Funded by the US Department of State, Aid to Artisans and its local partner, the International Institute of Human Development (IDH), is implementing the two-year project “Building Export Capacity in Tunisia” (CAP-X). CAP-X will create employment opportunities by increasing Tunisian handcraft exports. The project provides technical expertise to Tunisian artisans, fine-tuning their products to respond to international tastes. Aid to Artisans is working closely with the Tunisian government (Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Commerce, and the National Office of Handcraft) to facilitate the participation of artisans in international markets and to increase product exports.

Our partner, IDH, focuses on advancing Freedom, Peace, Equality and Dignity. With a mission to promote and monitor respect for human rights and the rights for women and youth, Emna Jeblaoui, Director of IDH, is excited to collaborate with ATA. “We are eager to begin training 50 craft entrepreneurs for international markets, who will further train 250 marginalized rural artisans,” says Jeblaoui.

“Our vision is to build the capacity of artisans, entrepreneurs and young designers to reach global markets. This collaborative project will help our beneficiaries with new design expertise and products that correspond to the demand of US wholesale buyers. Tunisia needs a national craft strategy that promotes export. Through this project, we believe that Tunisian craft will become a success at international trade shows” says Nour Bdioui, Project Manager at IDH. Having worked with communities in the poorest parts of the country, IDH fully understands the needs of artisans, particularly women and youth.

During the our assessment of the Tunisian craft sector in November, the National Office of Handcraft (ONAT) organized the exposition “Articadeaux” at the beautiful Acropolium, also known as the Saint Louis Cathedral, in Carthage. It featured the most advanced handcraft made in Tunisia including halfa and jonc basketry, embroidery on hand woven linen, cotton and wool fabrics, pottery, jewelry and metal art. This exposition let us identify young designers and entrepreneurs to work on the project. Monika Steinberger observed, “ONAT also took us to rural artisans who hand produced typical Tunisian bird-cages made from recycled wood and galvanized wire.  These items are representative of Islamic culture but lend themselves to be interpreted for other decorative products. There were young ceramic artisans showing collections that speak strongly to American tastes. We met many young, creative people eager to enter the US market.”

“With Monika Steinberger, (Director of Program Management and Development ATA) we met many artisan groups and developed a deep appreciation of their work. With the help of ATA designer Alex Bates, we identified craft media and design concepts with most potential for further development”,” says Bdioui.

Inspired by Berber heritage, the pottery of Sejnene is on UNESCO’s list of world patrimony. Sejnene pottery will be use traditional motifs in modern ways to open new market possibilities. Basketry will be developed for lighting pendants, floor coverings and home décor. Hand-blown glass designs will be adjusted for utility and taste of the International market. Olive-wood will be used to produce occasional tables, painted mirrors, boxes and trays, and the beautiful hand-woven “hayek” and “fouta” will delight US buyers as embroidered scarves or as decorative textiles for the home.

During its two-year duration CAP-X will offer Tunisian artisans a Market Readiness Program, several product development workshops and a series of buyer visits. Entrepreneurs will have an opportunity to participate in US trade fairs, such as NYNOW and the Las Vegas Market. “This project will create employment opportunities for artisan producers who have the skills but not the knowledge of the US market. It will enable them to sell in the US and increase their revenues. It will bring together government officials, women, youth, entrepreneurs and designers to strengthen the artisan sector of Tunisia and take it from a local level to a regional and international one” states Bdioui.