Local designer weaves Eritrean fabrics into success

Creating beautiful and stylish clothing from hand-woven fabric sourced from Ethiopia, Admas Mahdere has quickly made a name for herself as a designer to watch.  

Following her success at Cayman Fashion Week last year, Mahdere’s locally made creations are now in high demand by her loyal clientele. 

Mahdere, who grew up in Winnipeg, Canada, after her family emigrated from Kenya when she was 6, has always had an interest in fashion and a connection to her native country.  

“My mum used to bring back beautiful dresses from her trips back to Eritrea and Ethiopia, and she would bring back fabric so that I could have a seamstress make dresses for me that were more modern in design, to wear whenever there was a special family occasion, such as a wedding,” she says. “The material was usually silk or cotton and really beautiful with intricate patterns that must have taken a particularly gifted person to make by hand.” 

When Mahdere was in her early 20s, she attempted to start a fashion design business with her sister and a friend, but the timing wasn’t right, so she continued her training as an accountant. In 2009, she moved to Cayman, where she continues to work as an auditor. 

Once settled in Cayman, Mahdere quickly realized that the island possessed a very vibrant social scene with a plethora of glittering events to attend on a regular basis.  

In 2010, she attended what was then called the Fashion Solstice in Cayman, an event which sparked her imagination, so much so that she decided to volunteer for the 2011 event. Soon after, she began to make custom pieces that impressed Cayman’s fashion lovers. 

“I wore a white dress that I had made for myself for the Breast Cancer [Foundation] Gala in 2012, and a client asked me to make a similar dress in red for the Cayman Heart Fund Gala the following March,” Mahdere says. “This dress was so well received, it really kicked off interest in my work.”  

With the encouragement of Fashion Solstice organizer Cindy Jones, Mahdere decided to take the leap and show her own collection at the April 2013 Cayman Fashion Week. 

“I traveled to Ethiopia in 2012 to see if I could find fabric that would be suitable,” she says. “I went with an open mind, knowing that there would be a language barrier as I don’t speak the native language. I made contact with a nonprofit organization which works with local weavers and gives them the tools to make the fabrics. My aunt helped with the translation and I was eventually able to advise them of the kind of fabrics I was looking for, having brought with me 30 to 40 fabric swatches to show the colors I wanted.”

Her collection was created over eight months, but Mahdere concedes most of the work was actually undertaken in the final month before the show. 

“I was quite indecisive at the beginning, but as time went on I knew I had to make decisions as to which pieces I should show,” she says. 

Mahdere approached the design of her collection by working on single pieces initially, working with seamstress Norma Ebanks, with whom she had previously undertaken sewing classes in order to prepare her for the work ahead. 

“I took my inspiration from everywhere,” she says. “But I knew I wanted a signature, a common design feature throughout the collection. I decided to incorporate handmade weaving into the pieces, sometimes on the collar or on the neckline.” 

Although she says she loves dresses and tends to gravitate to designing them, Mahdere says she was mindful that the collection needed to be well rounded, so she incorporated separates into the collection as well. In addition, she says, designers usually end their shows with a grand design, but she decided to work backwards, focusing on the showpiece first and then working on the rest of the collection.  

 

Positive response  

Mahdere says her collection was very well received at last year’s Cayman Fashion Week. 

“I was really happy with how well it was received, but I didn’t expect the response, nor was I properly prepared for it,” she says. “After the show, people were saying that they loved my work and where could they buy the clothing. I really hadn’t worked on the production side at all.” 

A gray dress with cut-outs in the skirt was a particular winner with the audience, as was a jumpsuit with a plunging neckline designed for women who like an edgier look.  

Participating in Cayman Fashion Week, and also in Africa Fashion Week in New York last July, opened up Mahere’s eyes to the fashion world.  

“It’s a completely different world to the one I’m used to as an accountant. It’s very chaotic and you have to learn to deal with very big personalities,” she says. 

Following on from her success, Mahdere says she began making custom pieces only for close friends or well-established clients, as well as selling pieces at Carey’s Karma Closet, where she says her resort wear has sold well. 

“I’ve been so lucky to have such lovely clients and friends who have been so supportive,” she says. 

 

New collection   

Looking ahead, Mahdere says she wants to concentrate her energies on producing a first-class spring/summer collection to be launched in September, giving herself plenty of time to properly work on logistics, establishing production in the U.S. with a view to expanding sales and marketing there also, as well as further afield to places such as the U.K.  

“I want to work on producing a ‘look book’ so buyers can advise what they are interested in. My focus is also on sales and marketing of the collection,” she says. 

Still working full-time in accounting, Mahdere says it is her dream to eventually dedicate herself to her fashion business. For now she is content building up her brand to fully market her 2014 collection.  

 

For more details and to contact the designer, visit admasm.com.  

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A perfect island dress

Local-Dress

This red dress, worn by Leslie Bergstrom, is the one that kick-started Mahdere’s fashion designing in Cayman. – PHOTO: WIL BIGNAL