MAHDIA, Tunisia (AP) – The sun sets at the time Tunisian fashion designer Chems Eddine Mechri arrives in the cool windy town of Mahdia. He spent half a day driving in the scorching heat searching for the precious handcrafted fabrics he needed for his upcoming winter collection.
With the 200-kilometer (125-mile) ride from Tunis coming to an end, the designer only knows where: the basement of a blue-light workshop, tucked away in the maze of the old downtown of Mahdia, where the weaver Mohamed Ismail’s spinning wheel is still spinning at full speed.
In a globalized world dominated by fast fashion brands like Zara, H&M and Topshop, Tunisian designers like Mechri are increasingly returning to their roots, embracing local artisans. and environmentally conscious materials. Thanks to the long-standing textile tradition of the North African nation, Tunisia is the place to go with the eco-fashion they want to win.
Ismail has been spinning locally sourced wool and cotton, as well as silk thread imported from China, for the past 47 years. “This job is in our blood… it̵7;s in our DNA,” Ismail said as he curled a crimson silk thread in his workshop. “It is intergenerational, and for my family, this work is very precious to us.”
Back in the capital of Tunis, Mechri and her tailor together made a dress from scratch for their fashion brand Née. They combined the shimmering pink and gold traditional fabrics used in Tunisian embroidery with mesh material from the 1960s. Both were said to be unsold by the merchant Mechri bought them from.
“They (don’t) fit today’s tastes,” Mechri said. “And that’s why they (the fabric dealers) need us, the designers … to bring a second life to these materials.”
According to estimates by the Oxford Business Group, the $ 2.6 billion textile industry is the backbone of Tunisia’s economy, employing 160,000 people and producing about 25% of the country’s total exports. However, according to the World Bank, fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world, responsible for producing 10% of carbon dioxide globally and tens of millions of tons of clothing discarded each year. .
Mechri and other designers have turned to an eco-friendly “upgrade” approach – using old or unwanted materials and turning them into something new and modern by combining types high quality fabric. Mechri blends old fabrics with the crafts of artisans across Tunisia – from the embroiderers in Tataouine, on the edge of the desert, to the tailors in Bizerte in the north of the country.
Western fashion brands are also serious about upgrading, including American brand Bode and Hotel, a Danish-French brand founded by Alexandra Hartmann.
“People begin to realize the negative impact of the desire to continuously consume all the time without going back, pausing to reflect and question the environment and the future of humanity,” said Mechri in the store The clothes in Tunis on the racks behind him were shimmering and rustling to the touch. “Fashion is a smart way to show respect for local materials.”
The desire to honor his ancestors is equally important to Hassen Ben Ayech, a 26-year-old former computer scientist. He founded the fledgling luxury brand Bardo with the clear purpose of reviving the traditional Tunisian crafts and heritage in an “era of turmoil and fear of environmental destruction, along with the decline of small cultural classes in the face of globalization ”.
The brand’s first collection evokes images from the famous Bardo palace in Tunis and the era of the rulers of the Tunisian monarchy was abolished in 1957.
“We wanted to go back to a time that was often overlooked and avoid clichés,” Ayech said. “We want to show that there is more to us than kaftan, (and to) delve deeper into our history and identity.”
In 2018, Riad Trabelsi relaunched its French-Tunisia brand BASSCOUTUR to demonstrate that sustainable fashion can be done on a broader scale. The brand has a growing customer base in Japan and South Korea and will launch in Italy soon.
“We are seeing this concept become the norm. If it’s not sustainable, it’s not cool, ”said Trabelsi.
He feels his designs reflect the complexity of the modern Tunisian community: “My identity is complex – I have a Tunisian father, an Algerian mother, while I was born in France. I draw all my DNA from this incredible blend… I am constantly evolving, improving myself and my understanding of my Tunisian heritage every day. “
Sofia Guellaty, a Tunisian fashion journalist and founder of MILLE World, a prominent online platform for Arab youth culture, art and fashion, says the brands are “in use. tell stories about where they went to make their clothes stand out.
“Tunisia is exactly on the mood board: natural shape, organic materials, raw, beautiful. They are what the local and international markets want, ”she said.
Guellaty notes that most Tunisians, still excited by the novelty of fast fashion brands that have only begun to be locally available in the past decade – have no sense of the environment. However, she noticed that many young Tunisians embraced their cultural identity and switched to local brands.
Ayech said Tunisia’s still growing textile industry shows hope for those caught up in the country’s ongoing economic crisis, exacerbated by the coronavirus epidemic.
“The industry maintains families with stable incomes even in remote areas and has no access to higher education,” he said. Businesses that strike a balance between ethical industrial activities and community-based craft skills give Tunisia the “hope for a better tomorrow”.