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Ex-model tries her hand at design ... and helps women turn their lives around

By Teo Kermeliotis and Lucy Wamweya, for CNN
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1220 GMT (2020 HKT)
Abugida Fashion is an Ethiopian clothing brand which produces custom-made garments for all occasions. Its designs are a fusion of strong Ethiopian heritage and Western aesthetics. Abugida Fashion is an Ethiopian clothing brand which produces custom-made garments for all occasions. Its designs are a fusion of strong Ethiopian heritage and Western aesthetics.
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Blending of cultures
From modeling to business
Helping the community
Bespoke service
Expanding horizons
Dynamic design
Fashion fantasy
Overcoming difficulties
African superbrand?
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ethiopian designer Hiwot Gashaw is the owner of Abugida Fashion
  • The label fuses Ethiopian heritage and western culture
  • Gashaw uses fashion to change the lives of women in her community

Every week, African Start-Up follows entrepreneurs in various countries across the continent to see how they are working to make their business dreams become reality.

(CNN) -- Making the jump from model to designer seemed like a natural choice for Hiwot Gashaw. Growing up in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, the young entrepreneur always had a passion for fashion, drawing clothes from an early age.

Thus, it was no big surprise when in 2012, having already worked as a professional fashion model and after graduating from a top design school, Gashaw took to making her own clothes with the launch of her label, Abugida Fashion.

Fusing traditional Ethiopian designs with contemporary Western style, Abugida produces and sells a collection of clothes ranging from women's dresses and scarves to men's designer jackets and children's clothing.

"'Abugida' means learning something new," says Gashaw, who started her brand at the age of 22, "and with fashion I learn something new every day."

Ethiopian fashion designer Hiwot Gashaw.
CNN

Ethiopian garments are often created from woolen materials and they're usually traditionally hand stitched. Gashaw, who is involved in the entire process, from designing the outfits to adding the final embroidery details, has continued to use this trend in her intricate creations.

"What makes my clothes unique is [that] you can wear them anytime," says Gashaw. "Also, I design and sew them myself, giving them a personal touch."

Read this: Luxury shoes put sparkle in your step

What makes my clothes unique is [that] you can wear them anytime.
Hiwot Gashaw, Abugida Fashion

Based on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, the company has six full-time workers -- former street girls and elderly beggars, who have all been trained by Gashaw herself.

"I work with these women who used to be in the streets," says the young designer. "But now I trained them, they work with me and they are able to support themselves."

Gashaw cites expensive machinery and tracing raw materials as the main challenges for her startup but says that she will continue using fashion to change the lives of women in her community. Ambitious and determined, the talented designer has high hopes for her brand.

"I want Abugida Fashion to become a brand like Gucci and to be known all over the world," she says.

Click through the gallery above to see some of Gashaw's creations and check out the video below to find out more about Abugida Fashion.



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