Meet the London based female entrepreneur behind the online Jewellery boutique, Adorn Abyssinia. In this exclusive interview, Meheret Asfaha will talk us through how she independently managed to break into the Fashion industry and found success with her jewelry collection, inspired by her traditional Ethiopian & Eritrean heritage.
Never forgetting her African origins, Meheret brings her own unique approach to developing modern handcrafted jewelry inspired by traditional Habeshan designs. What was originally a part-time hobby to help financially support her English Masters studies, quickly developed into an online lucrative business which now encompasses everything from rings to bracelets, in addition to earrings and traditional headpieces. Her signature collection ranges from fine, intricately crafted gold pieces, to bold, striking adornments encrusted with gemstones. Adorn Abyssinia also specializes in custom personalized jewelry and offers customers the opportunity to design their own unique, one-of-a-kind pieces.
Meheret, what inspired you to create Adorn Abyssinia?
“The concept came to me one cool afternoon when my grandmother and I were rummaging through her endless jewelry assortments. As we were looking through, she would show me her many handmade vintage pendants, earrings, and the many rings from our homeland with great longing and nostalgia. With each individual piece, she had a story to tell, and each story intensified the beauty of our tradition. So, keeping her in mind, I thought of sharing the beauty of our culture with the rest of the world through Adorn Abyssinia.
Adorn Abyssinia is a celebration of East African accessories, primarily Eritrean and Ethiopian body adornments, but customers from other backgrounds are also given the opportunity to express the love of their country/heritage through our personalized custom order service, enabling them to create a piece unique to them.”
Left to right: Eritrea Map necklace (here) and Senait necklace (here)
Left to right: Arsema Classic necklace (here) and Gee’z Name necklace (here)
Define Adorn Abyssinia in two words…
“Regal and Timeless. Regal, because the gold-plated nature of our pieces, intricacy of detail and high-quality finish, allows the jewelry to be a perfect fit for queens all around the world! Timeless, because tradition and modernity can be celebrated together through the detail of accessorizing, allowing one to boldly express themselves year upon year. Or better yet, generation upon generation! Mothers will pass these down to their daughters, daughters to their children, and children to their own. It’s an endless circle of a loving and cherished tradition.”
What were your first steps in developing your brand, and what have been the biggest challenges that you have faced as a young female entrepreneur?
“London is celebrated for the richness in its culture, yet the number of Ethiopian /Eritrean (Habesha) businesses centered around Habesha jewelry and fashion in London, are quite rare to find. The few ones available on the other hand, provide traditional designs that are not appropriate or suitable for everyday wear. Taking this into consideration, I wanted to create an online space where traditional jewelry takes an innovative design approach, by taking into account the needs and requirements of different customer demographics. For instance, keeping our younger customers in mind, we have merged our traditional designs with the latest fashion market trends – click HERE for our black rope chokers with traditional gold plated pendants, which have proved to be very popular amongst our younger customers. And of course, traditional designs are also available so the needs of both generations could be met.”
My first step was to brainstorm a few ideas for a brand name, create a design for a brand logo and acquiring the domain for my website.
Before launching the brand and website, I had to outsource a reputable jewelry designer as I knew a personalized service would be a requirement. I was, therefore, looking for artisans who would create original pieces inspired by my culture, whilst also allowing them to express their own individual artistry and passion for jewelry making. I visited different jewelers in Naples Italy, Northern England and London, created a list of contacts and bought samples from each to test the products. After much thought, I am now currently working with an artisan from Germany who owns a studio in England. Her work is remarkable, and I love her passion for her craft and attention to detail.
The next step was to find a reliable supplier to provide me with gold plated Habesha jewelry. Again I spoke to a few suppliers – I had found from suggestions of other business owners in Ethiopia – and selected my stock. Once the stock was available and I had a variety of products, I started to sell to friends and family to test the pieces and understand where the demand was high. Over time and through word of mouth, I gained recognition within the community and sales began to take momentum.
