Ethiopia: Kalkidan's Vision to Adorn Ethiopians With Traditional Costumes

Kalkidan Agumas was born in Durbete, Amhara State in 1985 EC. She came to Addis while she was 10. It was her aunt who brought her to the capital. She attended her elementary school education at Misrak Goh elementary school. It was in 2010 Kalkidan took her 8th grade National Examination. And she followed her secondary school career at Menelik II secondary school. In 2016 Kalkidan joined Wolkite University to study Biology. She received her bachelor degree in Biology in 2018 after a three-year stay there.

According to her, campus life is a bifacial just like heaven and hell as it exposes students both to good and bad life experiences. It was good for Kalkidan as she used the opportunity to deepen her knowledge, to secure income from tailoring garments to students and to build self-confidence. During those campus days, using her free time she used to prepare and deliver clothes like shirts, suits and other traditional costumes to students as per their order. This helped her to get money specialy by making clothes for graduation ceremonies. Her peers were adorning themselves with the costumes she used to make on their special day of graduation.

"I think facing a rocky life in my childhood has helped me to well manage my campus life," Kalkidan reminisced recalling the solitary life that she undertook while working by herself departing from families for personal reasons.

After graduation, her friends were desperate to get hired submitting their CVs and education certificates in their respective fields of studies, while Kalkidan preferred to devote her time at her family's garment house.

"It is her mother Melkame Alefe and Mebratu Hailemariam [her aunt's husband] who positively influenced her to follow her interest."

Losing her husband, her mother was alone. But her mom was strong enough to talk her children into agricultural livelihood. "I learned everything from her mainly achieving ones' ambition passing through thick. and thin. She made me to be open-minded and go for whatever I want to achieve in every spectrum of life."

Once, Kalkidan was invited by one of her friends to go to the Arab world to the betterment of her income despite her insistence to follow her education and change her life working in her motherland.

"I always had a forward-looking bent.." These virtues trickled from the life challenges that enabled her to work hard in rainy days considering the future rosy. She borrowed the stamina from her farmer parents and losing her father while she was a little girl.

She reflects that a visionary person is just like a pregnant woman who doesn't wear consume or walk freely as she wishes mindful of the health of her baby and side effects of pregnancy. A visionary person is on the right track not off the track. A visionary person is on the ball of success not an ordinary one who messes up with it. "I always aspire to be outshining in whatever field I engage in. I want to be a good worker, wife, and mother, friend, neighbor and so on. I hope I will achieve them all."

It was in 2018 a traditional costume house was opened by her family members who live in the capital. It was in this house where Kalkidan developed the skills of sewing suits and other traditional clothes.

At the initial phase, the house was producing garments and delivering them to customers without finishing works.

Through time, the house started to finish products leaning on the finishing touches of Kalkidan who gradually honed her skills. Facilitating buttons, laundry basket and coat hanger are but to mention some of her skills. Then the house began to get heartwarming feedbacks from customers.

Kalkidan's love for her trade deepened by the day as it afforded her pleasure to come up with new designs every time. So she got the garment work interesting. That helped her to get more income from the job. As the reward was handsome she never felt irritated. Better income enabled her to meet her desire- supporting her family and students of her village paying for their uniforms and dormitories. Even these days, young girls in the area where Kalkidan was born prefer to get married. Some gravitate to agriculture leaving school due to economic reasons. In fact, today she is supporting ten children of her village. However, she has planned to support more when her income increases.

It is Kalkidan's ambition to interconnect people with their dreams by providing the support they needed. Therefore, she gives free training on cloth making to youths who could not get the chance. So far, she has trained about fifteen youths in the area. She trains them all about cloth making including designing, cutting, sewing, and assembling among others. Her house works producing male clothes in various styles.

It used to produce full suits, blouses, coats and trousers and others without age barriers.

Kalkidan also makes special clothes bearing traditional fringes or embroideries. She said that about 90 percent of her products are traditional ones, what she called Habesha Costumes.

"These clothes are much preferred by customers during weddings, birthdaies, among others," she notes.

She becomes busy during holidays and wedding seasons. Major holidays like Christmas, Easter and new year are the most busiest days for Kalkidan. he works hard to meet deadline of her customers even working at night. Some of her customer, who live abroad, send their body size to her so that she dispatches to them decorated traditional clothes as per their request. "Most of the time, my clients are my ambassadors they like inviting others including foreigners to contact me to order similar clothes." The price of her cloth product varies from the style and quality or type of input used to produce the costume. Accordingly, the price extends between 1200 and 6000 ETB for various products.

However, this year, the pandemic has made the market suffer a meltdown as the government prohibited congregation for wedding and other events. It was by costumes people beautify themselves on weddings. Whatever the case, Kalkida tries to bring works involving in biddings advertised to gown and uniform clothes making.

Also, the house has been producing about 500 to 1000 mask per day. Totally, the house has produced about 20,000 masks while it didn't get the needed income. It has also granted about 2000 masks to people who cannot afford to buy one.

Today, Kalkidan's Coat House has created job opportunity for five people. She has also planned to increase the number of workers and machineries and widen the house. She has also a plan to expand her market through renting a shop on eye-catching area that comprises showrooms. "Renting good house will help me to produce and sell more costumes."

This year, Kalkidan has planned to produce more costumes from direct order than a third party engagement. She did plan to achieve her goal last year but the pandemic affected her. She has also planned to learn cloth making in the area of designing professionally. "In fact, I used to get all the practical skills working in the area. But I need also to experience what the professional training has at hand under its theoretical aspect. I want also to take a professional certificate."

Nowadays, the copy works are affecting the income of Kalkidan and her colleagues. "Some people are engaged in traditional cloth making and using similar designs. But the quality does not come anywhere near ours."

We suffer loss when we provide our original work to the market on the right price as the similar replica is there with incomparable low price. For example, the copy of the contemporary Habesha costume called Nigiste Saba is on market at 15000 ETB. This did cast a shadow on the original work offered at 6000 ETB. Such economic impact is weighing heavily on Kalkidan and others who are trying to upgrade the traditional costumes. Owing to this,they could not rent a house suitable for window shopping.

"The government ought to support people who produce the original Habesha costume like us. It is this way Ia nation could cushion this globalization impact of copy work. The government should help us to get house rents with affordable prices if it wants to promote original traditional costumes and make the citizens proud of its products," she suggested.

She believed that Ethiopians can develop their traditional costumes tomodern style and make them their day today clothes. First, they should change their mentality that traditional costumes serve only holiday programs or events. Even the producers need to amend the products in a way they can be used for day-to-day activities by changing inputs and colors, as to Kalkidan. The more people change their mind and try to wear traditional costumes for daily purposes, the more the producers work on making extra costumes that serve for multi purposes.

This will allow the nation economic perks through import substitution in one hand and creating a generation that is proud of local product on the other hand.

More From: Ethiopian Herald

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