Semhal Guesh, the Ethiopian architect who now manufactures leather bags for the American and European markets

It was a journey that started as a hobby for Semhal Guesh. During her university training as an architect, she started making bracelets from scraps of leather, which later led her to create Kabana Leather, a company that produces a wide range of bags primarily targeting overseas markets. .

“My hobby turned into a business when I employed someone and saw the impact it was having on their life. I left my job in an architectural firm to run Kabana full time, ”she said. How we did it in Africa.

Guesh produces under his own brand and also has a division that produces for international labels. Since the company was founded in 2017, it has focused on the international market. However, following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the company made adjustments to focus on the local market in order to mitigate the effect of the pandemic on its business operations.

In addition to producing leather bags, Kabana Leather now produces PPE and other preventive materials with support from the MasterCard Foundation, albeit on a temporary basis.

The bulk of its products are sold in the United States and Europe, and a small shipment is sold in Rwanda and South Africa. Guesh said his brand tries to have launches twice a year. “Design begins with a mood board with colors, material concepts and design. Usually I work with my team to develop models and designs. We prepare samples and get feedback on them. We then manufacture our selection for launches, ”said Guesh.

The architect-turned-manufacturer attributes the success of her business to her niche of locally made functional bags instead of focusing on seasonal or trendy products. “We are focused on training and investing in our team, so we have close to zero staff turnover,” she said. In addition, 80 percent of the workforce are women.

In addition, Guesh’s business has grown significantly thanks to recommendations from satisfied customers. “We haven’t spent a lot on marketing. We have also had some success at trade shows, ”she added.

However, there are challenges that she sometimes faces. One of the challenges is finding quality leather and accessories for the bags. She also has difficulty accessing finance, which limits her working capital and makes it difficult to transition from a small to medium-sized business or expand operations.

The effect of COVID-19 was another challenge she had to face head on. At first, it laid off some of its temporary staff, but with the support of the Mastercard Foundation, the company recovered and saved a few workers.

Guesh, in his spare time, trains young women and girls living in the streets of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. These young women, many of whom are refugees from South Sudan and Somalia, join Guesh in his business. Others start their own business, she noted in an interview. “Nothing is more satisfying to me than seeing former employees or the women I trained spread their own wings and start their own businesses,” said Guesh, who grew up hearing a phrase many young people said. girls don’t have, “You can do whatever you want.” want to.”

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