Elizia Volkmann interviews the first lady of Ethiopian fashion.
Inspired by her beloved Ethiopian “Hager Lebse” and the wonderful textiles of Ethiopia, Genet Mimi Kebede is making contemporary Ethiopian fashion and bridal wear for Ethiopian women at home and around the world – but her ambitions don’t stop there.
Fashion Paradise Found
“Simple, elegant and chic,” says Genet Mimi Kebede Wondem about her fashion designs. “My vision is to promote the Ethiopian hand woven fabric and design to the world.”
Genet is the owner and main designer of Paradise Fashions, a fashion design and couture house based in Addis Ababa. She creates collections that are inspired by both her high fashion training and the “Hager Lebse”; the national dress worn by Ethiopian women. as well as luxurious wedding gowns.
Genet’s love of fashion started at school in her sewing classes, but it was her wedding that really kick started her fashion career:
“For my wedding we had to choose the design for my bridesmaid so I came up with my own idea and after six months we got a chance to move to Buenos Aires where I joined a fashion design course.”
Genet also trained in Italy but rather than adopting the European high fashion styling, she chose to return to her homeland to start her own company creating contemporary Ethiopian fashion.
“[when I began] I can say there was not much understanding for fashion so it was a good moment when I started. It was a success because it was new and innovative idea,” she says.
Genet is a warm sunny and confident woman whose smile and twinkling eyes invite you to share her enthusiasm.
“African fashion is an inspiration to all designers in the world and also African designers are really emerging onto the world fashion stage which is really giving us a chance to sell our brand.”
Mostly her clients are found by word of mouth but also via her website, selling into the US market and mainly the US based Ethiopian diaspora.
At the heart of her work are the unique textiles that she works with. Ethiopia produces some of the finest cotton in the world, so soft that it is a marketing campaign away from knocking Egyptian Cotton of the top spot for luxurious quality. Ethiopian cotton can be woven so finely that it is almost completely transparent, reminiscent of Pharonic times when linen was woven to this diaphanous translucency. Less well known are its Jacquards and jewel coloured fabrics. Genet talks of her passion for Ethiopian textiles:
“Our hand weaving is one of my inspirations so it was important to work with contemporary design and innovation to get where I am today and also the demand from my clients.”
“I work mostly with Ethiopian hand woven fabric because its unique and fabulous cotton and jacquard work. I also use natural dyed fabric.”
Genet works directly with the weavers so the process is as much a collaboration as it is a commission. Genet says that:
“Mostly I work with the existing design just changing some patterns but mostly changing color trends. With my weavers we work closely to help them to understand what I want in their own way. I work only with hand woven fabrics but I have worked also with twill cotton fabric with my own design printed for our home deco collection for my other company GMM.”
As well as having a commitment to the local weaving traditions, Genet believes in playing her part in making the lives of those she works with better:
“I believe by giving work opportunity to others through our training and helping in design and more.” Her care for her workforce goes beyond an employer’s commitment to career development: “Whenever they need it I always help to send them to hospitals and do all the necessary cheek ups.”
Genet has been in the business for some time and seen a great deal of change in Ethiopia, she notes that there are a lot more women-owned businesses in Ethiopia now, but of her own experience she says:
“My journey was great and hard at the same time but it [was] worth anything to be where I am today,” she states that her ambitions are: “To be the leading company to give job opportunities to young women and to show our fabulous fabric and design to the world.”
This inspiring talented lady is looking forward to what SPINNA can do for her, she hopes that SPINNA Circle can:
“put me in the circle to meet many people to share experience and trade too!”
To hear the stories from more inspirational SPINNA women, click here.