We are happy to introduce a new Etho series featuring our Black Owned Brands. Today, we sit down to interview one of the founders of ENZI, Azariah Mengistu.
ENZI is a premium footwear brand that is part of a new narrative of African creativity, craftsmanship and enterprise. Designed, sourced and crafted by hand in East Africa, ENZI is at the leading edge of a new movement of urban-oriented, globally-minded African designers and entrepreneurs. Hand-selected raw materials and superior craftsmanship combine to create a style that is wearable everyday, everywhere. Clean, urban lines and highland leathers meet in a shoe that is refined, comfortable and versatile. Every shoe is hand-made at ENZI’s workshop by artisans who are proud of their craft, proud of their product and proud of the ENZI brand.
What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to start an ethical/sustainable brand?
Find the balance of taking thinking big and managing risks. Risk mitigation is key, but it’s impossible to build something with genuine without taking a risk. Make sure your cause is the story, and that you are not getting in the way of it. And engage with your employee/beneficiaries in a real way. Empower them to make decisions and allow them to have a stake for their efforts. If done right it will only help your operation run more efficiently and you’ll have a committed team behind you.
What challenges have you faced being a BIPOC business owner?
Some of our challenges have been self inflicted if I'm honest. We aspired to more than being a black owned brand. We wanted to be African inspired, African designed, source African materials and produce in Africa. We committed to these ideas years before I even moved to Ethiopia. So there are endless challenges to face when you are building something from the ground up. Especially as we were introducing higher standards that people in our region had not been exposed to. When we were ready to engage in the market there were plenty of other challenges. Securing funding, access to markets and sales opportunity are also challenges we try to navigate as best we can.
What do you believe makes your brand unique?
There are two factors that set us apart as a brand. One is that there are very few independent brands of our size that own and operate their own production operation, especially in Africa. This allows us to manage the quality and create a work environment we have desired. This has allowed us to achieve the second unique trait of ENZI. Compromising on quality, comfort or the aesthetic of our products was not an option due to our vision. At the same time we invested years in finding ways to maximize our social impact. While we are proud to have been featured in GQ, we are as proud that we've been able to set up an operation that is making a tangible impact here in Ethiopia.
What do you believe sets you apart as an employer?
We do have a profit sharing agreement with our production team in Ethiopia, but what sets us apart is the amazing group of people working with us. I may be biased, but they are probably the best production crew on earth. I’ve had countless conversations with other business owners in Ethiopia who complain about their workforce and their low staff retention rate. That has never been our story, and our first hire is still working with us to this day.
What inspired you to start your brand?
What has driven us from day one is wanting to challenge global perceptions of Africa through our product and developing business a model that empowers our community. My self and the ENZI co-found, Jawad Braye, grew up together in Kenya and both saw first hand the misguided stereo-types that exist of Africa when we left to further our education in the “developed” world. We spent years brainstorming and debating how we could achieve this with our brand, and we finally committed to two ideals. First, to challenge global assumptions of Africa we’d have to create premium products in Africa, and secondly that we were going to maximize our social impact. It has taken us over 10 years on the ground in Ethiopia, but we are very proud of what we have achieved and the operation we have set up in Ethiopia.
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