Commissioned by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), GIZ is supporting business start-ups and young entrepreneurs in Tunisia. The project is part of a special initiative by the BMZ that supports stabilization and development in Northern Africa and the Middle East. Its objective is to generate home-grown professional opportunities for people like Aicha Touijer. A fashion designer, Touijer is now self-employed. Touijer had long dreamed of having her own fashion atelier. Thanks to a GIZ-backed startup competition, she has been able to realise her dream. Today Touijer has four employees and is already planning to expand her small company.
What has changed for you since taking part in the competition organised by the entrepreneurship trade show Startup Tunisia?
Aicha Touijier: When I took part in the competition in Medenine, I had only one idea for a project. The competition gave me an opportunity to gradually plan and implement it. Startup Tunisia paved the way for me to realise my dream.
How did you go about it and how important was the support you got through the competition?
The support was extremely valuable because I was given an advisor to help me plan the various stages it would take to roll out my project. I needed a workshop and that's very expensive. So together with my husband I decided to turn part of the house into a sewing workshop to save on rent. The advisor helped me to establish contacts with suppliers and to find customers who wanted to buy traditional clothing with a modern-day touch. Thanks to the new embroidery machine that I received from GIZ, I've become more independent and now take on orders from other sewing firms that need embroidery work done. I'm earning more money and I feel happier and more self-confident in my chosen career.
How has your business developed? Do you have any employees?
At the moment I employ 2 people at my workshop and have 3 people working for me from home. That's enabled me to expand my range of products. I now solicit new customers myself and advertise my collection on my Facebook page. Before I bought the machine, I had 200 orders a year. Today I have five times as many. As a fully trained fashion designer, I design my own creations and make my own patterns. Then it's over to my employees in the workshop to cut them out and sew them on the machine. The three other women work on details like sequins for wedding dresses, applying them by hand.
They're very good at what they do and I'm very grateful to them. That's why I try and encourage them to become self-employed and start up their own businesses. One of my employees has already done this.
In my region, there are women who would like to work but who haven't had any proper training. I’ve taken the initiative myself and trained a group of young women who have since opened their own workshop.
What does your business mean to you?
My project is my life. That's how I can make my dreams come true. I'm 41 years old and feel confident and efficient. I'm completely convinced that success has nothing to do with the number of qualifications you have. An open mind, ambition and an idea is all you need. And if you summon up the staying power to see it through to the end, you can make your dreams come true.
What do you wish for the future?
As a confident and successful entrepreneur, I'm now turning my sights to other markets too. I want to source good materials from other countries, because good quality fabric makes for good quality clothing.
Nesrine Mazghouni conducted the interview.