The textile and garment industry in Ethiopia is growing rapidly and could be a powerful means for inclusive growth and Sustainable Development. However, the domestic value chain remains fragmented: yarn is readily available but finished fabric suitable for manufacturing clothes is not.
You may have already heard about SITA’s green handloom unit . SITA identified the potential of Ethiopia’s existing skills and long tradition of handloom weaving to capitalise on this gap in the supply gain, and, in so doing, generate a domestic supply of sustainable, quality fabric for designers and manufacturers further up in the value chain. Crucially, SITA has set up a producer-owned company, comprising 10 weavers and two helpers, which weaves fabric from locally available yarn. What’s more, India has a flourishing handloom sector and therefore appropriate knowledge and technology to help the Ethiopian subsector to bloom.
How did SITA set up a producer-led weaving company?
SITA’s team recruited three master weavers’ from the local community in Bahirdar, Ethiopia, and trained them on Indian handlooming techniques, theory and technologies. The resulting textures produced by the unit are unusual and marketable – Ethiopian fibres but Indian methods and Indian designs! The company, Tana Shema, has also recently been kitted up with modernised yarn dyeing facilities that are safe for the weavers and for the environment. Tana Shema is now a self-sufficient company, supplying to eight Ethiopian fashion designers.
To take production to the next level, SITA provided Tana Shema with two solar-powered Indian spinning machines so the weavers can make their own yarn: a transformative step towards their vertical integration. The Ambar Charkha can run eight spindles at a time, instead of one or two which is all that is possible when spinning by hand; the spinning machine continues to run manually if there is no power input.
As well as enabling Tana Shema to reduce its costs by producing its own inputs, SITA has also procured two easy-to-use loom extensions that will open up opportunities for Tana Shema to diversify its products. The first, ‘Dobby’, is a simple card-box based method for creating different patterns on the textiles; upon visiting India, the Ethiopian master weavers were confident dobbys would work well for Tana Shema. The second, ‘Jacquard’, is a more evolved and versatile technique that can be used to create complex fabric designs; despite its complexity, the kit remains easy to operate and easy to maintain.
The expected result?
The ultimate result of this three-part technology transfer will be three electrified weaving units that are able to produce new, exciting and marketable designs. Moreover, Tana Shema will be able to reduce its expenditure and increase its resilience: the producer-led company will buy ‘roving’ fibres at a lower price than ready-to-use yarn, and the fibres can be spun into yarn in-house.
A bump in the road
To ensure the weavers can seize the potential of this opportunity, SITA had plans to bring in a master weaver from India to come to the unit in Bahirdar, Ethiopia, to install solar spinning machines, and train the weavers on installation and use of the machines. However, considering Covid-19 and the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia, the travel plans were interrupted. Instead, SITA has taken virtual training to a whole new level.
Conducting highly technical trainings like this online was once thought to be impossible. However, with careful choreography, it’s been accomplished in just over one month. A parallel loom was set up in India and the installation was mirrored in Bahirdar; instructional videos were also created to assist in setting up and operations. How? Keep reading!
SITA‘s Innovative approach
Industree Foundation is a non-profit organisation developing sustainable livelihoods for female artisans in the creative manufacturing sector in India. Thanks to their wealth of expertise on the handloom sector, Industree has been a key partner since day one of the SITA-led handloom initiative in Ethiopia. Like SITA, Industree are currently supporting a small handloom unit to adopt these three new technologies: Amber Charkha, Dobby and Jacquard. Given the interruption preventing Indian trainers from visiting Ethiopia in-person, SITA decided to leverage its partnership with Industree and the two units could set up their new looms in parallel – virtually.
Industree video-recorded the installation process, with detailed commentary. By producing all this footage whilst on the job, it reduced the likelihood of anything being left out. Working in parallel was also creating the conditions for easy and fluid communication between the two units. Indian experts live streamed the trainings they conducted enabling the Ethiopian unit to resolve any queries and ensure implementation.
What can SITA’s achievement teach us about South-South development initiatives?
Once the loom is installed, and training complete, in mid-October, Tana Shema will be able to produce yarn for its own consumption as well as hopefully supply the local weaving community.
The potential of South-South Cooperation for Development has been well-understood for many years now. The fact that these great results can be achieved virtually goes to show just how low-cost, yet effective, South-South development initiatives can be. Going forward, with good examples from projects like SITA behind us, we are all the more in a position to harness the potential of South-South Cooperation for Sustainable Development.