It all started when...
Washington D.C. contains the second largest population of Ethiopians outside of Ethiopia, with a community of over 250,000 people. Little Ethiopia is peppered with restaurants and shops that sell imported goods, but clothes are few and far between. Saron Asfaw, an Ethiopian-American and rising junior at University of Maryland, discovered the niche for her online Ethiopian clothing store East Habesha while on the hunt for a dress to wear to a party that required traditional Ethiopian attire. In the end, she missed the party but gained valuable insight into the market potential for what would eventually become East Habesha.
Inspired by her promising business idea, Saron enlisted the help of her mother, Etsegenet Gebre, who owns several stores in Ethiopia that sell imported goods from Dubai and America. Since her mother often travels back to Ethiopia to manage her businesses, it was easy for her to bring back some traditional dresses to help her daughter test the market. Word of mouth began to spread, and before too long they started looking into forming direct connections with manufacturers in Ethiopia who could produce customized dresses in whatever style, fabric or size they needed.
Customers who place orders on the East Habesha website receive more than a dress—they get a specially tailored customer service experience. To ensure accuracy of measurements and overall customer satisfaction, Saron and her mother contact each customer individually and invite them into their home for a consultation. Upon entering, customers are welcomed with a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony in a room filled with photographs of their home country. According to Saron, this authentic Ethiopian experience is created so their clientele “can feel respected and welcomed.” While enjoying Saron and her mother’s hospitality, customers are able to browse fabric and style options and receive a custom fitting.