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Opening International Markets to Tunisia’s Handicraft Heritage

In Tunisia, the handicraft sector is benefitting from the EnACT programme to develop sales opportunities by reaching international buyers. EnACT is also advising the companies on how to adapt their products to new market trends and to meet statutory requirements (labelling, packaging, sanitary regulations, certification, etc.).

Handicrafts companies working with the EnACT programme in Tunisia benefit from technical assistance from the EnACT programme on two levels:

1) At the enterprise level, experts who specialize in handicrafts and who know the latest fashion trends in the decoration and fashion sectors on international markets led the following initiatives:

  • A study of the products on offer to evaluate the potential of the businesses and their ability to meet international market demand
  • A study of international market demand, particularly from Europe, for ethnic products, especially from Tunisia
  • The development of an action plan based on an upstream supply and demand analysis, which led to the linking of professional buyers identified in the study with targeted handicraft companies to create a maximum amount of viable and sustainable business opportunities.

2) At the trade support institution level, EnACT experts advised the National Handicrafts Office (ONAT), an organization specializing in Tunisian handicrafts, on:

  • Creating attractive exhibition points in international trade fairs (used at the Maison et Objet professional trade fair in Paris); EnACT experts worked on the creation of a novel, contemporary and, above all, reusable stand to showcase Tunisian handicrafts
  • Gaining the needed expertise in effective trade fair preparation, pricing for wholesale marketing, client prospection, contact and follow-up.

International trade fairs are a great opportunity to meet professional buyers, while strengthening a company’s presence and visibility in the market. This is an essential step for companies wishing to position their handicrafts for export. According to ONAT, which had participated several times in the Maison et Objet (home and fashion) trade fair in Paris, their previous experience demonstrated that Tunisian handicrafts presented as such did not sufficiently attract international buyers. However, the government also indicated that the handicrafts sector has the most potential to create jobs in the regions outside the capital and coastal cities in Tunisia. So the challenge was to (a) identify products from inland Tunisian regions that could interest international buyers and to adapt these products to buyers’ requirements, and (b) ensure those products were sold and new employment created in the regions as a result of customer orders.

Thus EnACT experts built ONAT’s capacity to select companies and products that would be of interest to international buyers. Those companies then benefitted from personalized support, including:

  • Adaptation of products and market prices
  • Training of artisans who were showcasing their products
  • Improved tools for marketing and promotion
  • Promotion before the exhibition with prospective buyers
  • Support for artisans at the show and tracking post-show.

One concrete example of the programme in action stands out. Caravan Serail is a Tunisian handicraft company unlike any other. While the women who work there continue to use traditional looms, they use them to create refined and contemporary fashion accessories where reeds and palm leaves are mixed with modern materials, including wool, leather and hammered copper. And the craftswomen bring a final touch to these products of exceptional beauty and uniqueness: the highest quality finishes, such as brass knobs, fancy hems, handmade tassels and colourful beads.

Yet despite the potential of the products produced, Caravan Serail had very few connections in the international market. Working with EnACT and ONAT has paid off for the company, and in a very short period of time. The company has joined with Dinos, a Japanese online retailer, adapting its linen scarves and baskets to the Dinos product line.

The targeted technical assistance provided by the EnACT programme has allowed women artisans to enhance their work by eliciting a significant increase in orders. Their talent is also increasingly visible on international markets, which has enlarged their confidence in their abilities.

Through the EnACT programme, Caravan Serail and its small workshops scattered throughout the country now have the necessary business skills to be able to participate in international markets and grow their business. The handicrafts sector allows the flexibility of new job creation when new orders for products arrive. Workers in the handicrafts sector tend to be highly skilled and eager to enter into entrepreneurship in regions of the country where few other sectors or industries are currently active.

By supporting ONAT in developing international markets for Tunisian crafts, EnACT is addressing the challenges of outreach to the regions and employment creation for women and youth while rendering the whole handicrafts sector more competitive.

Read the overarching story of EnACT. In this series, read also about the EnACT programme in EgyptMorocco, Jordan and Algeria.

2 Comments

    • Dear Mr. Abichou,

      Thank you for your query. I would suggest that you contact the National Office of Tunisian Handicrafts in order to find out what they would need. You can fill out their contact information form at http://www.onat.nat.tn/en/contact/, or contact them directly at

      Tunisian National Handicrafts Office
      Avenue de l’indépendance 2011 Denden, Manouba – Tunisie
      Email : webmaster@onat.nat.tn
      Phone : +216 71 61 09 19
      Fax : +216 71 61 09 22

      I hope this helps.

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