We buy eri cocoons from rural farmers, small women’s farming cooperatives and small farms.The Eri silk worms eat castor plants which grows easily in Ethiopia and is environmentally friendly. Until now, the raising of silk worms is done to supplement income and is primarily managed by women. Once the worms become butterflies and leave their cocoons, the cocoons are collected and brought to Sabahar.
The cocoons are then spun into fine thread by our spinners, both in their homes and in the workshop. The spinners use both drop spindles and spinning wheels.
The silk thread, along with the mulberry silk thread we purchase from Uganda and India and the locally grown cotton, are dyed. The silk thread is dyed in natural dyes, many of which are locally sourced, like coffee and the meskal flower. The colorful thread is then woven on traditional looms, using age-old techniques but modern designs.
The products are designed by a variety of people. Some of the weavers come up with the design ideas themselves. Sabahar has also been privileged to have some designers from the fashion industry help us design the products.
Spinning and Weaving
Sabahar works to support and improve upon the age-old textile traditions in Ethiopia. For centuries, Ethiopian women have been spinning cotton on drop spindles and men have been weaving beautiful textiles out of cotton and other imported fibers. In fact, a women’s ability to spin very fine and consistent cotton could greatly influence how ‘marriageable’ a young girl was. Spinning skills are still very important and most rural and urban women spin at their homes for extra income.
Weaving is an ancient skill in Ethiopia. Though one ethnic group in the South (the Dorze) is largely considered the have the ‘best’ weavers, in fact, most areas of the country have their own weavers who make their local unique products. Whereas spinning is always done by women, Ethiopian weavers are traditionally men.
Sabahar hires 20 women to spin silk at our workshop and more than 30 women around Addis Ababa spin in their homes. We also work with more than 40 weavers, both at our workshop and in their homes and community cooperatives. Sabahar has introduced spinning wheels and larger, more industrial looms for the artisans who work for us. This makes their work a bit more efficient and easier to produce more consistent, high-quality products.
Ethiopian artisans rarely work in the formal sector- so they are not guaranteed decent salaries nor consistent work. Thus many artisans are leaving the trade to find other, more lucrative and sustainable work. Sabahar is working to entice these artisans back and preserve the textile tradition by introducing the beautiful Ethiopian workmanship to the global market and thus ensuring fair and consistent wages as well as a respectful work environment.