13 Oct 2015
Nefta, Tunisia
Sustainable Textiles & Clothing

El Mensej is a social company that aims to accompany craftsmen to rethink their product, to take advantage of their know-how, and to access a customer base. Born from the encounter between a young social field worker and a group of women weavers who could no longer live off their handmade products, El Mensej proposes responsible products made from recycled materials.  

“El Mensej”, in Arabic, means the weaving loom, a wood working tool that weaves wool carpets called “Kilims”. This ancient weaving technique was traditionally used by nomad populations. The Kilim had different usages according to tribes, but it was mainly used as a separation item inside tents. Run on vertical looms, according to techniques remained unchanged over centuries, this know-how is undermined nowadays by craftsmen’s precarious living conditions who struggle to sell their products due to the lack of visibility.

Giving life to old clothes while preserving expertise | The Switchers
Giving life to old clothes while preserving expertise | The Switchers

To protect this tradition and make it a tool for economic integration, Mehdi Baccouche had the idea to create El Mensej in 2014, a social company that works with the weavers of Nefta, a small town in southwestern Tunisia, his hometown. His mission is to support craftsmen to better understand the needs of customers by offering responsible products that stand out, socially, culturally, and environmentally. For this, Kilims’ raw material comes from old second-hand clothing whose wool is unraveled then reused for carpet weaving.

This environmental call is reflected in the very essence of the activity: the looms, set up inside craftspeople’s homes, with no water nor energy consumed. As to products’ shipment, El Mensej relies on existing transport systems (buses, public taxis, etc) in order to reduce its environmental impact. This approach also brings awareness within the population itself:

People we work with may not have integrated environmental protection as a priority in their professional and personal lives. By recycling, and with savings on raw material being the basis of their source of income, we thus illustrate concretely that environmental preservation and the improvement of personal situation can go together.Mehdi Baccouche
Giving life to old clothes while preserving expertise | The Switchers

The project, launched through a crowdfunding campaign, currently operates thanks to social networks and Internet orders, most of which come from France. If the weavers are today paid by the piece, the short-term goal would be to establish a structure for them to access social security and to contribute to retirement. In the long run, Mehdi Baccouche does not exclude the idea of adapting this model to other sectors in order to protect traditional knowledge of his country while strengthening the economic integration of artisans.

El Mensej Artisanal
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