Rabia Ben Barka: Introducing the World to What Fashion looks like in Libya 

After many years of The Gaddafi experience and the after-experience, Libya opened up to Western experience and began to enjoy modern life. Steadily, they are making their way to the state of democracy, and Libya held its general election on the 24th of December, 2021. In this experience, Ms Rabia Ben Barka became the first designer in Libya to make traditional Libyan wear into modern wardrobe fillers.

After many years of gaining inspiration from traditional happenings and materials around, Ms Rabia decided to fashion it out. She did not just want to do fashion but wanted the world to taste what Libyan style looks like even though Libya was formerly closed off. She took advantage of the change, and now she is a reputable force.

The where and how

She did not just start today but started years ago, and she once mentioned that she had designed for Muammar Gaddafi and his family. Her fashion has always come as a shock to many people because she did things unconventionally, in that she paired modern wear with Traditional Libyan wear. She had always wanted to express this, but Libya did not open her ideas.

Her name is not entirely new in the fashion business, as she opened her first fashion company back in the 1960s. Because of her unique style, this new fashion style is fast catching attention. She studied fashion in London and Milan, and she is not new to running her fashion shows in various countries as she once staged in Italy, Germany, Lebanon, Niger and some other places and even won the award of the regional best young designer in the 70s.

But she wanted to do her shows on African soil, especially back in Libya. To show people how fashion can pair the Arabic culture with African culture and stylishly pair with western culture to make sense.

It is no surprise that Ms Ben Barka is so resilient as this is expected from someone whose family was very business-oriented, disciplined and ready to allow her education.

Ms Ben Barka’s roots contributed more to her fashion essence as she was born into a wealthy family running their textile factories. Herr uncles also had plentiful sources of wealth like hotels and buildings. This all changed for her when Colonel Gaddafi took over through a Coup D’etat and changed the whole economy as no one was allowed to run their businesses. They seized her family business. These occurrences delayed her dream of exploring what Libyan fashion would look like if coupled with Western style. But this did not stop her as she still studied the technique in several places, but her dream still lay in Libya.

She got closer to this dream when the daughter of Gaddafi became interested in her designs, and this helped her build ground in Libya. Gradually show moved to design for the whole Gaddafi family. With her fashion, she got one of her father’s old factories for a studio and slowly, she was able to recover some of her family’s business.

To Ms Ben Barka, the fashion of the Libyans is their identity, and it should not be stripped from them. Though there was modern fashion, Libyan fashion could not be lost, so she worked on it. It shocked them but she still got her dream and the patronage from diplomats and their families. Regardless of all these breakthroughs, her stage was still limited as she wanted to show this fashion to the world.

Ms Rabia Ben Barka is the true definition of rising above all odds. Though she experienced series of downfalls, she refused to give up but instead kept striving. Her fashion was limited, but she still had a company. The government seized her family businesses but she still stuck to her dream. The world is gradually opening up to her and she is taking the opportunity. Her resilience gave people jobs and hope. It also brought great fashion to both men and women.

I’m sure the world would have missed a lot of beautiful; styles if Ms Rabia Ben Barka did not push for her dream. Every dream we have is valid because someone is connected to it. When we give up on goals, someone out there is missing out on our goodness. 

Written By: Joyce C. Nwezeh Obi-Akejelu (Writer, Social media manager and graphic designer with Africa4AfricaWomen/Assert/PAWES).


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