Today, the art of hand weaving and hand spinning are in threat of extinction in Ethiopia. Traditional weavers and spinners are part of the informal economy, meaning inconsistent work and no benefits or job security. The allure of steady work and prestige of a variety of jobs in a quickly-evolving economy means that the children of weavers are no longer interested in pursuing the trades of their mothers and fathers. Sabahar provides artisans with the stability and respect they need to take pride in their work and securely provide for their families. At the same time, the company introduces the weavers to new techniques and improved technologies which enables them to weave faster and more interesting products. In this ever-evolving world, such exposure to innovation helps them to navigate new contexts without losing their artistry and identity. Providing a formal structure for the artisans, work safety and job security is critical to their long-term economic and social stability.
Sabahar employs nearly 100 staff at the workshop, and works with another 75 weavers in their homes on a full-time basis. We also work with a network of more than 100 women who spin cotton. The positive impact of this regular, consistent income is significant as it allows households to confidently plan for their futures. Small businesses can be started with saved capital from employment, children are finishing high school and attending university as their labor is not required to bring in family income, and many of our staff are now proud owners of land, houses or condominiums.
In a country in which girls have traditionally had little access to education, women feel the burden of income and power inequity. Combining that with high unemployment rates, the opportunities for formal sector work are slim and fair paying and empowering jobs are even rarer.
Sabahar believes that economic independence in a stable job enables women to make the best decisions for themselves and their families. Sabahar was founded by a woman who is now the General Manager. 60% of Management staff and 50% of middle management are women and 60% of all employees are women. The hierarchy is accepted and all employees adapt to a company culture in which men and women are equal.
Through the years, employees have participated in various training and capacity building opportunities which focus both on job skills, as well as life skills. The impact can be seen in their ever-increasing interest to share ideas, participate in decision-making, and benefit their communities. They are leaving abusive partners, pursuing their education and job promotions, securing long term assets and ensuring their children are not only finishing high school but going on to University.
Yeshi says it best: “Every morning, I take my purse, leave my compound and go to work. My neighbors all know I have a job. Because of this, I am respected.”
Sabahar’s production aims to be in harmony with the planet. The company has been deemed a ‘zero carbon emission factory’ by OEKO-TEK in 2020. This status was given because of two critical factors: most of the production is not dependent on electricity or gas; the Sabahar garden is so full of trees that the production consumption is off-set by the small forest on the compound.
Sabahar is continually experimenting with new technology to reduce negative environmental impact. We have solar panels on the roof to decrease our dependence on electricity to heat water for dyeing. We have a bio-gas plant that provides enough fuel for an entire day of dyeing in the dye department. Our rainwater catchment system is a great help to be able to water the garden in the dry season. Though still requiring additional upgrading, our water purification and recycling system ensures the removal of dye particles and neutralizing the dyeing discharge water, so that it can be reused. In our production cycle, electricity is only required for the dying machines, washing machines, irons and computers. Sabahar is fortunate to source more than 80% of all its raw materials locally (almost unheard of in the global fashion industry). The company only uses natural fibers to ensure everything produced is biodegradable.