Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s sprawling capital city, and the country’s commercial and cultural hub, smells like ‘home’.
Now, I’m not one to usually have such a heightened sense of smell but if you’ve traveled a little you will know that you can catch the whiff of a place, sometimes immediately on stepping into the airport or as I did in Addis, on exiting the building into what was a cooler than expected evening.
It was at once familiar, friendly, warm and wholesome. A savoury scent, similar to the kind of wafts coming from a luscious, slow simmered, rich tomato gravy… And it was just about everywhere just like the coffee.
Fortunately, the trip was not all business and in exploring I found it to be as absorbing and heady as the first tantalising aroma of the city.
On the flip side, I attended the Africa Sourcing Fashion Week exhibition and conference which happens in Addis every year. It is a well organised, well attended three day affair focussed mainly on textile, leather and manufacturing. More of a B2B platform with a smaller offering of fashion which includes a designer exhibition area and showcase platform, in this case for several designers from Nigeria, Ethiopia and South Africa.
Here are some of my takeouts from the trip which I’d like to share.
The Ethiopian economy has started opening up, and just the number of building projects in Addis alone is evidence of a new focus in trade and commerce followed by manufacturing and production.
Industrial parks have been set up to incentivise the garment manufacturing sector, with the likes of international apparel brands like H&M, Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger setting up factories for production. Strategic sectors amongst others are leather shoes and leather products, textiles and garments.
The creative and design industry is smaller and presents opportunities for collaboration and exchange. There are many narratives of an untold history and culture yet to be interpreted through the arts.
Younger fashion designers seem to be focused on sustainable, ethical, eco-conscious values in building their brands.
“There is a space for easy flowing, light, comfortable clothing that carries a conscious energy”.Leanne Tlhagoane
This was my key feeling, something I felt quite strongly about for the first time.
My key lesson was in un-learning the habit of perceiving people from a very South African lens. I was intrigued by the diversity of Ethiopian people and the temptation to tag, label, bookmark and box people into ‘racial’ stereotypes was so habitual and infuriating. One of the upsides of travel is that it expands you in so many ways. I had to constantly self-correct and the most important thing is the awareness that brings change.
Also. Africa is the birthplace of humanity. You will feel it here.
My curiosity and fascination will take me back to Addis and to more exploration of Ethiopia and its many historical and cultural sites.