On a sunny afternoon in Shiro Meda just before Easter, people are going back and forth between the shops that line both sides of the main street, looking through the many styles of traditional dresses and accessories on offer.
Aynalem Dagne, 29, was leaving Shiro Meda, after buying dresses for herself and her one-year-old daughter. She came to Shiro Meda, which is commonly known as the paradise of cultural clothes, almost a week before the holiday to avoid the crush that usually happens around the holidays.
Aynalem, a housewife, spent 1,800 Br on similarly designed traditional dresses for herself and her daughter. She also bought new dresses almost a year ago, she bought dresses for both of them for her daughter’s baptism (Kiristina) celebration. But her daughter quickly outgrew the dress.
“Not only was the dress not her size, but there are so many other designs on the market,” said Aynalem. “It pushed me to buy something new for me and her.”
The variety of designs at Shiro Meda which attracted Aynalem are on full and colourful display in the areas many shops. Both new and older designs hang on displays ready for the holiday.
Taye Kodasa Traditional Costume Sale and Rental Shop is one of the businesses in Shiro Meda waiting for potential buyers. The shop provides both ready-made and custom traditional clothes for both women and men.
Half of the clothes on show, are new; they were bought especially for the Easter holiday according to Simret Taye, who currently manages her family business. The shop that has been in business for the past 10 years, and has been steadily growing in customer numbers since its establishment.
“Since the Ethiopian millennium nine years ago, people’s perception of traditional clothes has completely changed,” said Simret. “People used to think that traditional clothes were only for older people, but not now.”
The business is seasonal, and holiday and wedding seasons are major boom times for the shop. Out of the major holidays, Timqet usually attracts more buyers, according to Simret. From her past experience the flow of buyers increases when the holidays get near.
The clothes at Simret’s shop are made from two materials; menen (a factory-woven cloth) and fetel (handmade cotton cloth). Women’s dresses cost between 600 Br and 8,000 Br. For men, Simret offers trousers, shirts and coats at prices ranging between 900 Br and 3,500 Br.
“Our main challenge is the continuous price increases from our suppliers,” says Simret.
Before going to retail shops like Simret’s, traditional clothes have to go through various steps. The clothes are hand-made and embroidered.
Weavers produce handmade clothes from dire (cotton yarn) and tilfe, the colourfully woven patterns in the cotton fabric. The clothes then go to embroiderers, and then it is finally sent to the retailers or directly to the buyers.
Some clothes are made from factory-made menen fabric. The fabric is directly sent to the tailors who embroider the clothes. After that it is sent to the people who use sewing machines to put the garment together.
Hand made products are more expensive than ones made on sewing machines, mainly due to the time it takes to produce. Hand-made designs take an average of two weeks to produce, according to Tewodros Sisay, a weaver at Shiro Meda.
“Depending on the complexity of the design, the time it takes and the material used to finalise the cloth, we charge between 300 Br to 3,000 for a single design,” said Tewedros, who is also a member of Entoto Godana Weavers Association, located om block one of Gundish Meda site in Shiro Meda.
“Even though the holidays are busy, middlemen profit the most,” says Tewodros. “They get a profit margin of over 100pc, which makes the clothes expensive.”
The fabric for handmade designs comes in two sizes: arat arb and sost arb, with arat arb being wider and sost arb being narrower. To produce designs, the weavers use fibres named saba (colorful yarns) and workezebo (golden fibres). A packet, which holds 10 bundles of the fibres, is sold for 75 Br, up from its former price of 60 Br a year ago.
To make 10 garments, the weavers use three packets of saba and workezebo, costing them 2,250 Br.
Other garments are produced from embroidered menen. A meter of menen costs 45 Br and six meters of menen is used to make a single traditional dress. A year ago the price of a meter of menen was 25 Br. A bundle of thread used to sew the clothes was 10 Br each but now costs 25 Br.
“Our profit margin was up to three hundred birr from a single dress but now it is getting narrow as the raw materials are increasing,” says Biniam Getachew owner of Bini Hamer Traditional Cloth Tailor in the Gundish Meda area. “The retailers who buy from us are not willing to raise prices.”
On the other hand retailers place the blame for escalating prices on tailors and weavers. The price of cultural clothes has doubled from three years ago, according to Addisu Yifru, who owns a traditional cloth shop in Shiro Meda.
Not only are traditional clothes in demand during holidays, but also curtains and bed covers. They are also sold at Shiro Meda at prices ranging from 300 Br to 450 Br for curtains and 400 Br for bed covers.
Buyers that are interested in getting tailored dresses go to designers instead of the ready-made clothes shops. They order in advance and wait for at least 30 days to receive their clothes.
Meron Tesfaye is one of the customers who ordered a traditional dress two months in advance. Meron, who is a housewife, has been a regular buyer of traditional clothes for the past six years. She buys traditional clothes three times a year on the New Year, Christmas and Easter holidays.
“Two months ago when the fasting season approached, I ordered a dress from Yordi’s Design, for 8,000 Br,” Meron told Fortune.
Meron, who is in her mid-thirties and a mother of four, believes every Ethiopian should consider wearing traditional Ethiopian clothes during holidays.
“I do not wear causal clothes on the holidays,” she says. “I prefer handmade Ethiopian traditional clothes.”
She prefers going to designers to buy clothes. The designer she selected fuses Ethiopian traditional elements with modern ones, which makes the clothes beautiful, according to Meron.
For the holiday, Yordi’s Design is well-prepared, to provide diversified and exclusive new designs for the Easter holiday ranging in price from 5,000 Br to 8,000 Br for women dresses and 1,500 Br-3,000 Br for men clothing, according to Yordanos Abera, the owner of the company, which is located in the basement of Dembel City Centre, on Africa Avenue.
“For holidays, people mostly prefer traditional clothes with more traditional features than fashionable ones,” said Yordanos, who has been in the business for 10 years. “During holiday most people choose to wear long, full sleeved dresses.”
The main reason for the increase in the price of hand-made traditional clothes, is the value that the professionals have started giving to their work, according to Yordanos.
“Hand made products take time and effort and the professionals in the business have put a value on their time,” she explains. “ So they charge higher prices than previous times.”
“Last year, I bought a dress for 5,000 Br but this year the price has gone up to 8,000 Br,” said Meron. “But I won’t stop buying traditional clothes.”
For those who cannot afford buying traditional clothes following the drastic price surge, some retailers such as Simret of Taye Kodassa shop, have created a new business model, when people do not have the money to buy the clothes can rent then for the holiday. paying 400 Br to 800 Br depending on the designs and fashion. The rental lasts of the cloths for three days, according to Simret.
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