Weaving solidarity: Algerian designer launches brand to support local seamstresses

April 26, 2023
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Asma Mokhtari used her access to an EU-funded incubator to establish her own social entreprise in the children’s fashion sector, ‘Asma by am’, contributing to the empowerment of female artisans and designers.

Bent over the side of a table, Asma Mokhtari encourages her colleague Sarah to keep going, showing her where to point the needle over the long piece of red fabric. Standing nearby to help them steady the cotton square is Soumia, a 34-year-old tailor seamstress from Algiers.

“What I am learning from Asma is more than anything I could have expected in a larger firm. She is very thorough and organised and I am learning how to implement order and discipline in my own work,” explains Soumia, who started working with ‘Asma by am’ two years ago.

The fashion start-up was established in 2020 by 31-year-old social entrepreneur Asma Mokhtari, who believed in the potential of entrepreneurship to empower women. “I grew up surrounded by seamstresses, including my mum and aunt, and I had always been fascinated by fashion. But I was also painfully aware of the difficulties to make ends meet in this sector, especially in Algeria,” she recalls.

For this reason, Asma decided to follow the traditional path and studied architecture in Algiers. “Since there are no higher education courses for fashion designers in Algeria, you have to make it on your own and go off the beaten track. I wasn’t ready or even brave enough for that,” she admits.

Driven by her desire to help the community, she decided to start working with the Algerian Centre for Social Entrepreneurship (ACSE), for whom she organised training sessions on social entrepreneurship. “It allowed me to witness and learn from trainers, until I eventually became a trainer myself,” Asma recalls, highlighting that “to me, lifelong learning and practice are everything. I think we can never stop learning and gaining from others.”

Making the leap: from incubation to company launch

ACSE is one of the seven incubators and accelerators supported by the EU-funded SAFIR project as part of its Innovative Entrepreneurship Support Structures (SAEI). Implemented in 9 countries across North Africa and the Middle East, SAFIR aims to back the establishment of a regional ecosystem that favours the development of projects with social, cultural or environmental impact.

“ACSE is a pioneer in social entrepreneurship supporting innovative solutions to social and environmental problems in Algeria,” explains ACSE Director Mériem Benslama, noting that the launch of the first Algerian incubator of social entrepreneurism back in 2018 aimed to enable young social entrepreneurs like Asma to “act positively in favour of their country by giving life to projects with social impact”.

With this support in mind, Asma finally felt ready to dive in and enrolled in a training programme on clothes’ making. “I already had the idea of ‘’Asma by am’’, but it was still taking shape in my mind. I also wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t end up in a financially unstable situation which wouldn’t allow me to offer decent working conditions to my workers. This is when the idea of children’s fashion came in.”

She spent six months with the incubator, learning how to formulate value proposals, conduct market research, test prototypes with samples of potential customers and attend finance training. A lot of finance training! “One should never rush into incubators. I truly believe that people should take the time to really know which areas they need support for and think everything through. I personally joined the SAFIR programme because I was aware of my shortcomings in financial and management skills,” Asma stresses, adding that she never lost sight of her initial goal, which was to use her skills to help women and make something positive out of it.

Without a proper business plan with detailed tables, predictions and costs, you risk putting your employees at risk, and jeopardise the quality of your brand, the young entrepreneur warns.

Teach a woman how to design and you’ll give them a job for a lifetime  

Self-dubbed “the first ethical brand working with female seamstresses in the region of Blida and Algiers”, Asma by am prides itself with creating premium quality children’s clothes with traditional designs.

“We want to help our clients consume less, by delivering the longest lasting, top-quality products,” the fashion designer explains. A reality confirmed by the satisfied customers who share her designs across social media. “The quality is impeccable and the designs very refined,” wrote one mother who ordered a blouse for her kids, adding that “you can feel the love and passion she puts in every stitch.”

A dedication that is confirmed by Asma’s employees, to whom she taught a number of empowering skills to help them better assert their labour rights. “In addition to supporting them with the sewing process, I teach women how to obtain their craftswomen’s card, which entitles them to retirement, benefits, or even to find a new job,” she points out.

60-years-old Kenza and Halim, for example, have already benefited from this practical support, after they had to retire for health reasons. “For me, what matters is that my employees become able to develop their own project, to think creatively and use the modern tools that they did not get the chance to be acquainted with because of their modest origin.”

In addition to her own employees, Asma also delivers training to fellow designers and female entrepreneurs, like Sarah Ourezifi, a 23-year-old fashion creator from Algiers. “To me, Asma by am is not only a brand, it is a school in itself,” she explains emotionally.

Asma is one of the best fashion entrepreneurs and persons that I know. She does not just work for herself, she also constantly helps and teaches others. This is rare, especially in the fashion world.”

Aware of the difficult business environment she has to evolve in, Asma remains proactive, and keeps hope that she will ignite the change that is needed in the way fashion is being produced, and consumed. “Of course, I know I will not fight fast fashion in one day and on my own. But my contribution is to give female workers, buyers and entrepreneurs the tools to know their rights and believe in their abilities.”

The programme


Safir is an ambitious project supporting the achievement of the Sustainable development goals (SDGs) and youth social inclusion in 9 countries across Northern Africa and the Middle East. Co-financed by the European Union, it aims at creating an environment that fosters youth participation and development of entrepreneurial or media projects with social, cultural or environmental impact.

The project is based on three pillars: supporting more than 1000 young project leaders; the structuring and development of a regional network of supporters; and the creation of spaces for dialogue between young people and the public authorities.

The Incubator


The Algerian Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, supported by the Safir programme, was created in 2016 to promote social entrepreneurship, support Algerian social entrepreneurs in the creation, development and the sustainability of their businesses.

QACSE is a pioneer in social entrepreneurship supporting innovative solutions to social and environmental problems in Algeria. To this end, ACSE launched in 2018 the first Algerian incubator of social entrepreneurism, enabling young social entrepreneurs to act positively in favour of their country by giving life to projects with social impact.