How Ethiopian bag designer and entrepreneur Dagnachew Abebe champions the art of African handcrafted leather goods manufacturing
Dagnachew Abebe and his employees make every single Oliberté bag, wallet, and passport case, handcrafting them in a workspace on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The colors at the factory are bright and crisp—green plants, pink aluminum, a blue window in Dagnachew’s office. Through a clear window, you can see staff at work on Oliberté bags, helping each other perfect the designs and chatting while Ethiopian tunes play on the radio.
Through working with Oliberté and selling his own designs locally, Dagnachew and his wife has been able to continue expanding the company. Dagnachew sat down with us to talk about his passion for making bags and the growth of his business since he started it three and a half years ago.
How do you like working with Oliberte?
I like it. Working with trust, you know? It gives me confidence.
How did you get started in it?
When I graduated school, I got a job and worked as football stitcher, and worked all the way up to the level of becoming production head. It was there I found out I liked making leather products, especially bags.
How long have you been in the bag making business in Ethiopia?
It has been 26 years. I started with about 17 years for a leather goods company (ELICO Universal Leather Articles Factory), and then for nine years I worked at one of the biggest institutes in Ethiopia, LIDI (Leather Industry Development Institute), where I worked there as an instructor of bag design and manufacturing all up to being director of the leather goods and garment directorate. Through LIDI, I went to India for 13 months for a leather product technology course especially for bags, and then to Italy Milano for computer design training and leather bag design. I left LIDI to start our company, Yezichalem Meaza Footwear and Leather Product Manufacturer and Exporter.
The name Yezichalem Meaza is my wife’s name. I started with the name of my wife because this idea of starting own business has come from her—she motivated me, and she wanted to start a new company and work with me. She had a lot of ideas for marketing the product. Now she is a manager of the business we are running and I run the operation side, working with the employees. I make the bags, design, cut, and stitch. I like bag making, you know? It’s not just for business, it’s for hobby too.
What made you want to start your own company?
I can say it is my wife, as the company was her idea. She knows that I have a hobby of making designs, and when she saw the prototypes of leather goods that I made in my spare time, she began insisting I make them to help her start her own business. Now finally her dream has come true and for the last two and a half years, I have been able to make bags and leather goods fulltime, including those with Oliberté. Now we have eight employees working the day shift.
Why do you like making bags?
Every time, I am learning new things. The art involved in making bags is always new, bags are something people carry with them every day with and you see them everywhere with different style and color, so I always wish to make better ones so people hold their bag proudly. And also it is not boring work.
FULL GALLERY OF DAGNACHEW’S BAG MAKING FACTORY BELOW