Aida Tadesse is an Ethiopian ‘mumpreneur’ who graduated from SITA’s Mitreeki Fashion Incubator Programme in January 2021. Having been trained and mentored on all aspects of running a successful business, Aida has recently launched her own line of conscious wear. Sixth months later, SITA caught up with Aida to capture her story and hear her reflections on Mitreeki.
Hello Aida! Thanks for accepting this interview. First off, what does being a fashion designer mean to you?
My pleasure. Well, fashion is the means to express what we believe in. I want to show the world how beautiful, and rich my country is; I want to use fashion design to tell the world about African history, culture and tradition – and change the narratives. Being a fashion designer allows me to contribute to empowering women.
So with that in mind, why don’t you tell our readers about your brand Aidesho?
I am the Founder and Creative Director of Aidesho – an ethical fashion brand that produces handcrafted, comfortable, free and elegant casual wear by using predominantly Ethiopian hand-woven cotton fabric in a way that tell the history and culture of Ethiopia.
A brilliant brand. Can tell us a bit about your personal history, why is it you wanted to start a fashion business?
I started sewing when I was in elementary school. My mom stayed at home and she made a living doing embroideries and crochet for home decor. I loved using her machine to make my own clothes. I remember being voted the most stylish student at college graduation, because I used to follow all the Ethiopian celebrities and the next day wear the same – even hair styles too!
After college, I stopped sewing but kept sketching designs. My drawings were inspired by old American movies and the style of dress of the Western world. I found it every interesting and I used to wonder: what if we can turn this look in to local, by using traditional hand-woven fabric that we are known for and that we are so proud of?
Back then, people had stopped using traditional Ethiopian cloth. I felt passionately about keeping this tradition of hand-woven fabric alive – the technique that was passed down generation to generation was going to disappear, because no one what following in their footsteps any more. I wanted to play some kind of part, but I didn’t know how to bring all this together!
I can see where this story is going. Please tell us what you did next!
One day, I went to a modelling school to show them my designs. The lady who ran the school loved them; she selected her ten favorites to dress her graduating models on their graduation night for their final fashion show. It was so exciting for me to discover a whole new world: I went to the market where traditional hand weavers do their weaving and found the best one. I was also introduced to a tailor. From this point, I started putting all my energy and excitement into being a fashion designer.
For the next two years, I participated in a lot of fashion platforms and even organized my own shows. However, I was running off passion alone. I couldn’t continue because it was not bringing an income: I didn’t have a physical address to sell; I didn’t have the technical skill to produce ready-to-wear items myself (or ‘in-house’ so to speak), nor a reliable tailor who could copy the designing well. I also had a problem that people were copying my designs and undercutting the price! People came and took pictures at the fashion show, then went back to their own tailors to ask them to make the design at lower prices. So I stopped!
However, after taking some time to build my family, I went back to school to study fashion design in India. Thanks to that scholarship, I came confident enough to found Aidesho. Shortly after, I participated in SITA’s Mitreeki Initiative..
How did Mitreeki help you?
With the six-month Mitreeki Incubation, we were able to see deep down who we are as a person and leverage ourselves as our company’s biggest asset. But most of all we have learned from a business perspective how to create a cohesive collection and stand out as a brand.
By establishing a creative work environment with fluid workflows, we are making our businesses more consistent, whilst giving a sense of meaning to ourselves, the customers and the community. The platform was organized in a way that we can learn not only from our mentors, but directly from each other.
For me, it was a wakeup call to see how the fashion business is becoming virtual. Since learning a lot about social media and marketing, I am now digesting that learning and implementing it in the day-to-day of my business.
Has Mitreeki helped you see the business potential of sustainability trends?
Yes, sustainability can mean different things to different people. For me, sustainability is a way of creating a cohesive existence. In business, it means: achieving business consistency both for the customers and Artisians, responsible production (i.e. zero waste), and empowering women by creating jobs and giving training, building a traceable value chain (following the Farm to Fashion approach). As such, sustainability can sound daunting, but Mitreeki showed me how it’s actually an opportunity to grow..
Are you leveraging sustainability as an opportunity in your work?
Very much so. Aidesho is an ethical and sustainable brand. As per my first inspiration all those years ago, we use mostly Ethiopian hand woven fabrics. Aidesho’s tag line is “Fashion with Purpose”. Gradually we are going to try and make sure our whole supply chain is compliant with sustainability standards.
You have recently launched a new line of conscious wear. How did you come up with the idea?
The idea for creating the new line, Conscious Wear by AIDESHO, came out of my Mitreeki journey. Considering my strengths and my passion as well as what the world need, I’ve decided to produce garments that last for more than one season, which are elegant, and which also give comfort. On the Mitreeki incubator training, our final closing project was to come up with an idea for a collection and present it to a panel of real-world buyers. This was an amazing opportunity to get real-world feedback, so I used this opportunity to develop my idea for a Conscious Wear line.