Amel Gaaloul and Elodie Dessors are the co-founders and co-organisers of the fashion market Elbazar. al.arte.magazine has met them in Tunis to discover the concept and Tunisian creators.
What is Elbazar and how did you get to this idea?
Elbazar, as the name suggests, is first and foremost an temporary market. The originality of this market lies in the fact that it is the first event in Tunisia that invites local designers to promote their own brands of fashion, jewelry, bags and accessories of all types. Although the tradition of handicrafts is well anchored in this country (just like anywhere else in the Arab world) our project with Elbazar was to go beyond the usual souks that display traditional craft objects. Elbazar is really about spotting and selecting the new up and coming creative talents, and giving them a visibility to the general public, the media but also the boutiques or shops, in a festive and friendly atmosphere.
The idea came up quite naturally but also a bit out of the blue. On the one hand I (Elodie) had my sister in France, and friends in London and Berlin organising similar events. On the other hand, Amel had been immersed in these creative circles for quite some time, as she had worked previously for the Fashion Week in Tunis. But the real impulse came up from a very simple, and yet frustrating observation: the local designers’ scene in Tunisia had been blooming for the past years, and yet, there was no appropriate structure to promote young talents. Of course there was the Kram Fair for instance, and also the Fashion Week, on top of a handful of shops for the happy few in the bourgeois areas of Tunis. We wanted to do something in between, at a human scale yet open to everyone, in a relaxed, customer-friendly and festive environment.
How many creators participated in the first edition and was it a success?
Eighteen designers took part in the first edition of Elbazar. It was indeed a great success, from all perspectives. The number of visitors was around 1,500. In fact, we did not expect such a high attendance and the place of the event felt too small at some points of the day!
For most of the designers, it was their biggest sale ever. Some told us they made a turnover of 6,000 Tunisian dinars (the equivalent of 2,600 EUR) in one day! In the long term, they all gained great visibility with a large number of potential and actual customers. Elbazar happened to be a real platform, or rather a bridge between the shops/resellers and the designers. A lot of them managed to close deals after the event. Lablabi Store creations for instance are now displayed throughout the country, from Tunis and its suburbs to Sousse and Djerba. This is our own little achievement; to have succeeded in noticing the potential in some young designers and put in place a structure allowing the right people to connect together.
When I (Elodie) met, not even a year ago, Lamia Mechichi and Jawher Soudani, the designers of the brand ‘Lablabi Store’, they were selling their ‘stouch’, purse in the Tunisian dialect) quite informally at private parties, in bars etc. A real buzz surrounded the event. All the local media covered the event before, during and after it happened. Following Elbazar Number One, we were contacted by many willing to participate as designers. In a way, the whole concept has become a guarantee of seriousness and success for designers aspiring to fame. All in all we were extremely happy with the results that surpassed our expectations.
Do you think that fashion “100% made in Tunisia” could benefit from international exposure?
Not only do we believe it can, we are convinced that Tunisian brands have a bright future at the international level, and we already have evidence of that! When we posted the pictures of the event on Facebook, our friends from around the world – London, Berlin, Paris, Hong Kong, New York, Geneva and elsewhere – sent us messages not only to congratulate us but also to order some pieces.
Following Elbazar, sales displaying Tunisian designers have taken place abroad, like recently one in Geneva with the brands Kountil and Zayn. The latter also got mentioned in articles in Vogue and Tatler UK! We were incredibly proud. The Mademoiselle Hecy collection is now also available in a concept store in Tangiers, and an article was dedicated to their success story in Afrique Magazine. People are clearly tired of goods that are replicated billions of times across the globe and are devoid of any measure of authenticity. They want exclusive, unique and exotic pieces that tell a story and make you travel. The Tunisian designers we picked offer this one-of-a-kind, ethical production that people are looking for.
The Jasmine Revolution may have had damaging effects in the short term on the image people abroad have of Tunisia, but it also brought the spotlight to this small country. More and more, at least in Europe, there is a growing interest in discovering and consuming good quality products that come from here.
What about the second edition of Elbazar? Will it be the occasion to discover new talents?
We are currently organising the second edition of Elbazar, which will take place this September. Although the event will once again be in the Tunis area – because most of the interest and buyers are concentrated here – we have made conscious efforts to look for and invite designers not only from the capital but also from other regions. We will have participants from Sousse, Gabes, Djerba… Of course the visitors will have the pleasure to find their beloved ‘stars’ from the first edition again, and exclusively discover their new autumn collection.
The overarching theme this time will be ‘Elbazar invites its neighbours’. As such, we also looked for Tunisians who live and have succeeded abroad, and asked them to present their creations in their home country. During our first edition, we already, as an exclusive, showcased the brand TAMARZIZT by Oumaima, a Tunisian who has lived and developed her career in Paris for several years. In September we will have two other Tunisian designers living abroad, apart from Oumaima. It is a first for them – they have no stores
selling their items here, and they are quite unknown in Tunisia. Their enthusiasm to take part in Elbazar was truly heartwarming and encouraging. It certainly reflects a general tendency amongst the Tunisian diaspora to come back and contribute to the effervescent artistic and cultural scene here in Tunisia. Also, we are slowly trying to open up Elbazar to small furniture and decoration items such as tableware and lamps. One of our main concerns is to find appropriate and big enough space.
Again, Elbazar is much more than ‘just’ a display and sale of designers’ products. What we aim at as well is to involve our visitors in different types of fun, pleasant and mind-opening activities. Musically speaking, we will have special DJ sets and musicians accompanying the event. We also plan different types of DIY workshops, and of course it will be a nice occasion to enjoy a little bite with your family and friends in between encounters and purchases.
We want to keep some surprises so we won’t reveal everything in this interview! You will have to follow our Facebook page to stay tuned and come along in September to discover the rest!