In the age of #MeToo where women have loudly voiced their rights to a safe work environment, at risk women and girls in Ethiopia don’t have the luxury of having social media accounts to share their experiences or have celebrity role models to speak out for them. Instead, they have the support of a local Ethiopian NGO, Ellilta Women at Risk (EWAR) and its income-generating branch Ellilta Products that teaches the women how to thrive by providing job opportunities in the craft sector.
Established in 2012, Ellilta Products has helped more than 1,000 women escape a life of prostitution by taking a holistic approach via various programs. According to Ted Bertleson, a consultant for poverty alleviation projects and a teacher in rural southwestern Ethiopia, Ellilta offers a two-year program that provides psychological help, building self-esteem and teaching life skill essentials such as health education and childcare basics.
“During the second year, the women are taught a skill so that they can have an income and escape the life they have been forced to live. They are taught a number of different skills based on their aptitude and desires. They are taught how to cook and work in a restaurant or for a private party. They are taught dressmaking, they are taught how to become maids and they are taught how to make jewelry, scarves, carpet, clothing, household items like hot pads, curtain holders etc. They are also taught how to create thread from wool and how to use that thread to weave the scarves and clothing,” wrote Bertleson in an email to HAND/EYE Online.
In crafting their jewelry line, Ellilta works with clients who commission work from them for export. For local sales, the organization’s in-house designer creates the designs, specifying the measurements, color and types of material and dimensions. “We then call the bead maker to come to our workshop. The beads maker comes from a village located six hours north of Addis Ababa. We take time to look together at the beads specifications, negotiate the price and delivery date. The bead makers buy bullet casings from the market and melt the bullets and forge the needed dimensions. The designer makes samples of jewelry. If the sample is approved, the production manager teaches the design for all ladies. According to the specific measurement, the ladies take the beads and assemble the jewelry into the final product,” explained Bertleson.
At first, demand for the finished products was in Ethiopia but during the first three years, sales barely covered the organization’s production costs. “We were selling at local bazaars and had a small retail outlet. We established a relationship with a wholesaler in the United States and from 2014 sales steadily improved. From 2014-2015 sales increased 15 percent; 2015 to 2016, it increased an additional 25 percent and from 2016 to 2017 it increased an additional 35 percent. Our goal is to increase sales five-fold over the next three years.”
Currently, Ellilta’s major buyer is Noonday collection LLC, which had an exclusivity agreement that limited their market access. The agreement has recently been waived and Ellilta plans to expand throughout North America. One stop to get the attention of buyers will be by exhibiting both their hand-woven scarves and jewelry lines at NY NOW’s Artisan Resource at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City from February 4-7.
Apart from meeting new buyers for their products, Ellilta hopes to raise awareness about marginalized and abused women in Ethiopia. “It is the beginning of their journey from hopelessness to hope. I would expect that the Market Incubator program* will give them insights of how to take those first steps to self-sustainability. It will give them some of the tools they will need to make lifelong positive changes for them and their children,” said Bertleson.
For more information, please visit www.elliltaproducts.com.
*Market Incubator helps international artisan enterprises be successful at NY NOW and generate sales with US customers by creating a results-driven export marketing plan and presenting a unique product offer in a curated pavilion of innovative artisan brands at Artisan Resource.