6 Lessons From Morocco’s Maryam Montague

For this edition of Designed to Succeed, I interviewed Maryam Montague.  I can’t quite remember how I discovered her but I knew instantly that I wanted to put her entire life on my Pinterest visualization board.  Featured in Lonny and Elle Décor magazines in the past, she is an author, blogger, hotelier, shop owner, wife, mother of two, and fellow poverty avenger running a social development enterprise for girls.  Maryam’s many accomplishments, specifically her book Marrakesh by Design and boutique hotel Peacock Pavilions, make her career a go-to model for artrepreneurs.  She is due to speak at TEDx Morocco in the coming months, but I thought I would give you advanced access to her infinite wisdom.  She talks below about what it takes to stay on top of the game.

Lesson 1: Keep all the balls in the air.

MM: “Time management is serious business in my world because I have a lot on my plate (and am always adding more).  I start by getting up early (this morning I was up at 5am) to meditate, lay out the day’s priorities, and to start work before spending time with my husband and children over breakfast.  I try never to schedule meetings in the morning, allowing me open time to work.  I use the Pomodoro system to move through my priorities.  I also bulk my tasks and block my time.”

Lesson 2: Capitalize on a niche aesthetic.

MM: “Moroccan design has a definite point of view.  Luckily, whether you are a minimalist or a maximalist, there is always a way to incorporate Moroccan flair into your décor.  Like the Moroccan nomads, I like to start my interiors with a good rug – either a neutral Beni Ouarain or a colorful kilim to anchor the space, add coziness and to act as art for the floors.  I then layer on my furniture, including Moroccan poufs, which are such a utilitarian piece.  In the bedroom, I love a glamorous Moroccan wedding blanket.  A good Moroccan lantern also adds ambiance.   You can find many of these items in my shop, the M. Montague Souk.”

Lesson 3: Develop mass and targeted marketing plans.

MM: “Being married to an architect has its advantages, so when we found our little olive grove on the outskirts of Marrakesh, we set out to build an entirely artisanal property that was both modern and respectful of local traditions.  Our place, Peacock Pavilions (yes, we have real peacocks roaming around) comprises three pavilions, one in which we live and two others for our guests.  But our hotel caters not only to individual guests, but also to many creative and wellness retreats that focus on yoga, photography, belly dancing, life coaching, textile arts, painting, and much more.  I am very conscious of the importance of creating an inspiring and feel-good environment for our guests to enjoy.”

Lesson 4: Prepare to fall on the road to success.

MM: “The key is perseverance.  When building Peacock Pavilions, our contractor spent all of our money in the first 8 months and then disappeared.  It would have been easy to fold up and walk away.  Indeed, if you look back in the archives of my blog, there is a series called the Disaster Chronicles!  But we had a dream and so in the face of disaster, we pivoted and made it work.  Ultimately, it is not about whether you fall (because you will), it is about how fast you get up, adjust and keep going.”

Lesson 5: Leverage your brand to make an impact.

MM: “Morocco has evolved so much since I first arrived in Rabat 15 years ago.  The King Mohammed VI ushered in a wave of human rights and the government has worked hard to revamp the country’s infrastructure.  Economically, the country continues to grow and the tourism industry is booming.  Hundreds of hotels are mushrooming across town overnight.  However, Morocco remains a developing country, with relatively low levels of literacy, gender disparities and health indicators that need improving.   It is one of the reasons that my husband, Chris Redecke and I started Project Soar, a local non-profit to empower underserved girls through art, sports, and health education.  We help keep girls in school and prepare them for more productive and fulfilled futures.  We are very passionate about it and 10% of all our sales go to this initiative.”

Lesson 6:  Invest in yourself.

MM: “I have a strong team supporting me, including my hotel and shop staff, many of whom have been with me for years, as well as an amazing virtual assistant.  But because I am on the road a lot, I also block off dedicated time for my family and make sure to go out on a girl’s day with my daughter every month.    I also try to take really good care of myself.  I am pescatarian and eat almost no processed food, drink no coffee, and the majority of my meals are plant-based.  I just returned from a 12-day Ayurveda yoga retreat.  Ultimately, you are your own best investment.  When you let yourself go, everything else goes.  So make deliberate choices in self-care.”

Be sure to visit Maryam’s shop and check out more on her journey to success, on her CNN African Voices feature. 

Photography by Natalie Opocensky for Peacock Pavillions

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