Fashion designer Salah Barka is creating an entirely different revolution in Tunisia: One that involves original design—one that will have a real economic impact if Mr. Barka has anything to do with it.
His aim is to support Tunisia by producing in and for the country.
“Designers must be there to generate jobs—and hope—for a new Tunisia,” Mr. Barka told The New York Times. “In every society and every crisis, fashion is both a drive and a mode of communication for the population.”
The textile and garment industry in Tunisia, though battling recession and Asian competition, is still the country’s largest employer and leading export sector, according to the Tunisian Economic Commission. It is also the fifth-largest supplier of textiles to the European Union. The textile industry in Tunisia produces especially for Italian and French fashion houses that find the proximity of Tunisia to Southern Europe attractive.
All the material Mr. Barka uses—silk, leather and wool—are locally produced and he refuses to outsource. “I have always worked with small, provincial craftsmen, simply because it was more affordable,” Mr. Barka said during an interview with The Times. “But today there is a new conscience among designers, a will to help one’s country.”
In his collections you’ll find reflections of the 3,000-year-old history of Tunisia. He is inspired by the past and there are references to styles and fabrics and jewelry of the ancient Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Berbers, Ottomans and Arabs.
Mr. Barka’s work in progress includes developing an association of young designers to crisscross the country “like a migrating souk” to purchase work by artisans using ancient techniques, ranging from tapestry to embroidery.
These handmade pieces will either be incorporated into their designer lines or resold as stand-alone decorative objects.
At the third edition of Tunis Fashion Week in April, Mr. Barka and other Tunisian and Paris-based designers presented collections. It was an event that went ahead despite the turbulent political scenario.
Vogue magazine said this about Mr. Barka’s work at the Fashion Week: “Salah Barka is to Tunis what Bernhard Willhelm is to Paris: a strong-minded designer who cheerfully plays with urban dress codes, by adding a dreamy touch to his garments. Flashy colors, a hint of pop-culture and cheeky prints built the main tone of his collection.”
“Before, there was a sense of constant censorship, but this Fashion Week showed a freedom that wouldn’t have been possible before,” Mr. Barka said, in reference to the sometimes provocative clothes, and cross-dressing male models, on the Tunisian runway.
(Umita Raghu Venkataraman of AL Arabiya can be reached at: Umita.firstname.lastname@example.org)