A Labour of Love Drives Economic GrowthAugust 13, 2020
Note: The assignment and accompanying photos took place before the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.
On a residential street in the heart of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Zemen Tefera opens the doors to Amour Leather’s industrial workshop. In the open sunlit space, her employees cut leather strips, fashion zippers and stitch bags. It has been five years since Zemen launched her leather goods business—and she is still beaming with pride.
For many women in Ethiopia, becoming an entrepreneur is a dream that remains unfulfilled. But not for Zemen. After obtaining her master’s degree in software engineering, Zemen created Amour Leather where she has been expressing her creativity by designing and manufacturing unique and ethically produced leather fashion items like bags, belts, and rugs.
Zemen was determined to make her business go global while promoting inclusive and positive social development in her community. But, like many women in Ethiopia, she faced barriers of access to resources and training that would help take her business to the next level.
As a member of the Ethiopian Women Exporters Association (EWEA), Zemen was connected with CESO Advisor Kathy Manners, a marketing and business development expert, for a two-year assignment through CESO’s Ethiopia e-Mentorship Program.
Zemen enthusiastically worked with Kathy on operations and business strategies, including marketing. Together they developed Amour Leather’s slogan, “Your love of leather is my labour of love.”
With solid branding and support navigating industry connections, Zemen was able to break into the North American market. Today, she exports 60% of her products to Canada and the US, and has attended retail events in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, New Orleans, Chicago, Dallas, and Washington.
“Penetrating new markets in North America has had a big impact on my company,” shares Zemen. “It encourages the sustainable growth of my company and allows me to pay a fair wage.” Indeed, with greater visibility and more clients, Zemen has tripled her annual income since 2016.
Zemen has also enhanced the quality of her merchandise and designed new products with social impact. The aqua pack, an ergonomically designed backpack, helps girls and women distribute the weight of heavy water jugs on their back more efficiently, easing the burden as they cover vast distances to collect water. Zemen also manufactures reusable sanitary pads for women who cannot afford expensive disposable menstruation products.
“We’re trying our best to make a difference, at least one woman at a time. And we can continue to do that, especially with CESO,” says Zemen.
By hiring and training marginalized women and strengthening their role in economic activities, Zemen persists in her efforts to make a difference on the road to gender equity. About 80% of her staff is female. Due to recent growth in the last two years, Zemen has been able to bring 12 women on staff.
Underlying the success of Amour Leather’s operations has been Zemen’s growing confidence as a female entrepreneur, fostered through a meaningful relationship with her proud mentor Kathy.
“To be recognized as an up-and-coming entrepreneur that a Canadian organization would invest in gave her a lot of confidence,” remarks Kathy. “This impact is not as tangible as a business plan, but it is hugely significant.”
Zemen is leading the way for a new generation of entrepreneurs to become industry leaders who will help sustain the continuous growth of the manufacturing sector in Ethiopia, drive inclusive development, and promote prosperity within Africa as a whole.
“Entrepreneurial work isn’t easy,” admits Zemen. “Sometimes, you need someone to rely on. CESO has a strong support system through mentorship—a system that has helped me become a successful businessperson.”