If you’re from the small city of Bizerte, or if you’ve ever visited it and been to the Ksibah, you’ve probably come across a small beautiful shop selling traditional garments and handmade accessories and if you’re a cat person like myself, you’ve probably secured a boop from one of the cats guarding its door. But if you haven’t, I’ve got some good news for you: in this article, you’ll find everything you need to know about Dada Koncept Store; a French artist’s love letter to Tunisia.
Anna, the shop’s owner, or Dada as she likes to be called, was kind enough to let me interview her; and she gave me full permission to tell her story here, in this exclusive article, so if you like it, be sure to share it with your friends and family!
I asked Dada to tell me the story of her store and she answered me in a passionate text in French. As a translator, it will be an easy task to render it in English, but the challenge is to convey her emotions as well. Lucky for you that’s what I like!
“My store was the result of a marriage between coincidence and destiny. When I lived in France, I used to be a struggling artist. I juggled between painting and other random jobs because painting alone was not enough to cover my expenses. I eventually suffered from major burn out so I decided to let everything go and move with mom in Tunisia. I had no real goal and nothing on my mind besides being home with family. And so I came to Bizerte, and for the first time since I was 17, I found myself jobless for one year and a couple of months. During this time I would make a couple of accessories to fight boredom as it’s always been my hobby.
“And then, with the help of my mother, I started decorating baskets when they started to become trendy in order to sell them online. We did create a page on Facebook but it wasn’t a big success. Yet that was when I first started thinking seriously about making a living off traditional products. I remember telling my mom how wonderful it would be to set up a store here in Bizerte especially that I had many ideas in mind and a genuine love for the craft.
“Fortunately, my prayers were answered and the universe gave me a push when I went to have lunch with mom at some friends’ house. I remember them asking me: What about you? What is it that you do? And I would shyly answer: Well nothing much, but I’d love to have my own store one day… And then one of them was like: Where would you like to open your store? City center? The old Marsa? And I was like: Wait, hold on, I don’t have enough money right now! But he was like: No worries; just tell me where do you want to open your store. So I said: Ksibah it is! And we scheduled a meeting.
“And just like that! I loved the place and decided to take it. Of course, I renovated and painted it myself. I single-handedly made shelves out of carton then mom and I made a small number of products to start the business, and we officially opened our doors mid-Ramadan 2016. We managed to sell our first basket on the first day of work and that’s how the adventure began! “
Home, Sweet Home
Starting a business in Bizerte sure is a risky move, especially if you have no sponsors and no back up cash. The wiser decision would be to choose a busier city, isn’t it? But Anna seemed to love Bizerte and the city loved her back. She considered it home after all! And I had to ask her what does she really think about it, and so she answered:
“I think that Bizerte is such a gorgeous city but it’s still a virgin. It has a lot of potential that’s going to waste; especially the Medinah and the Ksibah where I currently work and live. I was born in the south of France, and old towns such as Vieux Nice or Saint Paul de Vence are very trendy places where you could find multiple and different stores and art galleries, and the rent there is very expensive. I guess when I started my business, I was lowkey inspired by the vibe those towns had to offer.
“Of course everyone told me I was crazy! They’d be like: keep dreaming, it’ll never work out, nobody comes to this neighborhood,… But I was like: Challenge accepted. Not to mention I painted the store in black haha!
“So actually, it is true that the street where my shop is located is considered dangerous and has a very bad reputation among those who don’t live in the Medinah. I open my doors at night up till 12, and I’m the only one taking care of the store; so I had to keep it well lit and I made sure to treat everyone and be treated with respect. For instance, if some drunk men were to fight in front of my store, I would kindly tell them to take it elsewhere and never show them that I’m scared and then the next day I would complain to their families.
“One night, a group of thieves tried to break into my store. I didn’t go to the police, but instead, I put a sign on my door calling the thief ridiculous for wasting his time on stealing some Selha ‘s (traditional clothing). I invited him to come visit me in working hours and take my money, and I’m even ready to gift him a pink basket for his girlfriend/wife/daughter! But luckily he never came back haha!
“Yet I do try to improve my neighborhood. I put some plants here and there, and later I painted cute little blue fishies on the wall and I asked for the light to be repaired.. and now it’s looking way cooler than it used to be! Even the men who used to fight at the corner are no longer there, and some of them actually came to me saying they’re sorry. You see, just by being kind and positive, I managed to make a small change.”
“As for business, it’s actually going well! The location is good; people are regularly passing by my store on their way to the popular cafés nearby, and tourists can easily catch sight of my products while exploring the old Medinah so I’m getting enough exposure without the store being flooded with people who come to see and touch but not to buy like it’s the case for most stores in city center.
