Setting out to revive the heritage of Cairo's tentmakers, Egyptian startup Menidy aims to provides artisans with materials, marketing, and a global platform to commercialise their products online.
Deeply ingrained into Egyptian culture and intertwined with local traditions, from desert-scapes, to funerals, to Ramadan tents, quilts have long held a significance in Egypt's collective memory. But the country’s dramatic drop in tourism in the past decade has progressively pushed the craft to the brink of extinction, as more and more artisans do not find a sustainable market for their thoroughly crafted products.
Aiming to revive this tradition and tap into the international interest these art pieces garner, entrepreneur Nabil Khalifa and his partners Medhat Adel Emam, Hussein Ali, and Colette Ghunim are leading a crowdfunding campaign for their startup, Menidy, aimed at setting up a business model that can ensure the livelihood of artisans while preserving a dying cultural tradition.
The startup, Menidy, is composed of a team of videographers, photographers, and social media and business specialists, who set out not only to commercialise crafts but also carry out online marketing campaigns and multimedia content to promote and channel the pieces.
“We want to solve the artisans' biggest problem, which is marketing,” says co-founder Nabil Khalifa. “While travelling around the country, I found these incredible products and started asking the craftsmen about their business, but they all complained about tourism and their financial situations,” he says. However, Khalifa was astounded every time he showed their photos to his foreign friends. “They all love the crafts, so I realised the problem was mainly to get these products to reach the right people. That’s when I got the idea of creating an e-commerce website and assist the artisans with the marketing part.”
The team have recruited over 20 artisans, following a journey through the depths of Egypt. They started off at the oldest workshops in Old Cairo where, in an effort to unveil the secrets of the forgotten people preserving Arabic identity, they discovered Khaiamia - or the tentmakers of Cairo - who radically transformed their ancient craft into modern art quilts. Turning fabric into wearable and usable art, these artisans hand-stitch colourful Egyptian cotton fabrics into wall tapestries, pillow covers, and other home décor items. But, given the fragile economic situation of the country and the dramatic decrease in tourism, they have recently been seeing their ancient craft perish.
“The work of tentmakers has been highly appreciated in places like the USA, but not here, since it has been traditionally used for funerals and to cover buildings, so there is a stigma attached to them,” Australian filmmaker Kim Beamish, who documented this dying craft in his film The Tentmakers of Cairo, said in an earlier interview with Cairoscene.
Menidy also discovered Akhmim, a village just across the river from Sohag, on the east bank of the Nile, which is world-renowned for its handicrafts, such as textiles, silk, linen and cotton. This 4,000 year-old village thrives due to its refined, intricate quality of work; however, the arrival of cheap imported fabrics has taken over the market in recent years.
Gathering 20 craftsmen, from the Delta to Upper Egypt, as well as cotton scarf producers, Menidy plans to provide them with materials, high-quality marketing and a platform to commercialise their products. Kicking off with a Kickstarter campaign, the startup will begin issuing pre-orders and spark global engagement. “The kickstarter money will be used for different purposes. These artisans have not been working for a long time, so the first thing is to set them in motion to get back to work. We also want to enhance the quality of the products, as most of them don’t have the fund to get raw materials, and fund the marketing activities,” says Khalifa.