“It’s all about independence” says Los Angeles-based entrepreneur Tessema Garedew who recently launched the Ethiopian-themed headwear line, Zerraf.
“Be uncompromising in your quest for independence,” goes his motto, a belief well represented by his trademark. A classic Amharic war chant used to rally patriots against foreign aggression, ‘Zerraf!’ is a hallmark of Ethiopia’s bravery as a nation that asserted its independence and remained uncolonized throughout its history.
It is this same desire to take control of one’s destiny and channel one’s talent toward self-reliance that, Garedew says, led him to turn his old ideas from high school into a business venture.
The result: Snazzy caps and hats with a noble mission.
His headgear, besides being an income-generating initiative, promote Afrocentric subjects and celebrate figures from the glorious past.
“I think the idea behind it is to take African culture — the style, the history and the different things that it has influenced — and try to, in a sense, make it palatable to different audiences by making it ‘trendy’,” Garedew told GIZEYAT. “There is a history behind it and it’s about honoring and respecting those who came before us, like Emperor Menelik and Empress Taitu who fought for the independence of their nation.”
Garedew and his older brother, first generation Ethiopian-Americans, were born and raised in Southern California. Their parents came to the United States separately from Addis Ababa to attend school in the early 70’s. After which they decided to remain in the US due to the political instability in Ethiopia that ensued following the monarchy’s overthrow by a military coup in 1974.
He received his undergraduate degree in ‘Africana Studies’ (formerly known as ‘Black Studies’) from Long Beach State. After graduation, he took up different jobs for a year. He then went to Ethiopia and worked at a school for another year before returning to the US and earning a Master’s degree in Public Health from Columbia University in New York.
Having no background in fashion or design did not deter Garedew from pursuing his passion for creativity. He says he always had entrepreneurial tendencies since his high school days.
His initial plan includes using African fabrics with unique patterns, which proved to be taxing but it’s something he is determined to execute once his business takes shape. He also considers branching out to other clothing lines eventually.
“Right now, I want to concentrate on the headwear until I perfect the designing and production process, while securing a long lasting partnership with the right manufacturer,” he said.
Of the two designs that are currently up online for sale, ‘Blacman’ is a creative rendition of the logo of Pac-Man — the classic arcade game and an icon of 1980s popular culture. He says five more designs will follow soon, including a hat that has the motif of Emperor Menelik II and Empress Taitu.
The Californian cap-maker, who officially began business a little over a month ago, will be introducing his products at the upcoming ESFNA Games in Maryland from June 28 – July 4, 2015.