Global Young Designer Spotlight: Zwina Habibi

Global Young Designer Spotlight: Zwina Habibi

Zwina Habibi is a company that represents friendships beyond borders. The brand aims to overcome global inequalities so often reinforced by the fashion industry and instead offers us inspiration for the future. Here designer Grace Elliston shares her craftsmen.

a degree in international relations and a catalogue of
experience in the fashion industry, Grace Elliston founded the
socially conscious shoe and leather goods brand Zwina Habibi.
Through her label she aims both to confront global issues and drive
the Moroccan economy.

The young entrepreneur is full of energy, excitement and
compassion. She turns the spotlight away from herself and instead
highlights the creativity and craft of Moroccan artisans. Making
slight adjustments to traditional attire, her designs share the
vibrancy of Morocco
with the rest of the world.

At its very core, Zwina Habibi is a company that represents
friendships beyond borders. The brand aims to overcome global
inequalities so often reinforced by the fashion industry and
instead offers us inspiration for the future.


Zwina Habibi


Grace Elliston





Type of brand:


Where can we find your designs?

Online and
at various pop-up fairs around London.

Who is the Zwina Habibi customer?

The ZH girl is both savvy and stylish, a woman who relishes her
individuality and dresses to stand out.

Can you explain the name of the brand?

Zwina is a colloquial Moroccan-Arabic word for a cute girl or
someone you might have a crush on; Habibi is used with similar
affection but to describe a boy.

How did Moroccan culture inspire you to start Zwina

Morocco is a country overflowing with inspiration. From the
landscape and climate to the people, art and music scene – I’m not
sure where to begin! It was mainly the good nature of the people
and quality of their craftsmanship that helped to kickstart ZH. I
rely fully on the work and support of local artisans in Marrakech
to create my product. It’s these very people that have lost out on
vital business as the current international political climate has
led to a decline in western tourism to Morocco. I started ZH in an
attempt to reverse this flow and open up the market once again.

Tell us about your first visit to

My first visit to Marrakech was about 12 years ago – and I must
have only been about 12. To me, Morocco was totally different to
how it is now. It was mysterious and unknown, full of overwhelming
sounds, smells and colours. Now it’s my home away from home; the
maze of derbs (Moroccan streets) that once unnerved me now takes me
on adventures.

Which aspects of your designs can be attributed to Morocco and
which to London?

All of our designs begin as Moroccan and are then tweaked to
work with current western trends and aesthetic. For example, raffia
is a very traditional Moroccan material, but we worked in design
elements that sit beautifully on the pages of British

Where do you imagine your designs worn?

Anywhere and everywhere! They are completely versatile
accessories that can be worn to work or a party, for walking a dog
or going on a date. The backpacks are
appropriate in the summer and Christmas
appropriate in the winter.

Tell us a bit about your craftsmen.

Each craftsman has a few people working for them, mainly family
members. The idea is that everyone is trained to a high standard so
that they have a trade rather than a line job in a factory. It’s a
passion for them as much as a career, and it’s likely they will be
making shoes and bags for the rest of their lives. Ahmed makes the
comfortable and delicate raffia shoes, a summer staple for both men
and women. Imad specialises in leather shoes, adding Moroccan
twists to classic winter and summer shapes. Mounir was the
craftsman who made the first ever “boogie bag”, the original ZH
suede backpack. He now makes a range of backpacks, the soft suede
“squish squash” totes and the ZH wallets.

How often do you visit them?

At least once every two months for a week or two each time. I
spent a good four months out there this year. I find it much easier
working side by side with them as there is always a lot to keep
track of.

What are some of the biggest challenges of running a
business across two continents?

The language barrier and physical distance are two things I’ve
had to learn to work with. Issues around timing and coordination
when I am not there have proved stressful but these were mainly
teething problems. I’ve definitely learned from it all.

Are your customers mostly from western backgrounds or
do you have a following in Morocco as well?

They are mainly western, but we have sent items all around the
world. Shops in New York and São
Paolo are keen to stock the SS17 collection when it lands, which is
super exciting.
has been very helpful in spreading ZH globally, as
has word of mouth – I often hear from customers who wear our
products that they are stopped by strangers on the tube! Although
we are not currently stocked in Morocco we certainly look towards
doing this one day.

What costs are associated with being an ethical

Our methods of labour and production are more expensive than
they would be in a factory, but I don’t consider this cost too high
to pay. Any less would be unfair and undervalue the artisans’
skills – I will never compromise on this. Customers value the
artisanal production of the ZH product too. I hope that ZH provides
an alternative option for those wanting to buy affordable luxury
without supporting unethical production.

Do you see a brick-and-mortar store in Zwina Habibi’s

It is difficult to say. I think the Zwina Habibi woman is busy;
she shops online while eating her lunch at her desk. At the moment,
an e-commerce platform suits her best as her buying choices tend to
be swayed by the images seen on Instagram or flicking through the
pages of SUITCASE on
her iPad

How should we spend 24 hours in

Wake up to a delicious breakfast on the roof of Riad Timila – on a
clear day you can see the Atlas Mountains that run along one side
of the city; it’s a wonderful view to wake up to. If I’m not
working, I’d spend some time on the roof under the sun before
heading out into the souks around midday.

There are some great little food joints throughout the souks.
Marrakech has recently had a wave of Moroccan fusion restaurants
pop up too. My favourite vendor for msemen (Moroccan fried pancakes
with either spices, tomatoes and onions or cheese and honey) is a
short walk away towards the Bahia and Al Badi palaces so it’s
likely I’d head there to meet friends.

It’s great to get out of the medina, so I sometimes rent a car
and go up into the mountains (a full day trip) or take a taxi to
one of the hotels outside of town with enormous gardens and pools
to hang out in.

The evening would either be spent going to Gueliz (the new town)
or into the square to have dinner at one of the food stalls. I like
seeing Marrakech this way – half touristy, half local – because you
feel much more a part of the city and culture if you take time to
do as Moroccans do.

Do you see Zwina Habibi expanding into more categories
in the future?

We are keen to launch men’s raffia shoes this coming summer as
we have been inundated with requests for them. Otherwise suede
jackets and coats are on the maybe list too… you’ll have to wait
and see!

We’ve really pulled out all the stops for the latest summer
collection and I’m particularly excited about the new brand
imagery. Shot on the outskirts of Marrakech and foothills of the
Atlas Mountains, the campaign was created by an extremely talented,
all-female team including actor and model Lily Newmark (who’s
previously worked with McQueen and Vivienne Westwood) and Mimi Kaz,
stylist Lucy Upton-Prowse and photographer Charlotte Ellis. They
were all amazing.

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