts that give you so much energy and motivation! Don’t compare yourself to somebody else, make your own path!

Lastly, we would like you to share with us 3 women who inspire you day by day.

Helen FrankenthalerAmerican abstract expressionist painter. Ana Kras, Serbian-born American furniture designer, photographer and fashion designer, and Rosie-Marie Burgevin.

Laurence’s portraits
courtesy of LRNCE.

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