Ethiopian Entrepreneur Loops Back Home To Make Shoe History

Ethiopian Entrepreneur Loops Back Home To Make Shoe History

Fashion, trends and market value all play a role in the footwear industry — people invest in their feet. Be it Nike, Christian Louboutin, Gucci or Puma, what person doesn’t love a good pair of shoes?

Mikahyel Tesfaye, an Ethiopian shoe designer, was in the fashion industry for more than a decade before he decided to launch Passport Articles De Voyage in 2009 through an exclusive Adidas collection partnership. Spending the early part of his career learning the craft of manufacturing products and working for large New York City-based corporations like Eckō Unltd., Tesfaye was led him into wardrobe styling and eventually design.

Three years after launching Passport ADV in the U.S., Tesfaye decided to take on the ultimate challenge of manufacturing shoes in his homeland.

“But nothing I have learned in ‘the business’ could have prepared me for the experience of working in Africa,” Tesfaye told AFKInsider.

Delving Into Shoe Manufacturing 

While Passport ADV is no shoe giant, the brand has made some big steps in the local economy. The brand offers fair wages for employees and business associates, on-site job training that allows factory workers to learn graphic design and mentoring for those interested in entrepreneurship.

Being a native of Ethiopia, it was a no-brainer as to where Tesafaye wanted to permanently root his company. He previously manufactured goods in Asia and Portugal in hopes to create a business model that would be both sustainable and impactful while showcasing the capabilities of Africa.

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“My ability to travel and life experience was the ultimate inspiration for this brand,” Tesafaye said. “A [combination] of life experiences around the world were all made possible by my Passport, so the name just seemed perfect. Why not create the ultimate travel brand, built in one of the world’s greatest travel destinations?”

Made In Ethiopia

There are many challenges that most businesses have to overcome such as location, finding skilled workers and even building a facility when working out of Africa. But despite those challenges, many have find working out of Africa to be promising and rewarding.

Prior to Passport ADV’s Ethiopia launch in 2012, Tesfaye spent two years building infrastructure, supply chains and expanding groundwork in Addis Ababa.

“My sister began manufacturing handbags and leather goods in Addis, this created a point of entry for me,” he told AFKInsider.

As Ethiopia is Africa’s manufacturing powerhouse, Tesfaye isn’t the only one who has taken advantage of the opportunity to produce goods in the country. Ethiopia is home to more than 30 tanneries and several manufactures that produce shoes and other leather goods.

The country has an ample supply of livestock that gives great access to raw materials. With so many manufactures, the job market has lifted the local economy. According to The Africa Review, in 2013 earrings from exports of leather were close to $132 million — a jump from $76 million five years prior. With all of the available resources, Ethiopia was responsible for the $30 million in shoe exports making it rank ninth in the world of the leather good industry.

Establishing A Network & Global Supply Chain

As a result of Tesfaye’s tenacity to build upon Pasport ADV’s network via social media, the hashtag campaign #MadeInEthiopia was sparked on Instagram.

“Since day one!” Tesfaye exclaimed. “Because of my own network of influential people, I’ve been able to expose the brand and spread the word quickly. We literally documented the first year of building this brand live from Addis. I now see hundreds of individuals using it. These types of initiatives really generated a core following for the brand.”

Distribution is essential to the survival of any apparel or footwear company. Tesafaye successfully opened a concept store in Los Angeles. For him, working in Africa is a totally different experience in terms of developing modern, globally competitive products.

“As a designer, you have to learn to mesh futuristic ideas with indigenous craftsmanship, I believe when the two worlds can meet, you create the best product,” Tesafaye explained.

The Future Vision

By expanding a brand companies gain exposure and more businesses can be reached by different audiences. Passport ADV falls into the category of a luxury brand.

“It’s the world I know best. We are not lowering our standards to produce in Africa,” Tesafaye confidently admitted. “In terms of change, working in Africa has opened the brand up to so much more, and definitely given the product a more worldly type of exposure.”

Like most entrepreneurs, Tesafaye is committed to changing the business world of Africa. For Passport ADV, operating out of Africa makes for a promising future.

“We are rolling out with our first production in a retail supply this year, so keep an out for us at your favorite retailer,” Tesafaye enthused. “I’m here to raise the bar. I want to put a made in Africa product at the highest levels of retail. We are striving to do that and more.”