Salambo discovering Ethiopia
Ethiopia has a long tradition of working with textiles, particularly for traditional clothing and household decoration. In my quest for discovering the city, I went on an (organised) tour of the textile and leather workshops of Addis. It was a good thing, as I would never have found them myself. When we talk about workshop here, we mean a small room with a couple of weaving or sewing machines, hidden at the back of a house or behind a corrugated iron fence. They are the small entrepreneurs of Ethiopia. Once we know who and where they are, the doors literally open. We can go back to order whatever we want to have made. Most workshops rely on this kind of small short-term individual orders, which is great for us individuals but not for their business. It enables them to survive but prevents them from reaching critical mass to develop further, and target the lucrative export markets.
On the morning of my visit, I met an experienced French textile designer, who is using her time living in Ethiopia to train these micro-entrepreneurs to produce for the high-quality export markets. She herself was designing material for Chanel (some of the fashion house’s trademark woven fabric), and is helping young businesses with strong potential to grow. In her view, many of the micro-entrepreneurs show great talent and potential, but lack some of the basic weaving techniques to produce more and quicker, and above all they don’t think export. They are able to weave high quality traditional material, but they struggle to think “outside the box” and expand their designs. So they can make very beautiful and colourful Gabis, the traditional Ethiopian shawl, but don’t move beyond. I actually went around the city looking for printed material for my own use, but was surprised to find an extremely limited selection. Only plain cotton can be found in various colours. Her objective is to help them diversify the type of material they weave to produce for the international fashion houses.
She is doing the same for designers working with leather, helping them to develop suitable lines for the export market. Once the level of production is adequate for export, they can apply for a government grant to help them further. But, she said most micro-entrepreneurs she is working with, will need at least another six months of training before they are ready. We hope it will work for them, and in the meantime, I’ll put in my own order before they get too busy!!