Sabegn Leather: Redeeming a Workplace

Fueled by redemptive, creative passion Sabegn creates pathways out of poverty for women in Bole, Ethiopia. Started by two sister entrepreneurs, Jerry and Elsa, Sabegn created this bright, airy workshop to employ women in the same space where prostitutes used to be abused. A place formerly of hurt and isolation now serves as the gathering place for dozens of women to be gainfully employed. A place previously shrouded in darkness is now adorned by smiles

Sabegn Founder Elsa with Interwoven Founder Mallory Gale

Jerry and Elsa set out not just to do business in Ethiopia, but to create impact, to be a business that benefits people rather than using them. With hard earned wisdom from failure, the two sisters launched their leather business. In two years' time, through grit, hard work, and love for process based learning, Jerry and Elsa turned Sabegn into a premier leather exporter in Ethiopia. They took the lessons from their previous ventures and applied them at Sabegn to create a workspace providing opportunities for women in Addis, Ababa Ethiopia 

Sabegn currently employs over 30 artisans, primarily women, who are all paid an amazingly fair living wage. They carefully interview each potential employee to make sure she has a heart for the business and the community Sabegn is trying to create. Because of their intentional efforts, these women are part of a gathering. They work together, eat together, and invest together outside of the Sabegn work space. The workshop, a place where shameful things were being done to women in isolation, has now become a place where women gather at the same table for work and relationship. Sabegn’s redemptive ecosystem extends beyond its own employees to other hard working entrepreneurs in the Addis.

Sabegn artisans working on leather goods

In it’s mixed space production facility, Sabegn also created a retail storefront and a coffee cafe. The retail storefront features work from over 50 local artisans. Jerry pushes her artisan partners to wear their hearts on their sleeves and put their products on the retail floor even though they might get rejected. “The more you fail, the closer you are to your dreams. Keep failing. It’s cool!” Jerry declared through a smile in our interview. It is clear she lives what she says as her shop is filled with experimental leather products and designs. Each experiment is a learning opportunity to understand her customers better. As Sabegn grows and gets more foot traffic in its flagship store, they share their brand power with local artisans who otherwise might struggle to gain selling traction in a crowded city of over 7 million people. Sabegn works not just to employ women, but also to boost the efforts of local businesses. This kind of collective, productive teamwork showcases the power of impact focused business. One more layer of Sabegn’s business ecosystem is its coffee cafe.

Sabegn founder Jerry next to leather designer

For Sabegn, it’s all about the people. What’s the point of doing work that leaves people burnt, used up, or dried out afterward? Sabegn used some of its valuable real estate space in the heart of one of Addis Ababa’s most expensive neighborhoods to create a safe, delightful meeting space. People from all over Addis and beyond come to Sabegn’s coffee cafe to enjoy a warm drink or a tasty meal. The best conversations and connections come around a shared table. Sabegn shares Ethiopia’s best resources with the world through its business.

Sabegn strategically created a business which connects American consumers to the highest quality leather in the world while upholding the highest ethics of employee conditions and business practices. Americans get to purchase excellent leather products that benefit the employees on the other end of the supply chain rather than abusing them. This is a sustainable cycle worth celebrating. Sabegn is full of heart, style, and quality, and they are not done yet. 

Sabegn Artisan smiling while working

The vision is to keep expanding partnerships abroad to increase orders. As orders increase, so will Sabegn’s ability to create opportunities for women. The women hired are invited to work hard in a loving community, given the opportunity to increase their wages as their skills increase, and are welcomed at the table in broad daylight rather than shoved under it in darkness. From brothel to bags, Jerry, Elsa, and the Sabegn team are writing a story worth telling.

Shout it from the rooftops, redemptive business is the way to sustainably provide pathways out of poverty. We all need to look to brave entrepreneurs like Jerry and Elsa as inspiration. Brave women who show us what we are capable of when we focus on impact rather than bottom lines. We all have impact potential. Set out to benefit someone, and then start. You might just do it.

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