Bethlehem Getachew, in her mid-thirties, is a regular buyer of traditional Ethiopian clothes. She buys clothes for herself and her siblings who live abroad.
She is a fan of locally made traditional dresses made from cotton calledShemma, woven fabrics produced in long strips and sewn together. A dress made in this fashion used to cost her 9,000 Br. Just like many other Ethiopians, Bethlehem prefers to wear Habesha kemis, the long snow white and embroidered national outfit, usually worn with an accompanying shawl calledNetela.
As she has done many times before, she went to Shiro Meda, the largest marketplace for traditional Ethiopian dresses, last month to buy dresses for her nieces.
Unlike the previous days, she did not go looking for dresses made from Shemma. Rather, she was looking for garments made from imported chiffon – a light, transparent fabric typically made of silk or nylon. The dresses she bought are imitation dresses of traditional Ethiopian clothing.
Bethlehem paid 2,700 Br for three small sized dresses. “Previously, I pay this amount (2,700) for a single dress, made from Shemma,” she told Fortune.
Chiffon clothes have flooded major marketplaces for traditional garments including Shiro Meda, Cherkos, Kirkos District and around the Ambassador Theatre in Addis Abeba.
Carrying cheaper prices ranging between 400-600 Br, these chiffon imitations are the major reason that buyers like Bethlehem have switched away from traditional dresses made from Shemma.
It is a concern and a threat to major stakeholders including small-scale weavers, designers, tailors and retailers that depend on this trade.