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Katen Bush’s Rugs Bring Ancient Art into the Present

Katen Bush and her husband, Latif Bezzir, launched their vintage Moroccan Berber rug pop-up Kat + Maouche in 2014, and have since expanded into a permanent space in Portland’s Old Town/Chinatown neighborhood. The duo sources each floor covering from rural villages of Morocco with the intention of bringing back authentic pieces that carry the history, culture, and functionality of the textiles. Here, Bush shares her vision for the outpost’s use of space and gives honest advice to aspiring entrepreneurs.

How do you decide which rugs to source?

We came to these rugs through Berber culture, so we approach them as cultural objects and as art. The authentic pieces come from rural areas far from the tourist hubs and souks. Respecting them as rural art is important, and we pay strict attention to provenance. As collectors, we are looking for unusual pieces or particularly excellent examples of representative pieces so the collection as a whole shows the great variety and history of Berber art. We are interested in how traditional art can read as modern art, and we are drawn to pieces that express that. We buy them as art and sell them as rugs, which is a strange line to walk.

You’ve opened your storefront to double as a meeting point for local designers. What  type of events can we expect to see happening there?

I am very happy to say that we are leaving those decisions in the very capable hands of Sara Bauer of Immaculate Space. We’ve long thought of the store as a community space and wanted to use it well. It’s been wonderful to collaborate with Sara on a shared vision of art and community.

What prompted you to increase the shop’s focus on its  digital presence?

Since starting as a pop-up in 2014, most of our focus has been on our brick and mortar shop. We let the website sit mainly as e-retail rather than a source of information and storytelling; we have a story to tell and decided it was time to do it. The process itself—of figuring out how to communicate that visually—was cathartic, and we needed that too. It was a gut check, reminding us of who we are.

What have you found to be a successful way to  articulate your ideas?

This is a contrarian view in this day and age, but being a brick-and-mortar and meeting people face-to-face is the most important (and fulfilling) thing we do. We started Kat + Maouche to share something about Berber art and culture, and that is best done through real-life conversations. That said, social media, particularly Instagram, certainly helps us spread the word and show who we are. Most days, the people who walk through our doors found us on social media.

What advice do you have for retail entrepreneurs?

People need to be more honest about the financial realities of starting any business, but particularly in retail. It’s a very hard way to earn a living and you have to be prepared for that. We have fetishized entrepreneurship, but the truth is it isn’t uniquely courageous. It takes money to start something and not everyone has the resources. [Entrepreneurs] should be honest about what they need [to start their business]. Ignore the glorified image out there of hustle and risk-taking. This is where social media has done a huge disservice: You have to be wildly practical. Finally, advocate for sane health care policy in this country. We all need it, but anyone who is going to work for themselves really, really needs it.


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