ENAT: A Lifelong Friendship That Impacts Across Borders
ENAT co-founder Olivia and I grew up together – like, 2-year-old-best-friends-since-day-1-of-preschool kind of grew up together. We were thick as thieves throughout our childhood in D.C., living only a few blocks apart. Our families have always been close and supportive of each other, growing to be an extended family (our moms carpool to work together). Olivia also had the honor of getting to grow up with Lemmy, the women, born and raised in Ethiopia, who was my nanny from when I was 2 months old until I left for college , and who I consider my second mama.
Lemmy was my first connection to Ethiopia. She taught me the ABCs in Amharic, made recipes from home for dinner, and provided a daily shoulder-shaking soundtrack in the form of Ethiopia’s top 50. She also often turned the blind eye when Olivia and I were getting into trouble somewhere in the neighborhood.
When I graduated University I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to go live with Lemmy in Addis, at least for a little. I got a job at an international organization working in ecotourism and conservation in Ethiopia and quickly found myself settled in, feeling totally at home with my Ethiopian mama and the bustle of Addis life. I dusted off my memories of the alphabet and learned Amharic and even started a business, Go Addis Tours.
Meanwhile, Olivia had spent the better part of her 20s in Buenos Aires, Argentina working in the startup community there. She had always been fascinated with the use of business to do good and solve real world problems, her most significant experience being part of the team at FeelGood in college, an on-campus organization that made grilled-cheeses with all proceeds going to solving world hunger. I remember wishing we had one on our campus and thinking how cool it was to do something so creative while also donating to a great cause. Plus, I love grilled cheese.
Olivia and I started ENAT in 2015 out of a desire to do something together. We’ve always gone back and forth dragging each other into projects and adventures and we wanted to bridge the distance between continents by working towards a shared goal. We had strong influences from our parents, civil servants who believed strongly in making the world a better place and following your passions. We had also spent a good part of our combined lives adding to our closets and swapping clothes. Turns out ENAT and conscious fashion was the thing that stuck.
From there everything happened pretty quickly: I had met Daniel at a craft fair in Addis where I bought a leather crossbody bag from him. I LOVED his design and the quality of his work was a step above anything else I’d seen in Addis. I made sure to get his name and number. He wrote it on the back of a paper copy of my passport that I had in my wallet and I’ve kept it ever since.
Turns out he was only 25 at the time and had started his leather business in his parent’s living room with 1 sewing machine and a ton of grit.
I was introduced to our other partner, Haimanot, through a friend and immediately knew I wanted to learn from her. Haime and her twin sister had overcome a tough childhood to start a business and serve as role models, providing entrepreneurial and jewelry-making trainings to other women in the city through the startup hub, Ice Addis.
Olivia and I knew early on that we didn’t want to compromise on our values while building our business. That means maintaining fair and respectful relationships with our partners, with hourly wages set by them; working with sustainable and recycled materials whenever possible and reusing our waste material to cut down on our environmental impact; building this alongside impressive, powerful entrepreneurs who are creating businesses that sustain and strengthen Ethiopia’s economy through job creation; and making affordability our mission in order to allow more of our customers to participate in conscious buying.
It’s a long list, but we couldn’t imagine leaving anything out. We’ve always said we want to “do things right” and, out of that, achieve some good. We believe strongly in the triple bottom line approach and are always looking for ways to deepen and strengthen our impact.
Who knew so much could come out of of a desire to just start something together?
Contributed by ENAT Co-founder Eliza