Made With Love From Ethiopia

Sammy Handmade in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is probably not the first place that comes to mind when you think of fashion, but in the capital city of Addis Ababa, the high fashion flower is steadily blooming. Sammy Handmade in Ethiopia is a luxury brand that is based completely in Ethiopia. The brand produces specialty textile items that are made entirely by the hands of skilled native artisans. Their feather-weight scarves are a Barneys favorite! However, fashion is just a catalyst for the vision of co-founders Sammy Abdella and Holly Hikido, who utilize their brand for various humanitarian efforts as well. Sharing their insight, Adbella and Hikido discuss what sets Sammy Handmade in Ethiopia apart from the rest of the fashion world.

Izabella M. de Souza: What inspired you to create a brand that satisfies both the fashion world with its on-trend pieces, as well as the “green” world with its organic sensibility?
Sammy Handmade in Ethiopia: Our main goal in creating the Sammy brand was to empower the many artisans in Ethiopia with employment and a market for their work. These traditional crafts are at risk of disappearing, which would be a tremendous loss for everyone. The world is becoming increasingly smaller and more inter-related, so as well as being socially-conscious, we wanted to be as environmentally responsible as possible. We are convinced that today’s fashion consumer appreciates these efforts.

I.D.: Describe your involvement in the design aspect of Sammy Handmade in Ethiopia. How much creative freedom is each artisan given?
Sammy Handmade in Ethiopia: As for the design aspect, we are very lucky because Ethiopia is one of the most naturally beautiful countries on the planet with one of the culturally richest and longest histories on the African continent. At the same time, Addis Ababa, the capital city, is vibrant and colorful with a young generation of Ethiopians who are interpreting these traditions in exciting, modern ways. We strive to fuse these two worlds, actively encouraging the artisans to be creative. Learning that there is a big international market interested in their work has been inspiring.

I.D.: What sets the indigenous weaving techniques of Ethiopia apart from that of other countries?
Sammy Handmade in Ethiopia: Every process of the making of our scarves is done by hand. The cotton is picked and combed, then hand-spun to make the yarns, hand-dyed and air-dried, woven on traditional hand-looms, hand-finished and often embellished with hand-embroidery. Our packaging is the done the same way, hand-woven fabrics that are printed with silk-screen designs.

I.D.: Aside from just weaving, what are some other native methods used in creating Sammy items?
Sammy Handmade in Ethiopia: Ethiopia is one of the world’s largest leather producers, so we naturally wanted to incorporate leather-goods into our collection. We try to use the same approach that we do with weaving, doing as many processes by hand as possible. These include the tie-dye and other special dyeing techniques, hand-stitching, beaded trims, hand-woven and printed linings and hand embroideries.

Sammy Handmade in Ethiopia scarves

I.D.: Sammy is one of the first luxury brands in the world to invest entirely in Ethiopia. What was the idea behind empowering a country like Ethiopia via fashion?
Sammy Handmade in Ethiopia: Ethiopia is a country that is very abundant in natural resources, such as coffee, leather and cotton, however most of these resources are being exported as raw materials, which provide smaller profit margins and little employment. Combining these materials with the vast number of craft skills available seemed like a win-win concept. We targeted the “luxury” fashion market because we knew that this consumer would appreciate the sophisticated craftsmanship and authenticity of the products. We also wanted to enhance the image of Ethiopia by showcasing the beautiful, quality products that are produced here.

I.D.: The Sammy brand prides itself on giving back to the citizens of Ethiopia, particularly those it employs, by means of fair wages, healthy work conditions and encouraging advancement at work. What has this realistic and equitable compensation done for the talented artisans?
Sammy Handmade in Ethiopia: One of the main challenges when starting out with the Sammy brand was to be able to provide continuous employment to the many artisans working so that it would be possible for them to truly improve their living conditions. Our idea was to build our business steadily, so that we were sure to be able to keep our employees working year-round. This approach also helped us to keep control of our quality. We have grown from about 50 workers to currently close to 400. Besides providing fair wages and healthy working conditions, we also encourage advancement to those who are motivated. But besides the artisans, we have created a business structure which includes office workers, a quality-control department, shipping personnel, as well as a retail shop in Addis Ababa. Several people that started at entry-level positions are now in middle management. We have given small business loans to help some of the artisans set up their own workshops. We are in the process of getting “fair-trade” certification.

I.D.: In addition to Sammy’s stylish pieces, we are also drawn to the brand’s active and dynamic involvement in various organizations that work effortlessly to improve conditions for the people of not just Ethiopia, but the entire continent. Can you discuss your association with groups such as Beza Le Hiwot, Wegen Aden, Berhan Taye, Zewai Women’s Cooperative and Wrap Up Africa?
Sammy Handmade in Ethiopia: While culturally rich, Ethiopia is still one of the economically poorest countries in the world. There are many, many people and organizations working to get people out of poverty by providing training in skills such as embroidery, weaving and sewing. As well as training, many of these organizations provide child-care services and nutritious meals to these people. We work with as many of these groups as possible, incorporating their skills into our collection.

I.D.: What can we expect from Sammy Handmade in Ethiopia in the future?
Sammy Handmade in Ethiopia: Ethiopia is a constant source of inspiration. For example, we just met a woman who built a factory for hand-blown glass, providing training and jobs to many people. They make beautiful glass beads, which we will use in the next collection. We are developing a home furnishing collection. We just shipped you our new collection of brightly colored leather pouches with hand-embroidered designs, so hope you like them!

– Izabella M. de Souza, E-Commerce Copywriter


  1. mesfen tesfaye
    Posted 12.08.10 at 8:46 am | Permalink | Reply

    As an Ethiopian i am very proud of Sammy and Holly who are the ones tried to give many jobs to my fellow Ethiopians including me and to help Ethiopia as a country to give a better place in the world fashion market i hope you will do better than this for the coming years i wish u all the best

  2. valerie hoffman maine dave hoffman maine
    Posted 12.08.10 at 10:39 am | Permalink | Reply

    Valerie Hoffman’s new cookbook will help support this wonderful cause-how generous. She never ceases to amaze me with how much time she dedicates to these wonderful causes. Love ya Val Gal!

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