“Bringing Moroccan Flair & Fashion to the Comfort-Conscious American Consumer: Fantasia Crafts Trading in the American Market and Beyond.” (By Alison Lake)
Washma Bensaid, a showroom on the “Rue des Consuls” in Rabat, Morocco’s capital city, has produced handicraft garments for three generations.
Over the years, the company has established a solid reputation with its many custom designs for Moroccan families, tourists from around the world, and even exclusively to the Spain’s former Royal family.
We recently imported these traditional clothing styles to the U.S. from our native country Morocco. The tunics, dresses, and other outfits are cosmopolitan with a modern flair, still retaining traditional Moroccan touches.
I grew up seeing my parents run the clothing factory and business, and then moved to Virginia from Rabat in 2000. That same year, my mother passed away from a long battle with cancer. I got married and received a visa to come to the U.S. and then earned my citizenship and an MBA degree in Global Management with a Major in International Trade. My sister, Hanna Bensaid, “a gifted designer, wanted to follow my mother's footsteps and graduated with a diploma in fashion design from ESMOD- Paris,” Aicha said. “She then took over the family business when our mom, Hafida became too ill to keep up with management and design.” A few years later, I decided to launch a retail business in the U.S. under the name Fantasia Trading. “Before my mom passed away, she wanted us to inherit the family business because she knew we would take good care of it and that it mattered to us. So that is why we are doing this now,” Aicha said.
I grew up seeing my parents working as hard as they could, building the business to make it more fruitful,” Aicha said. Washma Bensaid, and now Fantasia Trading, has been marketed within Morocco and in nearby countries such as France and Spain. “We saw in the U.S. an opportunity, especially that people really loved our products, and we simply decided to expand.”
The clothing is soft, wearable, and unique. All decorations (kitan) and finishing touches are done by hand, including the trademark embroidered rows of buttons (akaad) with threaded loops that are particular to Moroccan clothing. Kitan or sfifa are uniquely Moroccan designs, often curlicue, embroidered on sleeve cuffs and fronts of tunics, caftans, and dresses. Akaad vary in sizes, and are used as rows of fasteners at the neck.
My parents started their clothing business in Rabat’s old city, the medina, with a factory and storefront, selling gandouras [type of kaftan] and other traditional Moroccan clothing. The business expanded quickly, and then moved to another location, a villa in the center of town. My older brother and sister joined my parents, Hafida and M‘hammed, and everyone worked long hours.
The akaad buttons are beautiful examples of how my family has adapted the business to the 21st century. “With just two buttons on top, rather than a row of 20 or more, there is greater ease in wear and they can be fastened more quickly,” Aicha said. “We make Moroccan clothing easier to wear now. The original style was to keep tunics and djellabas closed at the top, but nowadays there is the option to wear it open as well.” I have to say that recent changes in the family business include a slight acknowledgement of European and American styles but always keeping up with the Moroccan touch made by Hanna.
“My sister Hanna brought this modern touch to the original garments,” Aicha said. “This is what makes all the clothing more appealing and contemporary.”She added. Hanna Bensaid, who lives in Rabat, said, “I took this skill from my talented mother, and I was able to create new designs of unique exotic clothing, which is why I started to make clothes that were more casual, yet elegant and could be worn every day. I soon took over the business with my younger sister's help and have been creating newer, more unique styles of Moroccan clothing ever since.
Client Meredith Billman Mani said the clothing “has been great for me. We often travel to India and all over the world; hence her clothes are a perfect fusion of fashion and modesty. Additionally, they are sophisticated and the designs are definitely unique. No matter where you go in the world, people will ask what you are wearing and where you got it.” Meredith affirmed.
The tunics come in different lengths and sleeve options. Meredith loves “everything” about Bensaid’s clothing line. “Maybe that's it; everything just works with these clothes. They are unbelievably comfortable, elegant, sophisticated and fashionable. One of the reasons more people, from stores to customers, are starting to take notice of her clothing is that the designs are so cosmopolitan.
“Washington, D.C. is a unique blend of cultures and you never know when you're going to a function and what will be appropriate. These designs allow you to fit in anywhere, seamlessly, whether you’re at an embassy or at a cocktail party. You can be confident in our clothes knowing that they look nice, no one else will be wearing the same thing and that you are ready to talk to a CEO or chat on the couch over some coffee. There's great versatility in the designs.”
Another enthusiastic client, Ieshia Ali, said, “I first fell in love with the very fine design details and the fabric choice is perfect. Three years later, numerous machine washes and dryings my caftan is still just as black and soft, and every tiny hand-stitched button remains in place. I may venture to say the garment is even softer now, amazing! Ali, a yoga instructor, said “I find it just as comfortable to teach a high-octane yoga class in Fantasia pants and tops as I do in Lulu Lemon or Lucy; plus I am stylish and ready for a meeting or dinner with friends straight away in my Boho Moroccan style.” Fantasia also sells Moroccan style cashmere winter coats with a hood and stitched buttons. “I highly recommend these fine, reasonably priced fantastic quality clothing. No regrets, just quiet consistent amazement with the endurance and beauty of Fantasia.”
Annalisa Assaadi of McLean, Virginia visited the store, Washma Bensaid, in Rabat’s souk in the old city. “It’s obvious the family takes great pride and care in each piece, in each design. I remember how carefully they handled the ensemble they presented me and when I tried it on, it was as if they were admiring the outfit as if it were the first time they had seen it themselves.
“The styling and workmanship makes each item in the collection something unique and special to have in your wardrobe or to give as a gift. I love the variety of colors and the appliqué designs. The clothing is elegant and stylish without being a cultural "costume" so you can wear it anywhere knowing it's something both unique and stylish. I own several tunics, soft blazers, and pantsuits that I always get compliments on wherever I go. With a mixture of unusual and exotic prints, Fantasia Trading has positioned itself as a leader in Moroccan fashion for distinctive lifestyles. The artistic designs are highlighted by the designer’s love of vibrant colors and luxurious fabrics. The philosophy of the company is that detail is the hallmark of the Bensaid’s distinct and creative approach to design. “That gives our business the exclusivity of all the handcrafted garments here and there,” Hanna Bensaid said.