Amongst the fastest growing industries is that of the fashion industry, especially in Addis Abeba. Together with this trend, fashion talent incubators are multiplying in number to offer hopeful designers the basics of the field. The industry's insiders, on the other hand, point out that just because there has been a change in quantity, quality still remains to be tackled, reports YARED TSEGAYE, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.
Kunjina Tesfaye, 22, has been aspiring to become an international fashion designer since she was a young girl. To the point, she tried teaching herself design through sketches and drawings. Except later she found out that there are training institutes which can offer fundamental lessons of designing.
“It helped me achieve what I needed, and set me on the right path,” Kunjina said. She took a two-month course in the summer of 2016 at Wossi Fashion Design Training Institue.
Wossi is not the only institution that trains aspiring fashion designers. There is also Africa Mosaique Fashion Design Centre, which was founded by Anna Getaneh. Anna is a renowned international model and Creative Director of African Mosaique, a clothing design, manufacturing and retail company based in South Africa.
Anna started the Design Centre as a fashion talent incubation centre in 2016. Having secured the amount needed for initial and operating capital from a social enterprise called Enterprise Partners. And within the past two years had the United States Embassy and individuals sponsor the Centre.
Every year, 10 candidates will graduate after passing a three-stage competition.
“They must be ready to learn new things on a practical basis; knowing how to connect and see beyond their horizons,” Anna told Fortune.
It was while looking for talent that the Design Centre found Kunjina. Among the skills the Design Centre wants its student to pick up on Kunjina was expected to master sketching, colour matching, pattern making, designing, marketing, making connections and professional ethics.
“Many claim themselves to be designers after a short course,” says Anna. “But full-fledged talent could only be found through training and the devoted urge to learn.”
The industry that is mostly concentrated in the capital is growing as it is evident in the increasing number of fashion designers and training institutes. But a number of critical elements are missing, according to Ejigayehu Woldegiorgis, one of the 11 founding members and current head of the Ethiopian Fashion Designers Association. The Association has 106 members, of which only half are active.
“Most of the design schools are not adequately equipped. They are not up to standard to deliver the best learning environment,” she told Fortune.
Ejigayehu’s students at designing company, Ejig Fashion Design, helps eight to 12 trainees every year, most of whom are degree holders.
Some of the graduates from these fashion institutes have gone on to become quite successful. A great example is Lily Yohannes and her sister Zeze better known as the ‘Yohannes Sisters’.
Lily graduated from Next Fashion Design six years ago. She and her sister now serve high-end clients who pay as much as 15,000 Br for a single dress.
“There is a great deal of value added, which takes place through experimentation on our products,” Lily said. “We are planning to add around 10,000 Br to the price of our products for the foreign market and net 20,000 Br from one handmade design.”
With the growth of Ethiopia’s middle class, such high prices for designer clothes are common. A single dress could fetch 60,000 Br for a design, and a hand-woven fabric could go for 900 dollars.
The fashion industry began its modest climb 15 years ago when the Ethiopian Institute of Textile & Fashion Technology opened a program for Fashion Design at Bahirdar University. Since then two public universities have followed suit- Wolqitte and Wollo University. This is only marginal though as there are over 40 public universities in the country.
The Addis Abeba City Administration Education Bureau has likewise tried to introduce tailoring in the garment and textile training curricula. In 2010, the then Ethio-China Poly Technique College started the garment production training. However, the institution dissolved after the graduating class in 2012.
One of the graduates Bethelhem Kasse is now the owner of Betty Modern & Cultural clothes. Teaming up with a non-governmental organisation (NGO) supported by German sponsors, she opened a shop around Mekanissa. She chose to break traditional perceptions by having 10 to 15 physically disabled models show off her and others clothes on the runway.
“They are a crucial part of fashion talent incubation. It enfranchises a part of society that feels marginalised,” she told Fortune.
Industry insiders point out that a growing number of fashion designers and institutions in the field does not necessarily indicate a growing industry. Wages and adequate settings for practising fashion design are thought to be lacking.
Supporting local talent, empowering women in the field and sustaining tradition are where the focus should be according to Anna.
“Otherwise the fashion industry will not grow to the desired level,” she says.
Kilole Tesfaye, a lecturer at Bahirdar University’s Institute of Textile & Fashion Technology, believes that it is crucial to support designers for the drive in demand from the local and international market. He echoes the point that quantity alone will lift the industry on par with international standards.
“Education and hands-on training are what could move it forward, including for those working as designers,” Kilole adds.
The growth of the fashion design industry has included traditional Ethiopian dresses where designers experiment with fabrics, colours and design.
One of whom is Fikirte Addis who founded Yefikir Design in 2009. She asserted that while support from the government is fragmented, incentives to export and importing duty-free machines have greatly benefited the sector.
“Awareness has been created, and people have begun taking the sector seriously,” she told Fortune.
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