Exotic and timeless

By AklileTsige/ABN/

As the Ethiopian New Year gets closer it’s common to see people shopping at markets, malls and bazaars, looking for different kinds of goods and holiday items. The famous “Shiro Meda” market is the one visited by huge number of traditional apparel –lovers; it’s a hot spot where varieties of Ethiopian traditional clothing are sold, and highly congested by holiday shoppers coming from all corners of the city.

Abigiya and her mother, Selam are looking for newly designed traditional cloths for 2012 Ethiopian New Year holiday, and “Shiro Meda” has always been their choice to find their need of the apparel they love.

“I usually prefer to wear Ethiopian traditional apparels during major holidays and special occasions,” Selam continues, “what’s so amazing here is that year in year out, the designs and the styles of our traditional dress are changing in an amazing rate.”

A country with over eighty nations and nationalities, Ethiopia still appears to be a mosaic of culture; the country’s varied climate clearly influences Ethiopians’ style of dress. Traditional dresses of Ethiopia vary from one part of the country to another on the basis of geographical, climatic, ethnic, and cultural differences.

Cool temperatures in Ethiopia’s highlands dictate heavier clothing such as wraparound blankets, while the country’s lowlands residents combat the heat with light cotton outfits. Yet while the clothing worn in Ethiopia reflects the traditions of the different ethnic groups in various regions of the country, there are certain similarities.

Over time, factory-made materials are commonly substituted for those once produced by hand in the home. Hand embroidery is reproduced by machine. It is also of note that men often adopt cosmopolitan styles while women, as carriers of culture, seem more inclined to retain aspects of traditional dress.

“I have developed passion for cultural clothing since my childhood, I used to mimic the design of tiny rags on my toys, uniquely design my school uniform.”

Handpicked cotton is separated and dyed to the desired color and then woven to create particular pieces. Although there are now quite a few designs which are machine manufactured, many of the designs on the finished garments are embroidered by hand and these still remain very popular.

Spinning was learned and practiced by most social classes in Ethiopia and was considered a fashionable and appropriate activity for noblewomen well into the 20th century. Clothing defined rank and status in this complex hierarchical society throughout Ethiopia’s history. Guilds of specialist weavers, embroiderers and tailors worked for religious and political elites.

One of the most significant garments in Ethiopia’s cultural history is the white cotton shamma, a toga-like shawl worn by both men and women that was made in several types. A lightweight shawl worn by women over a kemis (dress) sometimes had a red border indicating rank and status. The shamma, made in two heavier weights, was worn by men, used as a blanket and even as shrouds for the dead. The manner of wearing the shamma could communicate mood, attitude and intention.

According to various sources,the tradition of preparing raw Ethiopian cotton has existed since antiquity and is still widely practiced. Ginning, bowing and spinning are the three processes involved. But this time around Ethiopian traditional clothing designers prefer buying the fabrics, and orders weavers to produce cultural dresses in line with the designs given to them.

Enkutatash Kibret is one of the many Ethiopian traditional apparel designers who have been coming up with beautiful and exotic designs. Born and brought up in Addis Ababa, Enkutatash has studied Fashion Design at Next Design to achieve her childhood dream.

Over the past seven years she has been running ENKU DESIGN which produces exotic and marvelous cultural dresses with modern-touch;“I have developed passion for cultural clothingsince my childhood, I used to mimic the design of tiny rags on my toys, uniquely design my school uniform.” said Enkutatash.

“I have been to Japan and Dubai to promote our unique traditional clothing with modern-touch, and received motivating feedback from people out there.”

Adding her own creativity and efforts, Enkutatash has managed to come up with very mesmerizing designs, and captivate the hearts and minds of several high-profile individuals and celebrities, including first ladies, doctors, ambassadors and artists like Amlest Muchie, Hannan Tarik, Etsehiwot Abebe and Rutha Mengisteab. These clients of Enkutatash have already given her the mandate to choose suitable designs for each. “I mostly determine the design that best suit each of them” she disclosed.

She had initially only four employees who used to be engaged in limited tasks, but at present ENKU DESIGN operates with over thirty employees working on different detail works.

Entering the global market, she has moved a bit farther to introduce and promote Ethiopian cultural apparel; “I have been to Japan and Dubai to promote our unique traditional clothing with modern-touch, and received motivating feedback from people out there.” Enkutatash noted.

She doesn’t want to conceal the challenges being witnessed in the sector; design theft is one major problem designers are facing this time. “We don’t really know how designs which we exert much effort, creativity and sweaton are stolen.” She lamented.

According to Enkutatash, Ethiopian cultural clothing has got great prospectsahead as it is receiving incredible acceptance both at home and overseas; detail works of ENKU DESIGN has been lauded by professionals and customers, who appear to be regular clients of the company.

While celebrating the beginning of a New Year, and other religious festivities, it’s common to see Ethiopians wearing terrific and elegant Ethiopian traditional apparels with blooming flowers, in sunny days and a generally pleasant weather reign during the month of September. 

There’s no better time than the holidays for people who would like to relish awesome Ethiopian traditional apparel in all its glory. We shall be proud of “Made in Ethiopia”, buying and wearing this uniquely Ethiopian attire.

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