The footwear label with a social conscience that piqued Megan Markle’s interest is going global, writes Paul McLauchlan
The ‘Meghan Markle effect’ - the all-important seal of approval in the fashion world. Many have received it but few have had their styles called ‘kick ass’. Except for Zyne, a conscious footwear label updating traditional Moroccan slippers.
Based in Casablanca, Zyne — which means ‘beauty’ in Arabic — was founded by best friends Zineb Britel and Laura Pujol. Britel is a Central Saint Martins graduate with an impressive pedigree — stints at Christian Dior and Sonia Rykiel, respectively. Pujol boasts business acumen with a background in luxury-goods marketing and time spent at Christian Louboutin.
Known as babouches, the mule originates from Middle East where bedouins and monarchs were fond of the casual style. Traditionally, they were made from leather, often enriched with delicate embroidery, hand-loomed details, or in the case of Markle’s purchase, bold but not flashy embellishment.
At a time when stilettos are unwelcome and impractical for daily life, Zyne enters the mix.
“Babouches are traditional Moroccan shoes worn everywhere in the house but never really outside. We wanted to transform them from something casual into a sophisticated and elegant shoe using the finest of leather and handmade craftsmanship,” said Britel.
Zyne modernises the style for the contemporary woman whose desire to wear heels might have abated in the decade that made flats chic. Here are elaborately embroidered styles, slippers, and kitten-heeled mules, suitable for cocktails, special occasions, and most importantly, the office or school run.
They come in around €350 which, for a handmade product, is a fair price to pay.
Babouches and kitten heel mules have become the au courant style in footwear amongst luxury brands in recent years with Gucci, Bally, and Celine all offering iterations. Few labels from the MENA region have emerged with the same international buzz as Zyne.
“We felt there was something missing in the market. We decided to create a flat shoe, or one with a low heel, that was as elegant as a high heel and as comfortable as a flat. Comfort is essential, so we added an additional layer of cushioning.”
Markle came across the label when meeting local businesses on a royal visit to Morocco. She was besotted by the pieces, purchasing two styles on her trip. First, a raffia mule with a kitten heel called ‘El nid’, the other a blue velvet babouche, called the ‘Duc’, inspired by the traditional Moroccan style, embellished with Swarovski crystals.
‘It was such an experience and honour to be able to meet them, they were very friendly and encouraging. They loved the details and attention of the design and were very interested in the process and the handmade work by our women artisans. The Duchess was impressed by the details of the Moroccan craftsmanship and asked many questions about our process and initiative,’ the duo said.
It was the meeting that nearly wasn’t. Britel and Pujol knew the royals were visiting, but weren’t involved in the official visit. They took to Instagram, direct messaging the English Ambassador to Morocco, explaining the merits of their social project. Subsequently, they were invited to display their works at a fair the royal pair attended.
“We started this project three years ago. The idea was to launch a social project in my country to shine a light on heritage and help women didn’t have the opportunity to be properly educated,” explained Britel.
Pujol said: “We have a passion for bringing the painstaking craft of luxury-good-making to life and honouring those who dedicate their lives to the trades that make it possible. Our mission is spreading the Zyne passion and message across the world, while making new friends for the brand along the way.”
The current production involves a co-operative of 30 women based in Casablanca. The space provides training in handwork, beading, and embroidery for women by a woman who worked on embroidery for brands such as Chanel and Dior. Each shoe takes two or more days to be made, and two or more artisans to complete.
Their signature styles are made of a natural raffia.
“The process is 100% natural, which means the shoe is completely biodegradable — from production the manual dying process which has the utmost respect for the environment. Furthermore, they are handwoven by craftswomen at our workshops,” the duo said. “It’s such a long and meticulous work that had been for years mainly made by men, and I am very proud that we had been able to insert women to this craftsmanship.”
The success would not have been possible without the Fashion Trust Arabia, a “philanthropic initiative focused on scouting, funding and nurturing design talent across the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, while bringing global awareness to its burgeoning fashion industry”. Founded by philanthropist and occasional British Vogue contributor Tania Fares, the participating designers are judged by experts - 2020’s panel includes Naomi Campbell, Marc Jacobs, and Elizabeth Saltzman.
Discussing their brand’s appeal, Tania Fares said: ‘What strikes me most about Zyne’s aesthetic is that it remains true to the traditional babouche, which is still deeply rooted in the Moroccan culture. The designers have merged tradition with sustainability and social responsibility, while also showing us something innovative.”
The Zyne pair, winning the Shoes category, received $200,000 in financial grants alongside business, operational, and strategic support from FTA partners. This includes a year-long buying mentorship with global luxury fashion destination MATCHESFASHION, where Zyne will be stocked onsite later this spring and supported through social and editorial content, as well as opportunities to travel to meet with international press.
Cassie Smart, head of womenswear at MATCHESFASHION, said: “Zyne has managed to capture upon a trend we are seeing amongst many of our customers towards flat shoe options that feel elevated and unique. Their use of raffia on the babouche-style slippers and slides felt like a fresh new take on these styles and would appeal to the woman looking for the perfect summer shoe that still felt suitable to wear on vacation or for evenings in the city.” Their next collection launches on www. matchesfashion.com later this spring.
“We already had plans to expand our production capacity. We increased our manufacturing by way of pop-up ateliers, to reach goals,” said Britel. “We offered an extensive list of training options at these temporary ateliers to keep our staff motivated and also help them build the skills needed so the company could continue to grow.”
A key goal of theirs is to use the FTA grant to launch their own cooperative. Zineb said: ‘Our goal since the beginning of Zyne is to have our own cooperative in several cities in Morocco, where we could develop a formal working space for our artisans. Currently, most of the women work on a freelance basis, but it would be great to build a formal working space for them.
One conscious, well-soled step for women, one conscious leap for womankind.