Representing categories from traditional Ethiopian dress to eco-friendly footwear, designers are creating their own lanes in the fashion industry. For shoppers hungry for a less mundane style, these professionals offer a different outlook towards fashion. Here are the top Ethiopian fashion designers that are moving the sartorial creativity forward.
As she was preparing for her wedding in 1986, Amsale Abera had one wish—a simple dress for her wedding. With none able to appease her needs, Amsale set off to design her dream wedding gown herself. The Ethiopian-born designer moved to the United States as a young woman and remained there until her death in April 2018. Hollywood celebrities, including Julia Roberts and Halle Berry, have worn Amsale’s bridal couture. Her designs, which have been showcased on several platforms, including New York Bridal Fashion Week, are simple, edgy, and modern.
The Yohannes Sisters
Little did the Yohannes Sisters know that when they landed in Ethiopia for a brief vacation, it would one that would last a lifetime. Their first encounter with the making of the Ethiopian traditional attire, Habesha Kemis, was love at first sight and a love that has been powering their work ever since. Using traditional Ethiopian fabric with slight hints of Western material, the sisters design dresses and wedding gowns, all handmade under the label Yohannes Sisters Couture. The sisters turned heads on the runway of 2017 New York Fashion Week with their Royal Ethiopia collection. Their clothes have adorned the likes of Ethiopian celebrities like Zeritu Kebede and Wayna.
Mahlet Afework (Mafi)
Mahlet Afework, who goes by Mafi, started developing her fashion skills as a teenager in high school by adding her own style to her school uniform. She went on to show her eponymous clothing line at the age of 18. Exclusively working with hand-woven fabrics made by local female artisans, the designer has an impressive contemporary collection of women’s wear, accessories, and a unisex shoe line. One of Africa’s top fashion designers, Mafi has showcased her collections at Africa Fashion Week in New York, among many other platforms. She won Origin Africa’s design award in 2012 and the Creative Futures award in 2017.
Abai Schulze’s Zaaf collection of handcrafted premium leather bags, accessories, scarves, and leather jackets made its debut in February 2014. Abai, adopted from an orphanage in Ethiopia and raised in the United States, reflects her home country’s culture in her works. Prominent magazines such as Vogue and Forbes have featured her works in their editions, while her assortments graced the runway in the New York Fashion Week. In recognition of her contributions, Abai was given the Tremplin Prize for Entrepreneurship award by UNESCO.
Under the label Yefikir Design, Fikirte Addis officially joined the Ethiopian fashion industry in 2009. She uses local weavers and embroiderers to compliment her stunning designs. From casual wear to bridal couture, Fikirte’s designs are a mix of contemporary and traditional style. The main fabrics she uses are handmade cotton that speak of comfort and style. Also a psychologist, Fikirte is known to be an advocate for child-labor-free products. The designer who draws inspiration from the diverse Ethiopian culture has showcased her works at the Hub of Africa Fashion Week among other platforms.
With over 25 years in the business, Genet Kebede studied fashion design and garment construction in Italy and Argentina. She designs free-flowing lines, slits, low necks, contemporary Ethiopian Fashion bridal wear, and body-embracing clothes. Genet merges traditional Ethiopian style with modern techniques and trends under the label Paradise Fashion, active since 1992.
Designing traditional clothes with a modern touch, Tigist Shiferaw joined the fashion industry nine years ago. Her works include casual wear, business attire, and occasion clothes that are all hand woven. The designer takes inspiration from trendy colors and clothes worldwide to create season-based collections in her studio, Tg’sh Design. Her collections, showcased at the 2017 Hub of Africa Fashion Week, are eye-catching and must-haves for a beautiful wardrobe.
Model turned designer, Sara Mohammed has made great contributions to the fashion industry in Ethiopia as a founder of pioneer fashion school, Next Design Institute. Sara’s first works were the clothes she designed for herself as one of the contestants of a beauty pageant. A recipient of the Women of Excellence Award from the Association of Women in Business in 2013, Sara is known for adding a unique touch to Ethiopian cultural clothes.
Flowy dresses that are convenient for all sizes define most of Aynalem Ayele’s designs. Prior to moving back to Ethiopia to start her label, Ayni’s Design, Aynalem lived in the fashion capital of Milan for 13 years. Aynalem, who has been in the business for the past 12 years, presents bridal couture, leather bags, leather shoes, jewelry, and casual wear that are a mix of traditional and modern styles. Keep an eye out for the designer’s works at the upcoming Berlin Fashion Week.
Sewasew Hailu started her career in 2004 by first designing clothes that were more Western-oriented and later on, focused on traditional clothes, promoting Ethiopian culture through her works. Her tailor-made wedding couture and evening gowns are distinctively made with fabrics produced by her own weavers. Under the label Sewasew Design, the designer has showcased her clothes at the Hub of Africa Fashion Week, African Mosaique, and Out of Africa Festival, held in Houston, Texas.
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