Xiomara Rosa-Tedla was born and raised in California. But it was a trip to Ethiopia that inspired her and her father, Dagne, to go into business together – a venture neither of them ever planned on, but something that just naturally clicked.
"In the beginning we really had to really learn how to work together. I have a totally different work style than my dad does... it taught me a lot of patience," Xiomara Rosa-Tedla said, fondly remembering the not-so-distant day in 2016 she left her digs in corporate America to launch a startup. "Honestly, this business was more his idea than mine, and it all started with him giving me a gift."
That gift was a handcrafted leather messenger bag her father, who is Ethiopian, had brought back from one of his trips to Ethiopia.
"I wore it every day and while commuting a lot of people would ask me where I bought my bag, and where it’s from, they love the style of it," Rosa-Tedla told Circa. "And, that’s how it all started, with people loving our bags, one messenger bag."
Starting up on a whim
UnoEth started as a passion project for this globetrotting father-daughter duo, and a way for Xiomara to reconnect with her Ethiopian roots. The team bootstrapped the brand with $1,500 in pre-orders from family, friends and co-workers, and has in a short time been able to expand to carry totes, duffle bags and accessories.
UnoEth, which borrows its moniker from a phrase meaning "One Ethiopia," sells its products online, as well as at multiple brick-and-mortar boutiques, including Concept Forty-Seven in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Most items are priced at about $178, such as their Sheba leather tote; their crossbody bags cost typically about $78, while their Guzzo duffle runs at $348.
Rosa-Tedla doesn't necessarily have a design background, she admits, but she says she's always been a creative person and even attended the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising for a merchandise and marketing program. She enjoys that as an entrepreneur she gets to tap into both her creative and analytical side, sketching designs and negotiating prices.
A 'paying it forward' business plan
Each item is handmade by an artisan or small business in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; and their business is set up to uplift local craftspeople on the ground. With every sale, UnoEth gives Ethiopian business owners exposure abroad and a financial boost. UnoEth works with artisans on orders from the design concept to final product, and places orders wholesale before shipping them back to the U.S. to sell to customers.
"Supporting local artisans and business owners really resonates with me," Rosa-Tedla said. "It makes my business have more meaning."
Muzeyen Siraj was the first local maker they teamed up with. Rosa-Tedla says that in the time they've worked together, he's been able to set up a new workshop and hire four employees full-time. "We started our businesses together. He used to manufacture everything himself, and he'd be the one to go to the tanneries and craft everything himself," she said, adding that he's even been able to build out his client base, selling to customers as far as Canada and Portugal.
Beyond leather goods, UnoEth also sources woven products.
In 2016, Ethiopia was named one of the top 10 emerging markets to watch by BMI Research. The countries on this list, which include Bangladesh, Egypt and Indonesia as well, are forecast to add $4.3 trillion to global GDP by 2025. According to the report, "these countries will see particularly strong growth in exporting manufacturing industries."
The UnoEth team say their goal is to "duplicate that same process" with weavers and other artisans, "helping them start their own business, where they can hire others as well."
"Success is never a straight line."
Studies say millennials might just be the least entrepreneurial generation ever, but that's not deterring Xiomara's dreams.
"I made the leap to go from full time corporate job, salary, to full time entrepreneur and that was the biggest risk for me," she said. "Success is never a straight line... it's easy for anyone to give up, but anything worth having, is going to require a lot of hard work and dedication."
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