To be completely honest, my initial steps have not been easy and the biggest challenge for me has been financially. I used my personal funds to cover the costs of the business and, as a start-up, there’s quite a bit of trial and error. Often times I made decisions which cost me money but taught me a valuable lesson. Nobody teaches you to build a business, it’s a fairly long learning process but completely worth it in the long-run. Working full time while simultaneously launching a business was also incredibly difficult to juggle, but patience is key.”
Tell us about some of your favorite jewelry pieces from your online collection.
“We love all of our jewelry, but a few favorites are the Senait, Helen set and the Arsema sets out of the classic collection
These designs are timeless and recognized by our community for their distinct detail resembling iconic East African ornaments. For instance, the Helen piece is a depiction of the Walta shield which was used in combat.”
Meheret, describe the type of woman who wears your jewelry…
“She is not afraid of making a bold statement. She is full of expression and radiates positivity. She is confident, funny and beautiful both inside and out!”
What advice would you give to someone who is looking to start their own business?
“Knowledge is invaluable, we are literally surrounded by banks of knowledge that can help to create, build and grow a successful business! For instance, Shopify provides great blueprints for building an e-commerce website, whilst also providing guidance on marketing and social-media handling.
I also read a handful of books for business and self- development advice including, ‘Business for Bohemians’ by Tom Hosgkinson which provided me with the confidence to launch myself into this huge commitment with confidence; ‘She Means Business’ by Carrie Green, this self-help book attempts to improve the mindset of the reader, whilst also providing exercises and questions that allowed me to break the vision down for clearer direction. These, among many other books – a few other suggestions have been listed at the end of this post!”
Surround yourself with positive influences, I can’t stress the importance of surrounding yourself with positive individuals as sometimes the process can feel very lonely and daunting. The amount of workload involved in building a business can be incredibly overwhelming at times, and naturally some days can be tainted with self- doubt and indecisiveness. At times like these, a supportive circle of friends and family is invaluable. It means the world when you have loved ones who truly believe in your vision and provide unlimited support as best as they can.
Work with strategy, always have a clear outline for your project. Analyse the trends, get to know the market, the current most effective ways to market your brand and work from this blueprint. I found that with a given strategy, I felt less overwhelmed as I had a clearer work structure to abide by.”
What is your ultimate goal for yourself as a young female entrepreneur? Where do you see Adorn Abyssinia in 5 years time?
“My ultimate goal is to be an example for younger female entrepreneurs in Ethiopia and Eritrea. In five years I see Adorn Abyssinia as an established jewellery and apparel business. I am also looking into expanding Insight – the Adorn Abyssinia blog as a space where we can be up-to-date with Habesha influencers and other African bloggers.”
[end of interview]
For those who are keen to learn more about business development and starting up, here is a recommended list of some very handy reads:
1. Business for Bohemians –Tom Hodgkinson (here)
2. She Means Business: Turn your ideas into reality and become a wildly Successful Entrepreneur – Carrie Green (here)
3. Girl Boss – Sophia Amoruso (here)
4. How to Style your Brand: Everything you need to know to create a distinct brand identity – Fiona Humberstone (here)
5. And for social media management, have you had a read of my blog post (an oldie, but a goodie!), “How to grow your blog: Tips to increase your blog traffic via Pinterest” (here). This includes tips on how to grow your blog and social media traffic with only a couple of alterations to your Pinterest account (Meheret swears by it too!)
I hope you guys enjoyed this blog post, it’s something out of the ordinary but I am incredibly proud of my dear friend and simply wanted to share her story – I hope this has inspired you to keep following your own dreams, as much as it has me. Meheret, you are an inspiration to all young female entrepreneurs out there and I am excited to keep watching you grow and flourish! You have a bright future ahead, and I hope nothing but blessings come your way.
Until next time my dears. Lots of love,