How Anna Papadopoulos And Welella Negussie Are Empowering Ethiopian Weavers Through Sustainable Slow Fashion With Their Social Enterprise Welana

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It’s no secret that social enterprises have uplifted and impacted communities around the world since the concept was birthed out of the UK some forty years ago. Social enterprises like Welana have key social objectives in fashion that serve the primary purpose of offering handmade scarves, towels and blankets from skilled weavers in Ethiopia. Because of Welana, local communities are empowered in the eastern African nation by providing craftswomen and craftsmen a platform to showcase their creations, creations that normally wouldn’t get seen by consumers and potential clientele around the world.
Started by Berlin locals and childhood friends Anna Papadopoulos and Welella Negussie, both knew they wanted to positively impact the world but didn’t know exactly how. “We both grew up in Berlin with the Ethiopian culture through Welella’s family, who introduced us to the country’s food and the beautiful textiles. We have always loved the cozy cotton blankets and shawls,” shares Papadopoulos.
But a trip to Wenchi Crater Lake near Addis Ababa, cemented their future initiative that it would be Ethiopia that they would help impact the world through fashion accessories. “It was our joint journey to Ethiopia that sparked our interest in starting a social business that would impact local communities,” continues Papadopoulos. “We were taken aback by the beauty of Ethiopia and her people and were fascinated by the great potential of this East African country. And so, we thought, if the world only knew about what this beautiful country has to offer. It was there and then that we decided to build a brand that would uplift Ethiopian communities. Through our families and friends in Germany we had already received great feedback on our shawls and blankets that we brought back from our travels. The dedication of the weavers in Ethiopia and the appreciation for this ancient weaving techniques in Europe and beyond led us to our path of establishing a brand and platform that connects this unique craftsmanship and the artists behind it to people in other parts of the world.”
Negussie points out the impact social enterprise fashion companies like Welana has on making the world smaller by introducing Ethiopian handmade products to Western markets. “We love that our customers get to experience a piece of Ethiopia through our products and we also hope that through Welana we can spark an interest to learn more about the history and culture of this country. It is very important for us to reflect back to our local partners how much joy and happiness the textiles bring to our customers. When we share appreciation notes and pictures of Welana worn around the world with our local partners, they are in awe to see how far their handmade textiles have traveled.”
American actress Yara Shahidi and her mom Keri are fans of the enterprise, as they are often seen wearing the products. “We invest in Welana because Welana has invested in communities,” says Keri. “To wear a piece of global art, whose quality is rivaled by no scarf my family has worn before, allows us to carry forward the importance of global community.”
How it works
The products that the skilled craftsmen and women make, provide sustainable income development and global visibility, as well as ethical production methods. So how do Papadopoulos and Negussie make this happen? They provide a global platform to showcase products from scarves, towels and blankets. They contribute sustainable income development for their local partners and weavers. Reused and recycled textiles make for products that are safe on the environment, as well as promotes slow fashion of products that can we worn over many years if not a lifetime. Also, the duo social enterprisers work on principles of dignified treatment for employees, ensuring that their weavers receive fair payment and social benefits like pensions, paid vacation, maternity leave and medical coverage. And they also partner with investors who share the same values and want to invest in their enterprise.
Their local partners Sabahar and Maraki in Ethiopia keep Welana working in Ethiopia. And Papadopoulos notes how through Maraki, Ethopian weavers are being empowered with the products they make. “Maraki predominantly works with women from the outskirts of the capital Addis Ababa, supporting their development and empowering them through capacity building and through a sustainable income,” she notes. “The cotton is locally sourced, which also has a positive impact on the communities. Through the partnership, the women are given the chance to promote their high-quality Ethiopian handmade textiles to international markets. We refer tourists and other interested people to the local production sites if they are interested in purchasing the textiles directly in Ethiopia from our weavers. While local markets in Ethiopia were severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, through our cooperation we were able to contribute to income stability for the artisans.”
It is their friends and customers around the world, ambassadors of Welana that make the social enterprise possible. “We are a small brand and Welana has been able to grow organically through our ambassadors spreading the word,” muses Negussie.
(Forbes)