Bole Road Textiles; the thread from Ethiopia to New York

It might not seem ideal to split a small business across two continents—but for textile designer Hana Getachew it’s essential. To produce her collections of ethically sourced handwoven pillows, throws, and linens, the Kingston, New York–based owner of Bole Road Textiles collaborates with artisans living and working in Ethiopia. For Getachew, the thread has always been there.

Her family left their home in Ethiopia when she was 3, relocating first to Canada for a few years before settling in New York. It wasn’t until Getachew was in college that she returned to her home country to visit family and experienced a deeper cultural immersion. “It ended up being this pretty powerful homecoming that I didn’t anticipate,” she says. “It was seeing all that in its original form, in its undiluted and un-Americanized form, that was really powerful—to go to the source.”

After graduating from Cornell University with a degree in interior design, Getachew spent 11 years at an architecture firm designing commercial interiors and office spaces. Still, she couldn’t shake the impression her trip to Ethiopia had made on her. In 2014, she quit her job and took the plunge—traveling down Bole Road in her birthplace of Addis Ababa, she hit the streets to find the partners with whom she would launch her textile business.

“Here I am, I don’t have any credentials, I don’t have a business, and I don’t have a lot of funds. … In retrospect, it’s kind of comical,” she says. “I stuck with the people who were curious and interested and didn’t brush me away.”

Those same artisans and vendors Getachew encountered on that trip are still working with Bole Road Textiles today. The decision to partner with artisans based in Ethiopia was partly a matter of quality—the weaving looms there differ from those commonly used in the West, requiring a high skill level to create the intricate geometric patterns featured on many of the brand’s pillows. Plus, there’s no formal training for this method—the weavers and artisans, who are predominantly male, are taught by their fathers and grandfathers. Women more frequently serve as the business owners of textile workshops, many of which are formed as collectives that divide labor and share profits equally—including Bole Road’s partner company.

In most cases, Getachew’s design process begins with a place. Take, for example, the Harar collection, inspired by a city in eastern Ethiopia. The vibrancy of the town’s bustling markets and colorful dress is juxtaposed with the centuries-old walls surrounding it. “How would I create a collection that tells the story of Harar?” says Getachew. “It became these geometric forms from the rigid architecture, to a lot of bold, bright colors from the streetscape.” The result is a striking collection of textiles in vibrant, deeply saturated hues— like cobalt and maroon—marked with lively, intersecting lines.

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