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New design method offers Ethiopian women opportunity for independence

Female entrepreneurship

A new batch of students listens attentively to the inspiration session provided by three recently graduated fashion designers. The thirty – mainly female – creatives are silent as Sara Mohamed enters the hall, to take over the batten from the young designers. The empowered owner of the Next Design fashion institute is bursting with energy and once again sweeps the entire classroom before her, with her words of motivation. 

Fré, who graduated top of her class at the end of last year, stands in the corridor, clearly in awe of Sara. “Sara is an inspiration and a huge name in the Ethiopian fashion world.” The newly fledged entrepreneur proudly unveils her designs. From magnificent bridal gowns through to brightly coloured bags, Fré designs the entire range. Despite her talent, she explains that entrepreneurship remains a challenge for her. “That is why we organise a drop-in day every Wednesday,” explained Sara, as she takes her seat behind her desk. “It offers Fré and the other graduates an opportunity to ask all their questions about starting a business.”

‘For every paying student, a less affluent woman is also admitted to the study programme, who is not required to pay any tuition fees’

It quickly becomes clear that Sara’s ambitions extend beyond the fashion world. The institute’s director has set herself the target of sending as many women as possible out into Ethiopian society, with the power to sustain themselves. “I want women who leave their home to be independent; sadly, Ethiopian men are not renowned for their woman-friendly attitudes.” Through her business, Sara puts these words into practice by admitting one less affluent woman to the study programme who is not required to pay any tuition fees, for every paying student.

Quality boost

The female entrepreneur has greater plans, however. In order to reach out to even more young girls and women through her institute, irrespective of their prior education and financial capacity, she decided to call in the assistance of PUM. As a result, PUM expert José Veldkamp (56) has already completed two advisory missions to Ethiopia, to deliver a quality boost to the fashion institute and to make the study programme more accessible to women from all echelons of society. During her first visit, for example, José introduced the Lutterloh method. This design method that originated in Germany makes use of an easily understandable guide book and tape measure, requires limited mathematical knowledge and simplifies the way in which clothing in every shape and size can be designed.

While Fré and her classmates demonstrate how a skirt is designed according to the Lutterloh method, Sara describes the simple approach to design in more detail; in her judgement it can make a real contribution to improved employment opportunities and a stronger position for women in Ethiopia. Soon after PUM’s first advisory mission, the Ethiopian clothes designer recognised that the method gave Next Design a low-threshold training course that offers even more ambitious women an opportunity of independence. “Using the Lutterloh method, we can teach women the basic principles of design in just three months, a process that would take at least a year, according to the regular method.”

National impact

Sara and PUM expert José therefore decided during the subsequent advisory mission to visit the Ministry of Education, to convince Ethiopian officials of the value of the new drawing method. The Ministry responded positively and expressed its willingness to introduce the Lutterloh pattern drawing method at all design schools across the country, in collaboration with Sara. José will assist in this process during her third advisory mission, by explaining the new method to more than one hundred design teachers. “In July we will in fact be closing our doors for a full month and inviting teachers from around twenty fashion schools right across the country to Addis Abeba, to learn to use the new design method,” confirmed Sara. The plan is then for the Lutterloh method to become a fixed element of the curriculum in all design institutes throughout the country.

While Sara emphasised one more time how many young girls and women can be supported in becoming self-sufficient via this method, Fré and her former classmates made the finishing touches to their skirt design. For them this accessible method may not be such a challenge, but they are convinced that many young people from their generation will profit greatly from the Lutterloh method that has been introduced via PUM consultant José.

José Veldkamp. “My background is in fact financial. I was employed as branch manager at SNS Bank. At the time, as a woman I was very much the exception. I was highly ambitious. However, via a series of meanderings - together with my former husband I ran three computer shops and a Bed & Breakfast in France for three years – I ended up in the fashion business, in 2009. To be able to produce designer clothing I needed more knowledge of pattern making. By chance I came across the Lutterloh system on the Internet. I was immediately impressed. I have now studied the technique of pattern drawing so thoroughly that using Lutterloh I am able to produce a perfectly fitting pattern for any body shape, in next to no time. It became increasingly clear that this new, refreshing and very easy to use system is a perfect solution for many African countries. It is fabulous to be able to share my knowledge with users in Africa.” 

Text by: Daaf Borren

Photography: Flo Schepers