Addis Ababa: Interview with Yididiya Damtew #WomenCrushWednesday

This #WomenCrushWednesday we are celebrating Yididiya Damtew, a Women4Climate from Addis Ababa and a founder of Sheba Threads that currently goes by Aklill (a garland crown in Amharic), a lifestyle brand that blends a unique Ethiopian design with eco-friendly bamboo fibres.

Read on to find out about Yididiya’s motivation behind Aklill and her journey as an emerging climate leader.

W4C - What's the story behind Aklill and what inspired you to start it?

Yididiya - For a long time now, I’ve been using upcycled or recycled materials to create beautiful, exciting and unique items of jewellery or decorations, and Aklill is simply a natural progression of my passion and hobby. At Aklill, we work with bamboo, an underutilized and indigenous resource in Ethiopia, to create unique products. With the clothing industry being the second largest polluter, choosing bamboo as the main resource was a conscious decision to reduce the environmental footprint of our business. Compared with other resources, the crop requires very little water and does not need pesticides or fertilizers to grow. It also releases 35 per cent more oxygen into the air compared to trees of the same size. On top of the environmental aspect, our mission is to spread awareness about the African and Ethiopian cultural heritage. The source of inspiration for our design is in the culture. We take a piece of it and show it in our designs while maintaining the contemporary look. The end product aims to start a conversation about environmental issues and inspire others to live sustainably. Currently, we make rugs, blankets, pillowcases with a hope to integrate more sustainable products to people’s lives but our focus has been placed on socks as an everyday essential. In that way, people who wear them are reminded on a daily basis about environmental issues and hopefully, take action on climate themselves while celebrating the Ethiopian heritage through our unique designs.

When we first showcased our products, the feedback we received from our customers was overwhelmingly positive. Our customers loved it and were eager to find out more about the environmental impact of the clothing industry, bamboo as a novel resource and share this knowledge with their friends and family - this has been the biggest achievement of this project. According to our research, about 80% of our customers had no prior knowledge about bamboo and its benefits and its variety of applications. Our focus now is to integrate the indigenously grown bamboo into our business. In order to do that we are investing in research that will hopefully allow us to develop efficient methods of processing bamboo into fibre and threads. This, in turn, would allow us to generate local employment opportunities which is something I’m strongly passionate about.

W4C - What message do you have from your own journey of being a Women4Climate, for aspiring women leaders working towards a sustainable, greener and an ever-unpredictable future?

Yididiya - The Women4Climate journey has given me lots of insights and direction in terms of where I'm right now and where I need to be. The programme really helped me in connecting me with women who are working in the field of environment and climate and opened me to their ideas. It connected me with like-minded women who were facing similar issues and challenges. It exposed me to new information, knowledge, training that helped me shape my ideas and guide the direction of Aklill.

My biggest takeaway from this programme and what I will continue to share with other emerging climate leaders is not to be afraid to take the first step, independently of the issues they may face. It is also important to connect and create or join a network of people to bounce off ideas, understand their perspectives and grow together personally and professionally. I myself am still in the process of learning and working towards improving the way Aklill works. I would advise aspiring women leaders to be open-minded and continue their learning process to improve constantly. Sometimes, when we have an idea, we want it to be perfect at first but it’s important to know that our ideas can’t be perfect at the start instead we have to learn from our target audience to create and pivot according to their needs. And don't forget to have fun in the process! This will maintain your excitement and drive your passion! Being part of the Women4Climate community helped me stay energised and motivated. I will definitely continue to be part of the community and maintain a close relationship with my mentor, Mahlet Teklemariam.

W4C - Where do you see our cities in 10 years' time? What is your vision?

Yididiya - When I think of Addis Ababa in 10 years time, I think of a greener, eco-friendly and nature-oriented city. My city has significantly changed in the last two years. More sustainable initiatives were kicked-off and many green spaces were created. This already positive process started in the city and combined with the national drive to make urban spaces greener and healthier will definitely accelerate the change in the near future. The number of environmentally conscious people will increase, people will change the way they consume. Addis in 10 years time or even earlier will definitely be a better and greener place.

Find Yididiya on:
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