Empowering the women of an ancient kingdom

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THE ANCIENT culture of Morocco has flourished for centuries. With this huge cultural weight, tradition is expected to be upheld, despite the pressures of a postmodern world. A designer from Morocco showed her collection in Rustan’s Manila last week, reconciling Old World tradition with modern fashion flair, and a nod towards the concept of social entrepreneurship.

Fatim-Zahra Ettalbi has been in love with her culture since she was seven years old. She first began sketching during this period, and had always dreamt of wearing traditional Moroccan clothing, summarized in the kaftan. The kaftan, a loose robe or tunic that has been associated with Turkey and the Ottoman Empire, also has a tradition in Morocco, worn by royalty, and now by Moroccans either for festive or everyday use, depending on the level of ornamentation.

Ms. Ettalbi said that heavily decorated kaftans are usually worn during weddings — which are not her thing, since according to her, they could last until well in the morning. She thought of using the traditional decorative elements in formal kaftans for the modern woman, for use at work or for going out. “Something that I can comfortably wear,” said Ms. Ettalbi in an interview with BusinessWorld.

She employed artisans well-versed in traditional Moroccan craft, mostly women. Their handiwork was seen in the fashion show: striking pieces were kaftan-inspired evening dresses executed in frothy black lace, rich velvet, bright silks — all trimmed with handworked braiding and gold-threaded embroidery. The collection is indulgent and appealing. While the collection serves to bring ancient craft to young masses, it also helps save the techniques by employing traditional artisans in rural areas. The dresses were all put up for sale after the fashion show, and women gleefully snapped them up. While the sale was slated until the Sunday of Aug. 12, we doubt the collection lasted that long on the racks since the fashion show on Aug. 9.

Ms. Ettalbi graduated with honors from a business school in France, which gave her the opportunity to work in several fields, including in fashion, where she worked with Christian Lacroix. She came back to her native Morocco, and she said that in business, she experienced a series of emotions, sometimes all in one day. “The feeling that I was not really aware of was this chronic loneliness linked to my job as a [female] entrepreneur,” she said in a speech. “As you might know, [female] entrepreneurship is not yet well-developed in our region, and is not always highly regarded.”

According to a report by Morocco World News, the Kingdom of Morocco does not enjoy a high ranking in a gender gap report from the World Economic Forum. This report ranks Morocco at 136 out of 144 countries that seek to bridge the gender gap. The same report says that only 26.9% of women in Morocco are employed, as compared to 78.7% of men.




Ms. Ettalbi credits this to an “ambition gap”: that while men are expected to conquer the world, women are expected to marry and then stay home. “We lack models of women who are entrepreneurs in Morocco,” she said in an interview with BusinessWorld. “I hope I would inspire other women in Morocco.”

“Morocco is kind of losing half the potential in their country, if women don’t stand up and work for themselves, and be active and give to the community.” — Joseph L. Garcia

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