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El Mensej – Upcycling in Tunisia

Translated from El Mensej sources.
Founded in 2015, El Mensej is a community-based initiative that emerged from the meeting of a group of female artisans in Nefta and the social enterprise SHANTI. El Mensej creates new economic opportunities for the craftswomen of Nefta in the southwest part of Tunisia.


El Mensej promotes traditional techniques and provides artisans a fair place in the value chain. The preservation of traditions can only be sustained when artisans have better access to the market, the clientele is aware of the craftsmanship, and the value of the work is recognized within the community. The first artisans who integrated this approach are mothers of families who mastered the techniques of weaving.


“Traditionally made for the family or the use in a bride’s dowry, kilims are part of daily life. But the practice of weaving and the savoir-faire are disappearing.” Mehdi Baccouche – SHANTI co-founder.

In the past, women presented their looms (mensej) on the occasion of weddings for the bride’s dowry. They were paid, often in products (sugar, coffee, tea), to make rugs for the dowry. It’s often the poorest families who started to weave to have a little bit of money. Knowing the interest in artisan products today–in Tunisia and internationally–El Mensej allows these women to move towards financial autonomy through resources available nearby.


El Mensej is based on the available resources in the immediate group of artisans – the looms, which are installed at home, do not consume energy or water. When transporting their woven goods, El Mensej uses transit systems already in place (cars or shared taxis along the route from Nefta to Tunis). More importantly, the raw material comes from the unraveling of second-hand pieces found in the thrift markets. The sensible approach of these craftswomen consists of unraveling garments bought at the weekly thrift markets at very low prices. They reconfigure them into balls of thread, allowing them to weave at a lower cost. On top of that, the quality is excellent, and maintaining the pieces is easier than with virgin wool. With recycling and popular savoir-faire as the foundation of their source of income, El Mensej shows that it is possible to improve one’s personal situation using local and inexpensive resources.

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