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Ethiopia’s fashion industry is still in its infancy. But, more and more emerging designers are popping up and taking the sector by a storm. For the new generation of designers there are always role models they looked up to and one of these is Genet Kebede, owner of Paradise Fashion, which was established in 1992. Capital’s Eskedar Kifle spoke to Genet about her two decades of experience as well as the challenges and opportunities in fashion.
Capital: Tells us about your background.
Genet Kebede: I was born and raised here in Addis Ababa. I attended high school education at Nazareth and Hiwot Berhan School. After that I studied fashion in Buenos Aires, Argentina and also studied Industrial fashion design in Italy.
Capital: After returning to Ethiopia, how did you begin your career as a designer?
Genet: It was around 22 years ago that I started working in fashion. When I returned back to Ethiopia, there was a big international trade show and there were a group of Swedish people that came and asked me to do a collection and they wanted it to be very unique.
Fashion designing was something that I really wanted to do after I came back from my studies, I even designed my graduation outfit and it had received huge appreciation. So I had my first fashion show at the trade show in 1992 October.
Capital: Many say that you are one of the first to enter the local fashion design scene, is that true?
Genet: I can’t say I am one of the first. My biggest inspiration was Emama Tsion Andom, she was a well known and respected designer. She is the one who took traditional Ethiopian wear to the next level. So I think that I am next to her, in terms of joining the industry.
Capital: Most local designers are focusing on using traditional fabrics and tweaking and modifying traditional wears only, why is that?
Genet: There are a lot of emerging designers currently. When I started, there weren’t many. Most of us use traditionally weaved fabrics. There is a lot of similar work being produced because designers are replicating western styles using traditional fabric. This means there isn’t yet a higher level of creativity.
There are many graduating in the field of fashion design from universities and institutes and I believe they will change the way things work. In more advanced fashion industries, such as those found in the West for example, collections are done for different seasons and new trends are always popping up, I myself produce a new collection once a year.
This is something that is yet to be seen in new designers but there are those that are trying to do that as well such as Mafi and Yefekir Design. So yes, there is a big revolution coming to the local fashion industry, but it takes a bit of time.
Capital: Comparing the time when you first started and the current situation, what have been the challenges you have seen?
Genet: What I consider a major challenge is the lack of appropriate inputs for weaving the fabrics I need. When I started out, there were a lot of high quality raw materials. But now, you don’t see that, besides that there is a shortage of variety and quantity of material. These things also affect your creativity as it is difficult to produce exactly what you want.
But all the challenges are good at the same time because it also makes you stronger and helps you grow
Capital: What about the business aspect, how big is the market and consumer base for your and other designer’s products?
Genet: The market is there but it is limited. There needs to be affordability and the people that can afford these kinds of products are few. Although it is not that big, thankfully there is demand for our products and we are doing well.
I have another company that produces garments, that one is focused on mass production and export. I have plans to work towards export with the accessories and other products I do using traditional fabrics.
Capital: Explain to us the process of production from start to finish, what is it like?
Genet: The designing is the first part, I do my design and we go to acquiring the fabric. We decide on what kind of yarn and color, we get all the specific inputs needed for the designs we do, and we give that to the weavers.
Then we get the pattern together, after the pattern has been cut, if it is custom made, then the customer will come, we take measurements and do the work. Most of my work is custom based but we also do our own designs that we produce and people choose and buy.
Capital: There is this complaint with people that the products they buy from designers are not high quality. The high quality product is exported and the second grade product is sold locally, what do you say about that?
Genet: We do not have that kind of problem, as long as the demand is there, we sell the same product we export, locally. I provide the same quality to my customers here.
Capital: For the growth of the local fashion industry, teaching institutions play a big role. What do you think about the new graduates that are coming out of these institutions and the quality of skills they have?
Genet: I believe that Bahir Dar University is contributing a lot to the industry by having the first graduates in fashion, even though there are some things that need work when it comes to the curriculum. But the fact that fashion has been given a place at a state university level is by itself a step forward.
I have worked with a few students myself; they come and gain experience from me as an intern and I mentor them. There are also some private institutions contributing to the sector. I would also like to mention that through the International Tread Center (ICT) there is a program called Buyer Mentor Group and I have been working with them for the last year. Our most recent mentor ship project was connecting fashion students here with those studying fashion in high level institutions in New York and London. Through these kinds of linkages, skilled and well trained graduates will come out.
Capital: We understand that you are a member of AWEP, when did you join and what are the benefits of being a member of such women’s association?
Genet: I was a member of AWEP since the beginning. For me, AWEP means a lot; the people in the management level as well as the board are very committed. I have been a member of other associations as well and there are many problems within them, sustainability is not there and usually due to minor and petty problems the associations disintegrate.
AWEP is very strong, all members are seen equally and they benefit accordingly. The network is really big and offers a huge opportunity; there are many educated people with vast experience in different sectors that we can learn from. So it is an association that I love and highly respect. I almost never miss the breakfast meeting we have that is held every last Friday of the month, I really enjoy it and I am proud to be a member.
Capital: Tell us about your achievements and the recognitions you received locally and internationally.
Genet: Starting from my country, my first achievement would be almost 20 years ago; I was chosen to be a member of a business delegation that was headed by the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. I had the opportunity to visit several countries as part of that delegation and I think that was my first achievement and it was a big honor.
I have participated in many international fashion shows and have gotten several recognitions. Looking at the most recent one is the Best African Designer Award which I received this year. The first lady Roman Tesfaye was also present at the event and it was a very emotional and proud moment for me. I also received the “Araya Sew” award here as well which was I am also very proud of. This was a very rewarding year for me.
Capital: What is your view of the culture of giving recognition to people in Ethiopia, especially those in areas of work that are yet to grow like fashion designing?
Genet: I don’t really think anything has been done in that area. I think we really need to understand what recognition means. We have a habit of recognizing people for what they have done after they pass away instead of what they are doing while they are alive.
When you get recognized for the job you are doing it is a plus for your work and it reaffirms to your self that what you do has value.
There are many people that do a lot of amazing things in this country, especially women who have managed to win their rough life over and achieve something but you do not here their inspiring stories in the media.
Many things are said in the media many which I think are useless. We could talk about role models that could inspire the younger generation to do more. The media has a huge role in carving generations and I believe more needs to be done.