Inspired by the negative connotations often attached to 'Made in Ethiopia' products overseas, these entrepreneurial sisters are determined to change perceptions, with an unwavering focus on quality, reports NARDOS YOSEPH, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER. Though initially solely concentrating on leather products, due to its established high standards, the wider vision is to diversify as the company evolves. The new Axumite - 'Made in Ethiopia' - brand has been developed to act as an umbrella company for a variety of quality producers, with its first shop having recently opened it Piassa. Though there are many challenges ahead, the passionate sisters are determined to stay true to their objectives and breakthrough in this challenging market.
Elsa Hadera, 31, is known in her family as being obsessively meticulous in her selection of bags and shoes.
She has always yearned for those products that she finds nothing to dislike in.
“She was the taste and standard setter in the family,” said her younger sister, Eyerusalem.
Born and raised in Addis Abeba, the two sisters were a great help to their entrepreneurial parents.
“After school was usually not a time for play, but rather to pitch new ideas to our parents,” Eyerusalem said.
The sisters have managed to translate their personal behavioural traits into an opportunity, creating their own brand, Roha. Now they have added another tagline to this – ‘Made in Ethiopia’ – in their business, Axumite – a store exclusively stocking Ethiopian leather products.
The first shop’s location in the old downtown district of Addis, Piassa, next to the pioneer Cinema Ampere, gives it its own story.
In preparing for its grand launch, the shop has already displayed Axumite bags and shoes with close to 250 embroidery designs. Different names are labelled on the various items – neither Axumite nor Made in Ethiopia, but Kangaroo, Fontana, Roha and others.
All are brands made in Ethiopia, collected under the umbrella of the Axumite store.
Created by the two sisters, both have developed this out of a deeper calling.
Augmenting her inclinations, Eyerusalem acquired a master’s degree from the London Chamber of Commerce & Industry (LCCI), after her Economics degree from Addis Abeba University. For Elsa, mathematics was the only subject that played to her meticulous mind-set.
The brand name, Roha, was first created by the sisters, as they believed that – being one of the origins of Ethiopia’s ancient civilisation – it would promote more of the country. However, now the sisters are concerned that the name is being used by many businesses, such as the famous band.
“People are often confused, thinking we are a venture of these other Roha-branded business,” explained Elsa.
The difficult thing here is that it might be too late to change it, as it has already become a renowned brand. The plan is to keep going with the established brand, keeping in mind that there might be a to change it when Axumite matures.
“It is a risk that business people take,” an expert in marketing commented. “The tricky part is that there are numerous brands with their own stories and sectors, piled up under one brand vision.”
The expert sees some challenges ahead in establishing the brand as one in the future.
But such does not seem to concern the sisters, who have decided to name and shape their product story from their own personal experience, which is not an entirely pleasant one.
“I was shopping with a friend in the United States, while checking on his preferred H&M shirt,” Elsa told us. “He saw that the tag read ‘Made in Ethiopia’ and gave me a confused look, which struck my inner emotions.”
H&M, Hennes & Mauritz established its office in Addis Ababa in 2012 entrusting three tailoring factories to manufacture its products. The company starts export in 2014 aiming to produce morethan a million items of clothing per month.
She took the challenge personally, and decided to take on the uphill struggle of connecting the ‘Made in Ethiopia’ tagline with quality.
“So much has changed about Ethiopia’s identity in the public sphere, but not in our day-to-day usage. We still do not find it agreeable,” the younger sister said. “We are up for the challenge and now we have our ‘Made in Ethiopia’ shop.”
said a marketing and Branding Advisor.
“Establishing a brand is always an uphill struggle,” he reassures “At the end, it is the story it tells, but it all takes time”,
The Axumite shop, which has the ‘Made in Ethiopia’ branding written on red tags, stocks at least four local leather brands.
“The product type will grow beyond leather,” Elsa told Fortune. “We have started with leather for market strategy purposes, as Ethiopia is already identified as a good quality producer.”
Between 2010/11 and 2014/15, Ethiopia has exported 595.7 million dollars’ worth of leather and leather products,the total cattle population of the country is estimated to be about 56.71 million..The leather export covered 3.9 pc of the country’s export.
They have come to learn about its high potential through their exposure in promoting their own brand, Roha.
Made in Ethiopia designs in Axumite target the young and middle aged, but above all focuses on affordability for the everyday person. For someone to buy an expensive item and accessory from the store, the monthly salary required is around 2,296 Br, while the average is 1,300 Br.
The local market profit of Axumite, up until now, is not very high compared with their export trend. Despite the inside challenges, the export demand for specified manufacturing of the Roha brand for individuals, especially in Europe, as well as other ‘Made in Ethiopia’ brands, is trending, as they have business networks with retail shops in Canada and France.
Following on from this, they have done feasibility studies, admitting their education helps a lot in strategising the market approach, to start the process of opening an online store to export Roha.
Their venture with Roha gave them the capacity to start up Axumite – the bigger concept of a ‘Made in Ethiopia’ hub – with 500,000 Br.
The uphill challenge the Axumite Sisters faced from the get-go came when they started environmental scanning with business pioneers in the leather industry.
“’Do not think about a breakthrough in this sector’, was what we constantly heard, but decided to ignore,” one of the sisters told Fortune. “Some even advised us about other viable alternatives.”
The most disappointing incident was when they could not find all the policy promises of incentives and training from the Ethiopian Leather Industry Development Institute – the designated government body,
The Axumite Sisters’ goal is not to just be a brand shop for Roha, but rather they prefer to be a centre for diversified Ethiopian brands. Holding true to this, they have struck up deals with ‘Made in Ethiopia’ products from Fontana, Jamaica and Kangaroo leather.
Thy want to ensure that they promote the bigger umbrella brand, hence they shy away from giving the shop their own face and product.
“Axumite is bigger than all of the other products and us as a creator,” said Eyerusalem.
Focusing less on manufacturing and more on establishing a collection of high quality Ethiopian brands, Roha’s workshop has only four permanent employees and a designer. This team is responsible for cutting the leather in to pieces that suit the design, stitching or sowing together and a final five percent on dazzling touch ups. When the demand for Roha rises, more temporary employees will be hired.
Though their providers differ from time to time, depending on Roha’s product demands, Axumite obtain the leather from approximately eight manufacturers, among which are Batu Leather and the Jamaica Shoe Factory.
Axumit as a whole seller buys the Ethiopian Brand products to include in their collection at the store. “The strongest force that pushes us up against the tide is a personal drive to make a difference in quality and, as a side, give back to community,” Elsa affirms.
This is found in their business plan, which dedicates 1pc of revenue to charitable activities and donations – a core element that they want to attach to the brand.
Highlighting one of the pioneers of international Ethiopian brand success, Sole Rebel’s founder, Bethlehem Tilahun, as inspiring, the sisters state that their way of branding might take a bit longer to triumph in the global leather goods’ accessories market.
For wholesalers, like Axumite, competing with small shoes’ manufacturers in the city – most of which are in the local market and have no issues – is the challenge. Showing the public that, although the price is higher, the quality is also proportional is difficult, Eyerusalem explained, acknowledging that long before short term profit, sustainability and breaking in to the local market comes first.
This local brand is taking steps towards promoting Ethiopian leather goods and accessories, while making its way on the global market. Axumite – ‘Made in Ethiopia’ – is creating a brand that people in all parts of the world will recognise, but won’t be shocked when discovering its origin.
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