Salambo in Addis

Salambo discovering Ethiopia

From cattle to handbag

With one of the largest herds of cattle in the world, Ethiopia has a long tradition of working with leather. There are many tanneries in the country producing very fine cow leather exported mainly to Italy. “Export quality” is a label in itself. There is also a local production of leather goods, such as bags and jackets, but the quality of the work can vary greatly.

Still some small designers manage to stand out for their creative mind, high motivation, and skillful work. Fitsum is one such designer. I met him a few months ago when I was taken on a local tour of small independent designers and craft makers. He runs a tiny workshop at the back of his mother’s modest house on the outskirts of the city. The house is relatively hard to find up a mud and stone path, hidden behind a larger building. The gate opening to the ground around the house is made of a corrugated iron sheet held by a couple of eucalyptus poles, but the house itself is of solid brick. His workshop is in a tiny makeshift room in one of the rudimentary side buildings, but this is his space; this is where he works with his four employees and five professional sewing machines. Together, they make attractive handbags under Fitsum’s tight supervision.

Fitsum's workshop in Addis

A few years ago, Fitsum went on a training course provided by UNIDO, the UN organisation for industrial development, where he learnt the basics of clothes and accessory making. At the end of it, he started his own small business. He is just 25 and has ambition: to create his own label and sales outlet. But he is on his own to do it, which can be difficult. He very recently lost his mother from an illness and is left with no father and a younger sister who is only 10. They are living in the same house and he will most likely be responsible for her. I am trying to help him as I can, introducing new customers and showing his bags around (I can’t keep on buying bags, I’m told I have enough of them!). I have also brought him some of the handbags I had to use as model to create new variations. One thing I have noticed here is that businesses tend to copy each other, so if one shop creates a successful model for a handbag, a month later, the other shops will just replicate it rather than create their own style. So we end up seeing the same object all over the city. By expanding on his range, maybe Fitsum will be able to not only develop his technique but create a distinctive style. At the moment, he is thinking more of reproducing what he sees. He nevertheless does it with great skill, so hopefully with a bit more exposure, he’ll be able to produce a good label and we’ll be buying yet more bags….

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Information

This entry was posted on April 6, 2012 by in Living in Addis and tagged , , , , , , .

Previous posts

Categories

April 2012
M T W T F S S
« Mar   May »
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
30  
Confessions of a Technical Writer

The Wonderful World of Technical Writing

antiquatours

This WordPress.com site is the cat’s pajamas

Clearing Customs

about how the people and parts of our world fit together across cultures

GARCIA BROTHERS ORG

A place for creativity

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 331 other followers

%d bloggers like this: