Ladies of the lake: Ethiopian fashion label Mafi Mafi

Ladies of the lake: Ethiopian fashion label Mafi Mafi

We take a look at the latest collection from the sustainable fashion brand in one of the country’s most scenic locations


The Nomadic collection spring/summer 2019 / Image: Yonas Tadesse

Selamta editors

All images by Yonas Tadesse

With bases in Addis Ababa and New York City, Mafi Mafi is known for championing artisans all over Ethiopia. For Selamta’s fashion special, we spotlighted Mafi Mafi’s Mela capsule collection for fall 2023, as well as some favourite archive items, with a photoshoot around Wenchi Crater Lake in Ethiopia’s Oromia region.

Images left and right: Mela Capsule collection for fall 2023

Location spotlight: Wenchi Crater Lake

Some 155km west of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, right in the heart of the Oromia region, is Wenchi Lake – a 78m-deep body of water in the crater of an extinct volcano, about 3,000m above sea level. In the centre of the lake is Gergis Island – where we chose to shoot our Selamta cover, thanks to its sweeping natural beauty – and surrounding the lake is lush vegetation, scattered homes, pastures and natural springs.

Mela Capsule collection

Legend says that the 44 springs popped up from the ground in answer to the prayers of local people, in the immediate aftermath of a volcanic eruption. Nowadays, you can bathe in them at Negash Resort, a hotel south of the lake and a holiday home favourite of former emperor Haile Selassie.

Images left and right: Mela Capsule collection

If you want to visit this region, then you’ll be in good company. The journey from Addis passes rolling farmland, village markets and increasingly more untamed stretches of landscape, until you climb a final mountainous stretch to Wenchi itself. Once arrived, there are several lakeside hikes to choose from, through forests populated by colobus monkeys and passing spectacular viewing points along the way. Get a local guide and make sure to stop off at small coffee shops, exchanging a few words of oromiffa (the local dialect) with whoever you meet.

Mela Capsule collection

Mafi Mafi: a brief history by its founder, Mahlet Afework

“Mafi Mafi began in 2011 as a small business driven by a strong desire to make a positive impact in the fashion industry. With a particular emphasis on handcrafted designs, fair wages and locally sourced materials, the main goal of Mafi Mafi was to create a ready-to-wear, eco-friendly brand that incorporates traditional Ethiopian fabrics and caters to women around the world.”

Yaltopiya 2023 collection

“Growing up, my mother was a seamstress and I had the privilege of witnessing her exceptional skills in creating beautiful garments. Her incredible attention to detail and craftsmanship served as a constant source of inspiration for me. I didn’t have the opportunity to attend a fashion school, so I taught myself the art of design through the internet. Initially, it was just me, armed with a single sewing machine, a cutting table, and a budget of zero. However, Mafi Mafi gradually expanded and now straddles the Addis Ababa and NYC markets while also providing employment opportunities for over 60 individuals.

“Our main artisan partners are based in Addis Ababa, where we collaborate closely with talented local weavers. However, we also work with weaving clusters in Bahir Dar, in Amhara, and in Arba Minch. Both of these areas have a rich textile heritage and are known for their exceptional craftsmanship.”

The Last Resort collection

Behind the shoot

Our cover shoot for the fashion special of Selamta was no mean feat. We collaborated with a crew of around 20 people based in Addis Ababa and around Wenchi Crater Lake to find the most idyllic locations to show off Mafi Mafi’s creations, showcased by models Mihret Engda, Marina Obang and Selamawit Tsuruy. Along the way we encountered torrential rain, moody mules and boundless hospitality.

We’d like to say a special thank you to the people of Gergis Island; Negash Resort; photography crew Amanuel Asrat (DG tech) and Nebyou Bekele (light assistant); drivers Habtemariam Desalegn and Melkamu Tareken; location scout Miressa Hailemeskel Igo; and Mekdes Mesfin, Eyerus Elias Etsegenet Belew from Mafi Mafi.

Read more about Mafi Mafi in our guide to Ethiopia’s most influential fashion designers. Or delve deeper into cutting-edge African style subcultures.