COVID19: 5 Tunisian designers tell us about their experience in the face of the pandemic

By Jihene Essanaa

The health crisis has forced the fashion world to rethink its frantic pace. From creators to producers, the entire industry has been forced to shut down. Buyers and consultants are witnessing change and confirm that the pandemic is accelerating the movement towards a more responsible fashion, which produces less but better.

Due to social distancing, we reached out for 5 Tunisian Fashion entrepreneurs online : Anissa Meddeb, Chems Eddine Mechri, Hajer Haddad, Hedi Ben Mami, et Cyrine Faillon.
Designers of the respective brands: Anissa Aida, Née, Regliz, Benma et Nathalie, explain to us the impact of covid-19 on their brands, and the means undertaken to deal with it.
Resist in the face of change:

The “new normal”, is now referred to challenges faced during lockdown. This influenced consumption and events such as Tunis Fashion Week where everything was scheduled but then canceled. "I realized that the sales of my collections are decreasing in the concept stores", explains Hedi Ben Mami, the founder of Benma. "So I made home deliveries to fill the financial gap and therefore I was able to manage the financial side."


Hedi Ben Mami in his Atelier - Credit: @maftstudios

This was also the case for Cyrine Faillon whose remote working has become “second nature”. She says: “During the first month, I didn't think about work. it was difficult on all fronts. but as I went along, I had the feeling that people wanted to be cheered up at this point. They wanted to feel alive, hopeful and reassured by buying clothes and keeping their usual pace, so I went for home delivery and it worked."

Chems Eddine Mechri, the founder of “Née”, had to close his store because there was no sale. "I work with artisans and this has always comforted me in my choices, because this is what makes the signature of “Née”. He adds: "It was very difficult at the beginning but I made sure to manage the financial shortage and paid all my collaborators."

Anissa Meddeb, founder of Anissa Aida, estimates that she has lost six months in the rythm of the production schedule. "From a sales point of view, during the two months from mid-March to mid-May, I didn’t make any. The stores were closed and people were not buying clothes online either."
One of the few to make the exception is Hajer Haddad, who the lockdown has not had a real negative impact on her, neither on her brand, one of the reasons why, is because Regliz it is not really her primary source of income. "Regliz is above all an artisanal brand of small unique pieces". She added: "I invest in very good quality materials, and I do the embroidery myself, I don't work with other collaborators and that's why i think it didn't really affect me". 


Cyrine Faillon wearing NATHALIE - Credit: Nathalie's facebook page

Budget Restrictions:

Though the pandemic provided a big opportunity to ditch the old habits and look at ways of working that don’t feel relevant, it gave way to some Budgetary and therefore productive restrictions.
For Chems Eddine Mechri, Tunisians are not very flexible when i comes to recycled fashion. 

“People find our designs very pretty but don't see themselves wearing something already worn." However, these restrictions did not prevent him from believing in this concept and he fully assumes his choice to imagine Upcycled collections.

Accustomed to summer collections made from materials such as linen, Hajer Haddad would like to create a very cozy winter collection in the image of ‘Regliz’, with wool and cashmere, but there is a lack of financial mobilization, that she hopes is temporary, which pushes her to delay her collection for later. 


Chems Eddine Mechri - Via, Credit: Hassene Dridi 

This lack of mobilization slowed Anissa Meddeb's work until she found the support of the business incubator ‘Minassa’ who gave her a grant to pay salaries and certain costs incurred by the productions.
For Cyrine Faillon, the founder of Nathalie, there has been a decline in productivity of 80% since the second wave. “With the curfew, we find it difficult to cope because we're consuming a lot of bad new when it comes to COVID19”. She adds: “We do worry about how to cover our expenses financially , but word of mouth works, especially when celebrities promote the brand."
Online Purchase:

In the time of isolation, the importance of human interaction in the real world is brought into sharp focus. Designers need to rebuild a conversation with their customers and even if it does not happen naturally within the physical store, it does happen on the e-commerce platforms. And this is undoubtedly what has led to the continuity of the survival of some brands, even internationally. "As summer approached, sales have picked up and may got better than usual as people who hardly travel anymore have considered consuming locally" Anissa  Meddeb says.
As for Cyrine Faillon, she saw flourishing sales when it comes to the summer collection of Nathalie including street clothes and beachwear.
For Hedi ben Mami, working on the communication aspect was the tool that saved ‘Benma’. “It is a tool more than ever necessary nowadays”.


Anissa Meddeb at Anissa Aida SS19 Fashion Show - London FW - Credit:

Create in the time of Corona:

Most of the designers seemed upbeat about some of the opportunities that lockdown offered. It’s not very often that life hands you the chance for a total reset. For Chems Eddine Mechri, “Philosophically and humanly speaking, lockdown made us take a step back and think, that this might not be an obstacle to the success of our projects ... At all”. He adds: “ The most important thing is that if some pieces don’t sell, we don't stop and start again. Creation is Infinite”.  He targets exhibitions abroad because sustainable fashion is more suitable for international fashion.
Hajer Haddad and Anissa Meddeb think that designers must follow the current context. Therefore, they have just created a collection of masks, to be stylish while protecting ourselves, especially since the demand was really important. 

le masque par regliz

Hajer Haddad wearing Regliz Protection Mask - Credit: Regliz Facebook page

Hedi ben Mami  says that the pandemic has changed work, providing a flexibility that he has found stimulating. “Accommodation is the watchword in the face of change." He just created a ten-piece capsule and lately dressed some Tunisian celebrities such as Anissa Daoud in El Gouna Film Festival.
Cyrine Faillon always has ideas in mind. She creates capsule pieces every three weeks, and plans to follow the trend with indoor outfits. “Because women need to feel elegant wearing comfortable pieces."
With the re-opening of concept stores, some designed winter collections that they delivered to stores like Anissa Aida. “ Requests are pouring in, from individuals as well as from companies”. She  is currently working on a new collection for the next summer.  
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