Tunisian weavers turn rags into eco-friendly rugs

Tunisian weavers turn rags into eco-friendly rugs

Tunisian weavers turn rags into eco-friendly rugs

Najet unravels an old pair of jeans, raw material for a designer carpet: traditional, eco-friendly crafts are being adapted for new markets thanks to a project born in the Tunisian desert.

“I learned to weave at a young age, from my mother,” said the 52-year-old from the oasis town of Nefta, 500 kilometers south of Tunis.

She is selling her Turkish-style kilim rugs via Shanti, a social enterprise that helps artisans from across the North African country reach buyers and bring vital revenue into some of its most marginalized communities.

Shanti is the brainchild of Najet’s Franco-Tunisian nephew Mehdi Baccouche.

“Unstitching old jumpers, tearing up old cotton garments, making rugs out of them, it’s a folk art found in all Tunisian homes,” he told AFP.

While the skill “has been around forever,” reaching buyers is a challenge, he added.

Back in 2014, he had asked his aunt to weave carpets for his friends, soon moving to selling them via Facebook.

Seeing the potential, two years later he created Shanti, which buys carpets and takes charge of getting them to consumers.

It also employs designers who work with artisans to improve their design skills and make their products more marketable.

“These are my creations, they come out of my imagination and Shanti approved them,” Najet said.

Najet uses an eclectic array of old pullovers, socks and assorted pass-me-downs from the local flea market, giving them a new life as rugs.

Despite a lean patch, the Tunisian clothes industry still keeps 1,600 firms in business, providing 100 times that many jobs.

Using its system of ordering in advance, Shanti runs a boutique in the capital Tunis. L’Artisanerie also acts as a space for coordinators who train artisans from other rural areas, making bamboo furniture, poetry and embroidery.

In four years, more than 200 producers have been able to find a market for their work. Sixty work every day for L’Artisanerie.

“We’re trying to show that you can make something 100 percent Tunisian, with Tunisian materials and skills, but with a design that fits current tastes,” Baccouche said.

Some products, joint creations by artisans and Shanti designers, are sold to design-conscious Tunisians.

Others are exported or sold to bigger firms - such as Indigo, a manufacturer for Zara, or Mango, which recently bought 164 rugs made from recycled jeans.