Silk has played an important role in the social and religious life of Ethiopia from the earliest days of the kingdom of Axum. Imported in large quantities from India, Arabia and China, silk fabric was unraveled in order to use the silk thread for weaving. It was stored in vast caverns in the highlands of the country. One of the hereditary titles of the governor of Shoa province was ‘keeper of the Silk Caves’ and from these stores, Ethiopian emperors would make impressive gifts of silk to the other churches in the Christendom.
There was never any indigenous production of silk until about fifteen years ago when the Ministry of Agriculture brought silk from India and trained farmers on its cultivation. Silk production can be part of a diverse household economy as income that women earn and control. As such, it is more likely than not to be allocated to the health and education of the children.
The cultivation of silk is easy but time intensive. Small caterpillars are fed and nurtured for forty-five days until they wrap themselves in their cocoon. These cocoons are made of beautiful, strong fibers that is silk. Some of the cocooning pupa are left to transform into moths. The moths live only five days, mate, lay eggs and die. The life cycle then begins again.
Eri silk eggs hatch small caterpillars. The animals eat castor leaves for 40 days before they cocoon.
The caterpillars produce cocoons, which is silk. After two weeks in a cocoon, moths emerge. The moths live five days, mate, lay eggs and die. The cycle starts again.
Sabahar weaves with eri, mulberry and tussar silk. Each variety is very unique in its aesthetic. Most of the silk produced in Ethiopia is Eri silk. This is a ‘wild’ silk variety that is hearty and easy to cultivate. The Eri silk caterpillars eat castor, environmentally friendly plants that grow abundantly all over the country. The silk that is produced has a rough, organic look.
Cocoons are boiled and then hand spun into beautifully textured thread. Sabahar trains rural women to spin the silk into thread as another way for them to earn income.
Sabahar has a silk cultivation training program that is managed by our extension worker. He goes around the country training farmers to cultivate silk and buys the stock they have for our production. We buy Eri silk cocoons and thread from rural farmers, farming cooperatives and a few large-scale farms. Sabahar now buys silk from more than fifty rural households. Sabahar also has a close working partnership with the largest mulberry silk producing farm in Ethiopia and works with them to promote mulberry silk production as well.
Sabahar has trained more than 60 rural households in silk production and continues to train more. The company buys everything they produce so it is a guaranteed market.
Today, Sabahar, still the pioneer of local silk, is one of the only companies in the world which produces textiles for export made of Ethiopian silk.
In order to produce the variety of textures we are famous for, we import a variety of types of silk from India. These silks are combined with the Ethiopian silk and cotton to make unique products you will find nowhere else.