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Interview with Anna Getaneh

By Selam Tarekegn, May 01, 2019

Anna Getaneh is an internationally renowned international model and humanitarian. One of the most celebrated names in the fashion industry and in humanitarian work, Anna’s career has been one that has inspired many. After her outstanding, successful career as a model, Anna has founded African Mosaic, a fashion design, manufacturing and retail factory which collaborates with designers from Africa, to promote African fashion globally. The humble superstar doesn’t only shine in fashion and entrepreneurship, but also in humanitarian work. Enjoy.

 

We know you have been asked this question so many times, but again, who is Anna Getaneh?

Anna Getaneh is a proud Ethiopian, happy mother of two and married to my soul mate Admassu Tadesse. I am passionate about social development, empowering youth and women, and committed to change the perception of Africa in the world and fashion became my vehicle. I have a degree in Business Management and Marketing. I lived most of my life abroad and I’m now so happy to be living in Ethiopia for the past 5 years. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, or doing anything else.

You have been at the center of the international fashion scene for a long time now. How do you describe your journey as an internationally acclaimed model and designer?

It was a whirlwind. I initially thought I would work during school summer break, I ended up working for almost 10 years. I was fortunate to work in seven markets, mainly working for renowned designers at fashion weeks in Fashion capitals including; Paris, Milan, London, New York, Dusseldorf, Madrid and Tokyo. I guess I was in the right place at the right time. During the early 1990s there was a big demand for models of color and that opened a lot of doors for me. I was living in Brussels with my family and moved to Paris. Once I left the modeling industry soon after the birth of my first child, I decided to grow further the African Mosaique initiative into a sustainable fashion company and that was the beginning of my career as a fashion designer and social entrepreneur.

How did your journey in fashion and modelling start?

I don’t have an exciting story to share. I was already living in Brussels and heard that Paris was the capital of fashion so I took the train and knocked on the door of an agency, and started working for Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent within my first month in Paris. So I got really lucky. I had a great agent in Paris and within 2 years I was working in 7 markets. I realized very early on that fashion could be a great platform to promote what was important for me – promoting Africa and supporting the youth. So soon after I started The Ethiopian Children’s Fund and African Mosaique.

Where do you see yourself in the Ethiopian fashion industry? What role would you like to play?

I moved back to Ethiopia with one goal and that is to build a successful fashion label where we Design, Develop and Manufacture Made in Africa fashion and accessories.  I knew the journey would not be easy, but it is exciting and every day we are taking a step forward. I came back with 20 years of experience working in the fashion industry as a model, as a producer, promoter and now a designer.  I have seen how countries have created strong fashion industries and are able to sustain it. I wanted to bring all that back and see how I can be part of building our Fashion industry and along the way ensure that I support as many designers to build and grow their labels. There is a lot of talent in our country, as there is across the continent, it’s the opportunities that they lack. After all there is no fashion industry without fashion designers, so my focus is identifying the talent and help unlock it by sharing our space and transferring our knowledge. We launched the African Mosaique Fashion Incubator, as a free part-time program for emerging designers to do exactly that. We are in our third cycle, and I believe we will start seeing some shining stars very soon!

There seems to be a controversy about what fashion is, especially in Ethiopia. How do you define fashion?

That is changing very quickly. A while back fashion was considered frivolous and not a serious career. Today, starting from government, there is awareness of the huge potential for economic growth if we invest correctly in the fashion/ apparel/ textile industry. After all it is 2.4 trillion-dollar industry፣ and we can easily become a fiber to finish country, learn from the mistakes of the East and lead the next generation of sustainable, transparent design and manufacturing.  And, every day close to 100 million Ethiopians wake up and dress up – we need to change the mindset that imported clothing is better than local. Can you image if at least 20% of our wardrobe is locally made, our industry will boom, and I know we will get there.  My commitment and focus is on the creativity/innovation aspect of fashion, which can only be driven by designers. Investing in designers means we invest in the future of the industry.

What do you see in the fashion industry in Ethiopia? What opportunities do you see in it?

The fashion industry is at its very early stages. There is lot of momentum, which is very good. But that is mostly around the glamour of fashion shows and photo shoot. But we need to start from the very bottom and ensure we build strong supply chain, access to proper raw material, access to good design schools, good machinery etc.

The opportunities are huge, but we need to ensure government, private sector, designers and academia come together to help build the industry layer by layer. As mentioned above, with a 100 million people there is no reason why we cannot build a sustainable fashion industry and not only supply Ethiopia but the region, continent and beyond. We have the cotton, the leather, the labor. That’s what exciting!

You were born in Sweden, and you have lived in various countries around the world. How easy/difficult is it to identify as an Ethiopian?

I give all credit to my loving parents, who ensured we had a clear sense of identity growing up. My father was a career diplomat my mother a fashion designer and they made sure we learnt about our history and culture, learnt how to read and write Amharic from a very early age. And that is the best gift they could give us.

You manage a fashion design company, African Mosaique. What do you do? What is your mission?

African Mosaique, is primarily an export fashion company that produces women, men, children and home accessories.  My vision is focused on 3 elements: to source, design and develop in Africa. We have built a fully integrated design center in Legetafo, on 9,000 square meters, where we design and develop all African Mosaique products, from textile and leather producers, for our in-house label as well as collaborations and private labels. We also have a multi brand retail space and show area for our events, such as our monthly Pop Up and Festival. An open space manufacturing area where we are focusing on training 25 ladies who will become supervisors and team leaders for future employees. We also have monthly workshop and training for our Fashion Incubator program we launched in 2016, where we provided free part-time training to up to 12 promising designers from across the country to help launch their career, upgrade their skills and develop their collection.

Apart from your professional career, you have been engaged in humanitarian projects. What inspires you in such projects?

I have always felt it was duty to give back. Growing up abroad and seeing on TV the suffering in my country, I knew I would come back and do something. I just didn’t know when and how.  And ultimately Fashion became my vehicle.  I asked my father why there was so much suffering and that is all we hear, no one knew about our rich history, our culture. He always said it was up to us to go back and make sure we tell our stories, so this became my journey for the past 20 years. After volunteering at a refugee camp in Moyale I decided to start the Ethiopian Children’s Fund, registered in New York and Ethiopia and focus on rural education. At that time I felt there was more access to education in the cities and once you drive out to rural Ethiopia there were fewer opportunities, especially for girls. So we started the ECF School in Aleltu, 55 km from Addis. A holistic, integrated program where we provide education, healthcare and nutrition to children in need. We celebrated our 20th Anniversary, and today we have students who have graduated from university, some are back teaching at our school and others working at different companies. Over 1,000 students have enrolled in our school, with gender equality, a school clinic, a farm, and 8 clubs actively managed by our students.

Any individuals or organizations you would like to recognize?

No man is an island. I am only here, doing all I am doing because of all the wonderful, generous, people who have been by my side from the beginning, My family, my close friends, volunteers, staff, board, so many to mention.

Photos: Courtesy of Anna Getaneh