Abai Schulze is one of these entrepreneurs. Her brand, Zaaf, sells a delectable range of handmade leather handbags and accessories.

Eliza Anyangwe, for CNN |

With the headquarters of the African Union located in Ethiopia’s capital city, as well as an award-winning airline and a rapidly-growing economy, Addis Ababa is increasingly recognized as a political and economic hub in Africa.

Now, with its rich cultural and artistic heritage, a new generation of Ethiopians are trying to put Addis on the world’s retail map.

Luxury brands and boutiques

Abai Schulze is one of these entrepreneurs. Her brand, Zaaf, sells a delectable range of handmade leather handbags and accessories. With an online store and stockists in Europe and the US, it’s hard to believe that the business was started just over two years ago, or that Abai Schulze — who is 27– grew up in an orphanage.

Abai ShculzeBorn in remote Gishen in northeastern Ethiopia, Schulze’s life took a very different turn when she was adopted by an American family at age 11. That hard start would give her the desire to make change happen in her native Ethiopia. “I grew up in Texas but always had the desire to come back and start a business,” Abai Schulze says. “I knew I wanted to be in the creative space and create jobs in Ethiopia so Zaaf was a combination of passion and opportunity.”

Today, Zaaf which means tree in Amharic, employs 17 people — 10 of which are artisans — but the team often swells to many times its size. “We outsource when we have large orders,” Abai Schulze explains.

Abai Schulze and I meet at her workshop and recently-opened boutique in Addis. She has agreed to show me round her business but also to introduce me to other makers and entrepreneurs who are bucking the trend to simply export to mature markets in the West, choosing instead to also develop the market for their goods at home by opening retail spaces. With many jobs still being created in the informal economy Schulze also takes me to Addis Ababa’s largest garment market, Shiro Meda.

First we head to Snap Plaza, a new shopping center on Bole road (an affluent part of town), to check out baby brand Little Gabies, and meet its founder Amelsa Yazew.

Continue reading on CNN
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