The Woman Who is Introducing the World to What Fashion Looks Like in Libya 

Everyone has their story. Every human’s life has a plot to it and we’re just the 3rd parties watching from the sidelines.

You’ve heard of Libya, you’ve seen the news, you might live there and you might not, but have you experienced what fashion goes on within that space?

There are many stories within and we’ll be sharing one of the many.

Meet Her: The woman showing Libya’s capacity for wears

Born in Tripoli, into a world of textiles, a childhood full of clothing experience and a family with a huge love for design, she gained her foundation. 

She is the first fashion designer in Tripoli.

She is Lady Rabia Ben Barka, a woman known for her unconventional designs. Her name is not entirely new in the fashion business, as she opened her first fashion company back in 1976 whilst she was still studying.

Her company was called Azyaa Karima. Which means “Precious Beauty”. Azyaa (beauty) and Karima (precious). 

This new fashion style is quickly catching attention because of her unique style. She studied fashion in London and Milan, and she is also not a stranger 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 more was needed because her fashion reflected her origin but her home was not taking part in it.

“Hence, after graduation she left Europe for Libya, to start her business career in her hometown.”

THE HOME EXPERIENCE

In 1967, the government of Colonel Gaddafi took over Libya and things changed. The Coup D’etat changed the whole economy as no one was allowed to run their businesses. This led to the seizure of the textile business that had resided in their family for years. 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 her fashion techniques and explored fashion in France and Italy. But her dream still lay in Libya. 

She got closer to this dream when the First Lady became interested in her designs, and this helped her build ground in Libya. 

Gradually she 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 Lady 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 of diplomats and their families. 

Lady Rabia’s work was still in place regardless and she was dubbed, “Libya’s Ambassador of Fashion”. 

Regardless of all these breakthroughs, her stage was still limited as she wanted to show this fashion to the world.

SHOWCASING ON THE WORLD STAGE

On the 17th of February, 2011, a new government was ushered into 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 made their way to the state of democracy. 

At this time, Lady Rabia became the first designer in Libya to make traditional Libyan wear into modern wardrobe fillers. At first, it was not well received but over time people started to like these traditional evening seats with a flair of Westernization to it. Including Jeans that were styled. 

Armed with many years of experience and inspiration from using and producing traditional materials, Lady 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.

Though Libya was formerly closed off, she took advantage of the change.

Her dream and resilience gave hope and jobs to people and both men and women got to witness the birth of the fusion of African, Arabic and Western fashion.

She has been on several stages in many countries, representing Libya in fashion shows for the first time. She has won awards like the Tunisian Award in Cartages festival in 1991. She has also gone on to win the first prize for fashion in Algeria, Coupe d’Elegance in Tunisia, the Award for Best Dress in Ragusa, the award for best costume in Egypt and many more. 

In March 2024, she graced the 5th Transformational Leadership Summit hosted by Africa4Africa Women Conference in Egypt. There she was in charge of the entire fashion show, proudly representing Libya and showing what power lie in their fashion. This “precious beauty” was so evident in the blue and white evening wear which she presented to Madam Bea Hackula who looked very regal when she graced the event in this custom design.

We’re sure the world would have missed a lot of beautiful and precious styles if Lady Rabia Ben Barka did not push for her dream. 

Don’t forget: Every dream you have is valid because someone is connected to it. When we give up on goals, someone out there misses our goodness. 

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