IFASSEN is empowering Moroccan indigenous women and making use of trash as a resource in producing a line of fashion accessories that utilises centuries-old basket weaving traditions and discarded plastic bags.
IFASSEN, which means hands in the native Berber language of Morocco, have created unique handmade pieces including bags and home accessories.
The fashion accessories brand was started by Faiza Hajji with the aim to tackle plastic pollution and help rural women in Morocco, where a large number of women lack basic literacy and any financial independence.
In 1996, the Moroccan teenager was cycling around Dour el Mika, a neighbourhood in the Berkane region in the north-east of the country. A poor neighbourhood, it was also known for severe plastic pollution and commonly referred to as “plastic village”. Faiza Hajji’s ride in and amongst the waste, fuelled her desire to create something useful out of the large amount of discarded plastic bags.
Until recently, Morocco was the second largest consumer of plastic bags in the world, after the USA. Each individual was said to consume up to 900 bags a year. Subsequently Morocco’s streets, beaches and parks became littered with discarded plastic bags.
Last year, Morocco passed a law to completely ban the nationwide production, sale and distribution of plastic bags, in efforts to promote sustainability and become one of the world’s “green leaders” as an environmentally friendly nation.
Since the ban, nearly 7,000 tonnes of plastic bags have ended up in incinerators, 19 tonnes have been stopped at the border, and 135 tonnes of non-conforming plastic bags have been seized.
Faiza Hajji’s personal journey to tackle plastic pollution and promote sustainability in her native country, empower rural women and preserve artisan techniques of basket weaving came a decade before Morocco implemented a nationwide ban of plastic bags.
Her idea for a fashion conscious, socially and environmentally conscious brand, IFASSEN, came into being in 2006 when Faiza Hajji gathered a group of Berber women from Dour el Mika, and got to work on utilising their traditional weaving skills to create a handbag out of plastic bags.
Typically, one medium handbag requires about 40 plastic bags. Around 115 plastic bags are recycled to create a large basket. To date, IFASSEN has reused over 50,000 plastic bags and employs 60 women.
IFASSEN began while Faiza Hajji was completing her university studies in France. She won a local business competition with her recycling idea. The project captured the attention of French designer Anaëlle Madec, and the pair started collaborating to come up with the first prototypes.
IFASSEN’s first line of recycled accessories became a success story in the French market. IFASSEN’s small, limited collection of accessories are available to purchase internationally via their website.
As the fashion brand developed, Faiza Hajji turned her attention to setting up an NGO, Association du Docteur Fatiha (ADF), in memory of her mother, a doctor who was deeply involved with the community in Berkane.
ADF raises funds, organises local women into co-operatives, gives IFASSEN’s artisans reading and writing lessons, provides their children with scholarships, and organises awareness-raising campaigns about recycling and environmental protection to local communities including children.
ADF say: “The IFASSEN project aims to create a virtuous circle, both green and based on a solidarity link between generations of natives of the Berkane region.”
Images: © ADF and IFASSEN
Rosalind Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She is a writer who specialises in sustainable life & style, music, entertainments and wellbeing. Rosalind also works as a spiritual life coach and intuitive advisor helping people to become who they truly are and manifest their heart & soul’s desires into their lives: www.rosalindmedea.com