This Ethiopian Entrepreneur is Breaking Tradition
to Empower Women
An shortened blog article about Semhal Guesh, founder and CEO of Kabana Leather.
The full article written by a guest blogger was published on one.org and can be found there.
“The fight against misogynistic tradition starts with, hearing stories about other womens success.” Semhal Guesh
Growing Up in Addis Abeba
Semhal Guesh grew up in Ethiopia hearing a phrase many young girls her age did not: “You can do whatever you want.” Now 27 years old, it’s no coincidence that Semhal has become a designer, architect, and entrepreneur. She now runs Kabana, a leather production company in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital and largest city, and through her company, she helps other women realise their full potential.
Semhal recognizes that if she had grown up in rural Ethiopia or with parents less encouraging than her own, she might have been expected to stop her education at 12 years old and get married. Instead, Semhal dreamed of becoming an astronaut or an astrophysicist because she hadn’t seen a lot of women in those professions. But it was architecture that won over Semhal for the ability to create something both beautiful and functional.
While studying for her Bachelors in Architecture, she picked up a few leather samples at a local market and began designing with it. Suddenly, her dormitory transformed into a small workshop with a handful of women hand stitching products to sell at bazaars.
“By day, we’d go to lectures and we’d make leather products at night,” said Semhal. “It was more about the joy of designing and turning our work into an actual reality. It wasn’t to earn money. It was something we could do together.”
After graduation, Semhal began working in architecture full-time while still managing to grow her leather business. Her supervisor at the architecture firm saw her passion and encouraged her to spend more time focused on her growing leather company until she eventually made the decision to devote all her time to Kabana.
“It was a hectic time, but my motivation was seeing how the job and income were changing the life of my first employee,” said Semhal. On a mission to give other women the same support she has received, Semhal is focused on motivating the women she hires to expect more for themselves.
She enrolls her employees in different training programs to help them realize their value and potential, invests in their new business ideas through loans, offers paid time away from work, mentorship, and coaching.
As more doors open for women in Ethiopia, Semhal continues to raise the bar on women’s equality, safety, wages and benefits in the workplace. Through her company’s partnership with ABLE, Kabana has undergone the ACCOUNTABLE social impact audit and found opportunities to improve her wages, maternity leave policy, medical coverage, and employment practices.
More Stories about Kabana
However, fast fashion leaves a significant environmental footprint, both from production and disposal. A study by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation revealed that an equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is burnt or buried in landfill every second.
This product line is inspired by the need to reduce landfill, creating a more sustainable environment. Instead of making sandals the traditional way through sourcing materials and colors, we decided to use leather cut-offs left over from making bags.
Our brightly colored collection is inspired by summer colors, particularly the beautiful bright colors of different Ethiopian cultural attire that inspire happiness and hope. We bring you colors like light cognac, burgundy, and light whisky!
With support from the Mastercard Foundation, we purchased basic textile machines, repurposed the existing machines, and trained staff to make textile products.