In a culture founded upon deeply patriarchal tradition, Gelila Shewaye shines bright as a determined female entrepreneur. Upon graduating from university nine years ago, Gelila began work in her hometown of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. While translating for a mission group, Gelila first experienced the Kore neighborhood, a community in Ethiopia built around a massive trash heap. As the group was moving through the community, Gelila saw a mother with a young child on her back climbing the trash heap in search of sustenance for her and her family.
Struck in the heart, Gelila found this to be an unacceptable reality. Gelila began to dream of a better reality where the moms in the Kore community could work stable jobs and put nutritious food on the table for their kids each night. Having always had a passion for fashion, Gelila founded Lila Products with the hope of one day employing hundreds of women in the Kore community.
Gelila did not just dream of a better life for local moms, she worked day and night to see this better reality realized in Kore. For five years Gelila worked two jobs to pursue her dream. Gelila worked her day job to pay her bills and worked at Lila Products in the evenings to build her brand and hire women. She daily defies the odds, both of business challenges and patriarchal expectations. In a culture that puts heavy emphasis on family and does not frequently encourage female risk-taking, Gelila moved out of her family home and into the city on her own. Gelila’s journey of taking leaps of faith has given her the confidence to endure the difficult process of building a viable business. As if anyone doubted her commitment, Gelila’s most recent leap of faith for Lila Products was to quit her day job and pursue Lila Products full time.
As a pro-women fashion accessories startup in a massive city, Gelila not only faces the challenges of starting a business, but also those accompanying a developing economy. Lila Products and the women it employs show up each day, holding each other accountable to a standard of excellence to benefit women locally and abroad. Currently, Gelila is employing ten women to produce jewelry out of their workshop in Kore. Lila Products exists to create opportunity for the women who want to work to support themselves but not are afforded the gift of gainful employment in their current circumstances. The vision of Lila Products is to eventually support hundreds of women with a secure job.
During an interview with her, Gelila shared a story about giving one of her employees a multi-month long maternity leave. Pride welled up in Gelila as she shared the good news that she guaranteed the woman her job back after the maternity leave is up and how transformative this work has been for the young mother she employs. In Gelila’s words, speaking about her employee, she declared, “She used to be this little girl. But now she is managing her own house, and she is an empowered woman.” Gelila knows the dignity of working hard, risk-taking, and creating opportunities. She is using who she is and what she’s been given to create space for other women to discover dignity in the workplace too.
Gelila Shewaye you are an ordinary person who refused to accept the status quo which others did not care enough to change. Because of your willingness to work hard to create opportunity for those on the margin, your life is producing extraordinary results. Thank you for empowering women in your neighborhood and inspiring us to see and meet the needs in our neighborhoods with your story.