First Published July 2018
Fray never imagined that one day she would be managing an enterprise preserving the ancient tradition of weaving and producing beautiful Gabies but a twist of fate led her in this direction. Raised in Addis by her teaching profession parents, the importance of education was instilled in her life growing up and it was a natural progression for Fray to graduate from high school with excellent grades and go on to study law at AAU.
Upon graduation from college however, Fray discovered that finding a job was not that easy. Whilst pursuing employment in law, Fray decided that she should find an interim job using her English skills and so when a job opened up at a new guesthouse as a receptionist she decided to take it so as to start earning at least a basic income.
The Guest House catered to many overseas visitors and Fray was struck by the generosity of many of them and how most visitors always brought donations from their home countries to give to the less advantaged citizens around town. In particular Fray was struck by a group that brought blankets with them from the USA, which were donated to the elderly and infirm up in Entoto the coldest part of Addis. Although this impressed Fray, she also wondered why Ethiopian blankets could not be produced and donated locally and her thoughts immediately went to the Gabie – the large traditional hand woven cotton shawl/blanket that every Ethiopian has whether to wear as a wrap or to lay across their bed.
Fray went on to become the manager of a newly opened Guest House and was able to share a dream she had been nurturing of beginning her own business and being able to produce and provide locally produced blankets to Ethiopians in need and to employ artisans to help her realize this dream.
With some start up funding from enthusiastic supporters, she has been able to rent a small compound near Ayer Tena roundabout from where she currently employs 7 people including 4 former night guards – initially these men were doing double shifts as they were nervous to join a new business and to give up their stable guard jobs and essential sole source of livelihood. However, they soon realized that the Gabie business although small was viable and was going to offer them a secure source of income.
Inspired by the American Toms Shoe business (buy one pair and a child in Africa receives a pair) Fray had an initial idea of producing, selling and donating the traditional Gabies made from cotton in the same way but a better solution evolved to partner with another local company the Debre Birhan blanket company (blankets are heavy duty and made from wool). Customers can buy one (or more!) Gabies (even have a Gabie personalized in embroidery in a choice of colourful borders and sizes) and Fray then buys one blanket from the Blanket company to donate from every customer purchase. In addition to those in need in Entoto, Fray also works with other local organizations so that the blankets can be given directly to the people who really need them including blind and disabled people. One weaver can produce around 12 Gabies per month. And payment is per piece, which encourages the weavers to produce more. The cotton is sourced from the handicraft center of ALERT hospital and the cotton is then spun into the thin threads required for weaving the Gabies in their own compound.
Gabies recently celebrated their first year anniversary (during the past year they donated 100 free blankets to people in need) and although currently Fray also happily maintains her job at the Guest House, which she loves and describes as her “greatest inspiration” it is also her only source of income as any profit from Gabie sales is reinvested directly in the business to enable it to grow. Fray has a clear passion and goal that the business can become registered as Fair Trade so that one day she can employ more weavers and distribute even more free blankets.
July is the official start to the annual rainy season and as we know it becomes both wet and very cold here in Addis. If you wish to buy a Gabie for yourself and to provide a warm blanket for someone here in Addis, then please do contact Fray! Gabies believes that empowering people with education and training and paying them fairly for their work is the only way out of poverty.
Growing up Frays goals were modest – to help her family financially and to make them proud by getting good grades. But no doubt the solid foundation and values her parents provided her with in those early years also gave her the confidence, ability and inspiration to create Gabies!
0913410116 or 09120197777