A VINTAGE COLETTE MOROCCAN ADVENTURE: THE 2016 TRADE AND IMPACT SUMMIT AND EXHIBITION
The Trade+Impact Summit and Exhibition is a ground breaking platform to fuel business growth for rising African and Middle Eastern women entrepreneurs in the craft / textile and natural skincare sectors. The program was designed as a ground-breaking platform for increased trade, investment and skills development to increase the impact of women-led social enterprises in their community and beyond. Vintage Colette was elected to participate as a featured exhibitor because of our continuous effort and business ethics in trying to change the poverty status quo within our communities through the payment of ethical fashion wages. This event was another opportunity for us to network with amazing talent at the summit and to also encourage trade between countries.
I landed in Casablanca, Morocco and went through a very smooth, warm and friendly immigration process at the airport. Then came the tasty cup of Moroccan mint tea from staff of the Trade and Impact Summit, who welcomed me at arrivals. What a refreshing moment! I took a seat, sipped my tea and made calls to inform my family that I had arrived safely and would soon be on my way to Ifrane where the Exhibition I would be attending was taking place. It was a 4-6 hour drive away from Casablanca,depending on your speed limit.
Rewind to a few weeks earlier, I had applied for a Moroccan visa to attend the summit. The visa takes at least 10 working days to be processed, with the exclusion of Fridays, and prior to that, you had to cue up at the embassy gate for 2 hours just to get the information about the necessary documents needed to secure a visa. I didn’t blame them much considering the fact that almost all Nigerians going towards that route seemed to fit the profile of the ones crossing from Morocco, through the Mediterranean, to the shores of Spain and the rest of Europe.
My visa had been approved but I needed a transit visa since I would be transiting through France. I proceeded to apply for the transit visa at the VFS office and signed an undertaking since I had only a week left before the summit that my passport be returned to me should my visa process take longer than the time frame of which I had submitted my application. This would allow me to quickly change my ticket to another airline and leave a day later than scheduled. I was called back twice to the VFS office to change my application from transit to Schengen or Airport transit visa, more or less forcing me to take the former, which I refused and finally settled for the airport transit since they had refused to submit my transit visa application for reasons I still don’t know nor understand.
The day of my flight arrived and there was no news of my visa or passport return. I made 3 trips to VFS office and the Embassy of France to no avail. I went home stressed out considering I had a breakdown a few days earlier due to stress at work. To cut the long story short, my airport transit visa was finally issued after several calls to some officials. It turns out that the VFS office filed my application wrongly and also never made a call to the Embassy of France throughout the day despite the urgency. They also never showed them the undertaking that I wrote before submission.
I was home packing with less than one hour to get to the airport. I sorted my kids, home, work, packed and dashed to the airport. My boarding experience was so tedious that I thought, “why do we as Nigerians have to go through about 4 security checks before boarding a flight, or still take off our shoes to go through detectors, follow long queues even if you have checked-in online,’ among other not-so-nice airport experiences. I didn’t even know when the plane took off. I was that tired and exhausted.
Back to Casablanca. After the tea and sweets, we boarded the bus for the long road along with other summit participants from Madagascar, Mauritius, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ghana and so on. We made two stops on the six hour journey. Yes! The driver was slow. But as a Nigerian who was accustomed to road accidents, I knew that it was better slow than fast. First, we stopped to have lunch and then use the rest room. All the while, I looked through the window and wondered, is this still Africa? The roads were so good that there wasn’t any single porthole for the entire journey. There were young and smartly-dressed policemen almost every 20kms, great roads signs, and most importantly, a very clean country. We arrived at Ifrane (often referred to as the Switzerland of Morocco due to its weather and climate) and met our hosts for the summit, checked into our rooms and went out for dinner to acquaint ourselves with one another. The city as we soon discovered, was a university town which hosted students from all over the world as the American University of Morocco called Al Akawayn University. We even went to a nearby bazaar, a walking distance from the restaurant where we had dinner.
The next day was a Sunday and instead of sitting around doing nothing, we took a trip to the city of Fes to explore the culture, visit the souk (an open-air marketplace ) and explore the oldest tannery in Africa which dates back to the 11th century. We also wanted to visit the oldest library in the world which was started by a woman named Fatima Al Fihri in the year 859. We were taken round the souk by a student from the Al Akawayn University in Ifrane and her father. It turned out that it’s much better to be taken around by a local due to the bargaining and also because it gave one the opportunity to explore more places. We ate wonderful meals within the souk, explored the pottery section of the market, the Berber carpets. With each step we took, we were no doubt coming closer to the tannery and could smell it from afar. We were all in awe of the tannery and the different leather products we saw and purchased.
We went through the summit for the next few days very smoothly with all the topics related to the buyer or seller of the exhibition fully questioned and answered. My booth wasn’t ready because my clothing racks that I had ordered weeks before were not available and a suspended rack had to be improvised for my stock and I hated every bit of the way it showed and cheapen my stock. Most buyers were there to buy crafts and not fashion, which was huge disadvantage to my brand. But I was glad for the experience, the new friends from around the globe and that I finally got one interested buyer for my brand….what a delight! We took another tourist trip to the city of Meknes before our final departure from Ifrane.
I got to spend two extra nights at Casablanca and explored the old Medina souk, and the Hassan ll grand mosque, which was built as the 13th largest mosque in world in 1986 and lasted through a seven year construction phase. Next, I stopped by the 180 year old Tijjaniyyah mosque and was in awe of its wonderful state. I then proceeded to the Cathedral of Morocco which was built in 1930 and ceased operations after the independence of Morocco in 1956. I enjoyed my exploration of Casablanca because I had met a local adventurer named Sarah, who had just returned from a hiking trip in the southern part of Morocco and had covered about 6400kms and also a trekking records of 560kms.
I enjoyed eating local delicacies like Babousch (cooked snails in their shells with fifty different herbs), bargaining at the souks, the architecture, warm hospitality and the landscape of a beautiful country. Most importantly, the event turned out to be of great economic benefit to the Vintage Colette brand. It improved our growth strategy and has also sharpened our visionary leadership focus.