“My store is more like the type you accidentally find when you least expect it’s there. It’s the type of store you take your time to explore and where we can discuss history and culture. Did I mention how much I love the old streets? I am eternally impressed by the fact that many civilizations have left their imprints on this country: Spaniards, Ottomans and Pirates like Barbarossa have set foot here!
“I’ve learned a lot from this experience. I used to be annoyed by the fact I only did paintings, and now, thanks to my job, I get to design jewelry, weave baskets, practice pokerwork and master embroidery. And I do it all with passion and care; I never force myself to do anything for money. When I’m bored with jewelry, I create decor items, dream catchers, and knitted goods. My prices range from 2 dt to 90 dt depending on the time and materials. This way my Dadaists (I prefer calling them that rather than clients) can always find something cute and unique for them or their cats! Ah did I mention I love cats so much?
“I don’t think I will open a sister shop any time soon. I have no help or assistance besides my mother’s. And the vibe is a crucial part of the Koncept Experience. I don’t want it to be a mere selling point; I want it to be a cool place, where people feel at ease and enjoy their time and raise their level of dopamine. That’s why it’s so hard for me to leave it to someone else. But hey! I do sell my products online and can send them worldwide! I have this website: https://www.dadakoncept.com/ where all my designs are available wherever you are!
“Our best sellers are our baskets, especially in summer. In winter people would rather buy jewelry and knitted hats. Our dream-catchers have been a great success as well. I mean, when people visit our store, they can tell we have a very different style from your typical store, or so they say. And it is true, we always try to stand out and we always seek new sources of inspiration. As for the process, everything is simply handmade with love, and just like our conversation, full of details!
“I personally love mixing styles and cultures in my products. I want Tunisians who walk into my store to discover something besides their own culture, yet at the same time, I want them to appreciate the beauty and the richness of said culture. For instance, from the start, we exhibited our pottery collection from Sedjenane by mixing them with our modern decor like one would do with paintings and pieces of art. We do that intentionally to showcase their value, as each of them is one of a kind, handmade with a savoir-faire of about 3 thousand years! They are already listed by UNESCO as part of the Tunisian legacy and more people need to know that.”
If there is one thing you immediately notice about Dada and her store, it would be her love for cats that is manifested in her cat-themed creations (cat-eared beanies, cat statues, mini knit sweaters, and mini accessories for domestic felines) and the actual fur balls purring in the shelves, on the floor or by the door. So as a treat for every floofer fan who might be reading this, I decided to get the full story behind this pawsome situation:
“Ahh cats! I love cats! I currently take care of about 18 cats and honestly, I would adopt more if it isn’t the lack of space that is preventing me of welcoming them. When I came here, I couldn’t help but take care of sick and hungry cat I found; because in France, you wouldn’t find them in the streets. They would be locked in cages and taken care of in animal shelters and catteries. You don’t see them roaming the streets like that.
“And just like art, animals have always been close to my heart. So it was completely logical to have a couple of cat friends when I opened the store, especially “Pepette”, the first cat I saved. She almost died from poisoning but once she got healthy, she started coming to the store like: yep, dis my new home. She later brought her daughter with her and some friends, and currently, the store belongs to “Pepette”, “Barbarossa” and “La Chèvre”, all females. They would sleep inside the store and leave it from a hole in the door to go climb trees or play. “Charly”, La Chèvre’s son and “Blondin”, Barbarossa’s son also come here to sleep. Some random cats would come here to eat then leave and others would sleep here till I close the doors.
“This is the story of La Chèvre: I called her so because she was so weak that her meow sounded like a Goat’s bleat
“And this is Barbarossa, named after the pirate I previously talked about
“And this “Khader”. He brings good luck to the store
“And so, this year, I decided to build small houses with concrete for stray cats. I call them “Galets Pour Chats” and they serve as homes for cats and also as street decoration because they also include plants. We would talk about that in another article if you want!”
“So to sum things up, that was the story of the Koncept. The story of destiny, positive energy, and the power of believing in yourself. Everything you just saw was is handmade by a family: my mother and I. Everything is about creative, cultural and respectful human exchange (I’m not the type to just tell you the price and keep being silent.)
“This is the story of taking the lead and changing yourself and your surroundings instead of criticizing and spreading negativity (I find it irritating when people are like: ohh Bizerte is dirty, Bizerte is ugly, Bizerte is boring… well how about you do something about it? Stop throwing garbage in the streets for example!)
“And this is my love story. For my art, my family, my cats, this city and what it has to offer, and this country and its culture.”
Indeed it is Dada. What a beautiful journey and an inspiring story to learn from. Dear readers, hope you liked this interview/documentary, expressed by the artist and muse Anna, and translated and reformulated by yours truly. Make sure to visit her store and tell her about this article! Have a good day, or night haha…