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Fashion designer Mahlet Afework. Source: MAFI MAFI website

“I created MAFI MAFI to give a modern expression to ancient textile techniques while creating new design and production knowledge systems.” - Mahlet Afework CEO

In the heart of East Africa, Ethiopia’s cultural wealth is an abundant source of inspiration for its burgeoning fashion industry. Among the industry's leading lights, the fashion brand MAFI MAFI, and its visionary designer, Mahlet Afework (nicknamed Mafi), have gained both local and international acclaim. Afework’s distinct approach of merging traditional Ethiopian design elements with contemporary fashion trends is a testament to the brand’s innovation, reflecting a sophisticated fusion that places MAFI MAFI at the forefront of Ethiopian fashion.

Founded by Mahlet Afework in 2011, MAFI MAFI translates Afework's deep passion for Ethiopian culture into fashion. She was in her early 20s when she launched the brand, yet her youthful exuberance has since been tempered by an entrepreneurial spirit and an artist's keen eye for design. Over the years, Afework’s exceptional talent and unwavering commitment to her craft have propelled MAFI MAFI into the global fashion limelight.

2022 Fashion Show in Portugal. Source: Instagram/Mafi Mafi

One of MAFI MAFI's defining features is its use of traditional Ethiopian designs, which Afework incorporates meticulously into her creations. Rooted in Ethiopia's rich heritage, these designs represent the diverse tribal and ethnic backgrounds found across the country. Afework utilizes techniques such as hand-weaving, a practice indigenous to Ethiopia, which showcases the intricate details of Ethiopia's ancient artistry.

In a move away from the common mass production processes prevalent in the global fashion industry, Mahlet ensures each piece of clothing from MAFI MAFI is handmade. This approach not only ensures the quality and uniqueness of each piece but also creates job opportunities for local weavers, contributing to Ethiopia's socio-economic development.

Women hand spinning cotton. Source: Mafi Mafi (Instagram)

By making traditional Ethiopian attire more accessible and adaptable to contemporary fashion trends, MAFI MAFI has become a trailblazer, instilling pride in Ethiopians both at home and abroad. Afework often uses the traditional Ethiopian cotton, locally known as "tet," which is hand-spuned and then woven into cloth strips. These strips are then sewn together to create the "habesha kemis," a traditional dress worn by Ethiopian women.

From the to be released YALTOPYA collection. Source: Instagram/Mafi Mafi Instagram

Skillfully Merging Traditional and Modern Elements

Mahlet has skillfully reinterpreted these traditional elements, merging them into modern designs that appeal to a broad audience. Her designs frequently feature intricate embroideries, vibrant color palettes, and unique fabric manipulations that give a nod to the traditional while embracing the modern. As a result, her pieces often feel timeless, transcending trends to create a unique aesthetic that’s unmistakably MAFI MAFI.

Success has not eluded MAFI MAFI. In a relatively short span, the brand has received international acclaim, featuring in various fashion shows around the globe including Hub of Africa Fashion Week and Africa Fashion Week London. Afework's innovative fusion of traditional and contemporary designs has also won her accolades, including the prestigious Origin Africa’s Innovative Designer of the Year award in 2012.

Musician Damian Marley and Chef Marcus Addis wearing some of Mahlet's designs. Source: Damien Marley/YouTube

Mahlet has dressed notable people like Damian Marley in his music video entitled ‘Speak Life’ which was shot in Addis Ababa, Chef Marcus Samuelson and his wife Maya for the 2022 Met Gala, and many others.

One of Afework's notable achievements includes showcasing her designs at the New York Fashion Week in 2017. Here, her collection was not only a representation of her brand but also a celebration of Ethiopian culture on a global stage. Through her collections, Afework tells the story of Ethiopia, inviting the world to appreciate its rich cultural heritage.

Focused, Talented, and Still Going

Afework has given a captivating TED talk entitled ‘Ancient Tradition/Modern Fashion’, which was named one of Africa’s 100 Most Impactful Women Entrepreneurs and Visions for Reimaging Africa’s Future (2023), and she was also chosen to be one of the 6 finalists in the 2021’s Tommy Hilfiger Fashion Frontier Challenge. She has amassed success at such a young age that she is inspiring to the youth, especially young women.

Despite her success, Mahlet remains firmly grounded in her commitment to the socio-economic upliftment of her country. By employing local artisans, Afework preserves the country’s traditional weaving techniques, providing a steady income to these workers, and thus contributing significantly to their communities.

MAFI MAFI's rise to global recognition is a testament to Afework's design prowess, business acumen, commitment to social responsibility, and embodying sustainable fashion. Her work demonstrates the power of fashion as a tool to preserve tradition, promote cultural diversity, and contribute to socio-economic growth. As Afework continues to weave Ethiopia's cultural richness into her creations, the fashion world eagerly anticipates the innovative tapestries that MAFI MAFI will unfurl next.



Instagram- @mafimafi_et

Kalkidan Zelalem

Kalkidan Zelalem  is studying biotechnology, but her passion lies in writing, photography, telling people’s stories, art and empowering people. She enjoys documentaries, whether they’re crime, investigative, or biopics. Kalkidan feels like an old soul and indulges herself in collecting vintage materials- books in particular- which she wholeheartedly owes to her late grandfather. Her ultimate goal is to shed light on Ethiopia’s richness and to inspire young women to stand up for themselves and never give up.