One morning last October, I found myself walking a weekly market in the green lush highlands of Southern Ethiopia. Sun splashed a colorful crowd gathered on the open town center. Women greeted one another with gossip and affection and spread their potatoes, milk, spices, and cotton for discriminating spinners to choose
Dorze is the weaving capital of Ethiopia and local Ann Marie, below left, knows her cotton. Look at her - nothing is going to get by this one. She chooses only the best cotton and sends it on to the larger town of Arba Minch where her cooperative spins, dies, weaves and finishes the beautiful fluff into some of the softest, finest cotton in the world.
At their workshop, I saw fine gauzy cotton, netela, become voluminous bordered shawls - the kind worn by every woman in Ethiopia - and now - through ibu, by the chicest women in the west who know a good thing for a hot summer evening.
A heavier cotton, gabi, makes the luscious towels we carry at ibu, curtains in our gallery, colorful striped shawls, and now, for the first time, may we introduce? Caftans for your poolside and party pleasure.
This industrious group of spinners, weavers, and cotton growers is thrilled to join hands with ibu. Non-profits and governmental agencies from the West, they told us, have come and gone, pulling up roots after a 3 year grant is over. They watched endeavors rise and collapse without the needed structure built from within, and so, at last, decided to form a business of their own.
That’s what I’m talking about! I love to work with these who are going their own way and spinning out a life for their children, even as they play at their knees. ibu is not only carrying their beautiful goods, we are collaborating on many new designs yet to come. I want this group to endure.
Here’s to the trail of cotton, from Dorze to you - a long thread of work and love, the joy of creating, the pleasure of wearing, and the important link of belonging to one another.
All the Best,
Susan Hull Walker
I welcomed in 2007 with the rest of Addis Ababa, watching a bonfire sear the night sky with hopes for the year ahead. And that was two weeks ago. Yep, I got to be 7 years younger while in Ethiopia, which still observes the Julian calendar, marks 13 months to the year, and begins the day with 1:00 at dawn. I watched men gather armfuls of the yellow Mescal flowers covering nearby hills and burn them in an festive New Year roar after a day of processions, dance, drums, and prayers. No dropping of the ball for this New Year, but a toppling pyre of tiny golden flowers
After the celebrations, I visited with local friends whom I had met in the US last summer. Brother and sister team, Sammy and Belen, have jumped in to work with their trailblazing mother, Astor, in designing home decor and fashion items, handmade with new inspiration from the old traditional patterns.
What I was dying to see were the leather bags I had eyed one night when a friend put her buttery goatskin clutch on the dinner table and I suffered an attack of purse envy. Oh, it’s handmade somewhere, like Ethiopia, she said, and we immediately had an iPhone pin light out scouring the inside for a tag. To my surprise, my new friend, Sammy, and his family were the source of this little beauty. Heading to Ethiopia, I was on a mission.
Like ibu, their Addis Ababa showroom has a workroom behind it where women are sewing up soft goat leather into wallets, cosmetic bags, cross-over bags, and clutches. The leather is tie-dyed with striking lines and circles in taupe, indigo, citron, black; the interiors are lined with cotton hand-printed with graphic designs from their Amharic alphabet. I even found soft-as-skin leather pillows!
The bags are at ibu now, and priced for striking gifts this holiday season. Don’t be slow to take a look - they won’t last.
Even now, back in 2015, I feel renewed and younger with these by my side, a bit of 2007 in the bag. They remind me of the alluring people of Ethiopia and the handsomeness they create. They remind me that time and age are just numbers, that what matters is tending a passionate fire at the center of everything. What matters is gathering up what is golden, harvesting what is true. Casting it into flame to clear the way for what is new. They remind me that what matters is live lit up with hope.