· By Emily Cunningham
Preserving A Legacy: The Story of Tilli Tanit
Nejib Bel Hadj is a 29-year-old Tunisian artisan and textile designer based in Mahdia. He is the founder of Tilli Tanit, an organization that connects artisans in Tunisia to the global market. His mother is an embroider and it was her and the other women in his family who inspired him to learn embroidery. Nejib also learned farming from his father. This experience gave him the chance to appreciate the relationship between nature and humans - a relationship that is clearly revealed in traditional clothing. When he was young, his most influential courses (for design and artisinal and technical skills) were the scouts and school trips that enabled him to discover the different sides of Tunisia and the customs and clothing differing from region to region.
What makes Tilli Tanit special?
Tilli is an Amazigh word that means shadow, Tanit was a Punic and Phoenician goddess. Tilli Tanit is the first space of co-creation for hand embroidery in Tunisia. It is also the first studio offering social security to the embroiderers, paying them fairly for their work and inspiring them to create from Tunisian wilderness, architecture and porcelain.
Tilli Tanit for me is a story of love for embroidery, the embroiders and for fabrics. I witnessed the women in my family being exploited by other business women who sold their products five times the price, My mother and those hard working women helped me explore and improve my technical and artistic talents in this field. In return, I'm trying to help them use and adopt new techniques to expand and develop our heritage. I graduated from The Higher Institute of Fashion Crafts of Monastir and specialized in textile design. After my graduation, I took courses in social business planing with the Tunisian organisation LAB'ESS: laboratoir de l'économie sociale et solidaire. I worked at the same time with the embroiders on developing and creating products that i present to clients and shops. On March 14th 2014, I launched Tilli Tanit with funding help from Reseau Entrenprendre and Souk Attanmia.
What do you love most about your work and your art?
I really love my work's link between the ancient Tunisian culture and the modern one. It's a way to ensure knowledge transmission and to improve the local economy. It's also the best way to touch people; I get the feeling that our customers feel the love we put into our creations.
What's your personal self-care routine?
I like to cook traditional food and prepare arabic coffee for others. I'm an early riser, and I love drinking my coffee with people in a traditional place downtown Mahdia. I try find time to walk on the beach in the morning.
Where do you see your career in 10 years?
I want to extend Tilli Tanit workshops throughout Tunisia so that embroiders will transmit and promote the embroidery from the different regions of Tunisia. I also want to have a shop in Tunis where we offer Tunisian creations and handcraft embroidery services in Tunisia and abroad.
What's your advice for aspiring artists or entrepreneurs?
I would advise young artists and people promoting culture to love your heritage and handcrafts.
What do you want to tell our customers around the world about life in Tunisia?
Tunisia is a calm and beautiful country. We have a rich heritage (material and immaterial) and we are happy sharing it with people from around the world.
Find Tilli Tanit's work in our Holiday Gift Box