The African Building Platform


Product Design and the Local Economy

Amanuel Samuel
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Our country Ethiopia has been an import-focused country for quite a while now. This practice has created and enabled the injection of higher global qualities into the local market as well as providing a higher achievable standard. It has also introduced something far worse: a nightmare for the proper well-being of economic stability of the country. For we have become dependent on imported goods which have replaced many of our local products, items, and crafts attributed to several factors including pricing, perception, and awareness.

For the past months, inflation – majorly caused by the escalating import dependency against the shortage of the dollar – has become an immense challenge for the government, businesses, and end users. Nowhere is it more evident than in the construction and building sector. In fact, after construction was halted in early august, architects and designers had begun focusing on interior design as a viable income option. But even then, what was a blooming market of interior spacecraft began to slowly wilt as currency shortage and the lack of quality import substitution tightened the supply of materials.

It is here that one needs to ask, where is the local industry that can fulfill such demands according to the specification and request of the designer or the client? Well, it’s there. Only, its voice is muffled by excess imports and the often-incorrect attitude people have when it comes to locally made items.

From furniture of all size to decors and accessories, to pottery and art, most crafts can be found in Addis with higher quality than their imported counterparts. Most are even cheaper. What’s more, these items are very important in stabilizing the economy through job creation and income generation, local currency transactions, and environmental sustainability among many others. These designers, crafters, and artisans play an immense role in providing the design sector with tons of material that’s visually intriguing, ethically sound, and socially responsible.

As the creative generation rises through the internet’s open flow of information, the need to create something that’s been locally inspired has become a good aspect. The use of materials in new ways, rethinking functions of traditional elements, and even the recycling of discarded objects has become an innovative way of design. Here are some companies and startups engaged in such practices:

The modularity of furniture design is a great way to create something completely unique and flexible to spatial needs. In fact, it’s a very custom and underserved market niche. Cubox designer and architect Kidist Girma, with her various typologies of storage and comfort furniture, plays into this high-demand market with the quality to match.

The company housed under IBC Ethiopia which has made interior fit-outs and exhibition spaces since 1963 has several values under its clean Scandinavian-styled furniture: it completely sources its products from the local market and moreover, it primarily uses the leftover materials of its parent company. This is an ingenious way of tapping the local market while also running a sustainability campaign! It also plays a significant role in its social responsibility as it employs those hard of hearing.

The design of this minimalistic furniture has a distinctly Scandinavian feel through its natural minimalism, contrasting colors, and clean contours sometimes with an added aesthetic featuring African patterns. Upheld with an iron frame of fairly equal-sized cubes, the several types of storage units can be made of wooden drawers, crates, and wine boxes, as well as traditional weavings or recycled paper baskets which are sourced from local artisans. Tops can also be upholstered so they can function as proper seating.

Colorfully unique and delightful, Aklil rugs have become a phenomenon in recent years. From circular rugs for small interior spaces to roll carpets for government officials, these rugs have caught the eye of many.

Yididiya started her journey with socks made of bamboo fiber, which was expensive to make and thus financially taxing. However, she was introduced to the whole possibility of bamboo craft and its extensive applications. By pivoting to a highly lucrative artisanal work, Aklil was born.

The rugs of various national artistic elements such as the Adey Abeba, coffee beans, and several other abstractions can also be incorporated as wall hanging tapestries. By combining heritage and culture through threads of bamboo fiber, it’s achieved to make these rugs eco-friendly. They’re completely sustainable in material usage as well as carbon emissions.

Through an experimental approach to production, Aklil has managed to contribute something essential to interior design.

Interior accessories are a great way to create comfort and a sense of live space. Architect Lydia understood this need from a design perspective and an innate love of traditional crafts. She created Yehagere, a brand focused on making use of local weavers to create textile products including a variety of shema-patterned home accessories.

These pillows and throw towels are great additions to homes to develop a lively environment. The dyed colors pop through the texture of Shema while staying neutral to the surrounding environment. This, coupled with the social aspect of the company which works with the cooperations of single mother weavers give it a special note of appreciation.

By tapping into the fabric identity of the Ethiopian cultures, Yehagere has provided interior designers with a unique opportunity to create a distinct national feeling in their spacecraft. //

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© July, 2024 Ketema Journal

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