Friday, July 2, 2010

The setting: An Ethiopian Spin Class

Wednesday June 30, 2010

Yes I found one and it is unique to say the least. Any trainer in the US would go crazy with anxiety watching these guys doing a Harlem shake and bouncing back and forth to the music as their knees waver in and out. Most even take off their seat to get a broader range of body-flinging motion. The music is so loud (like everything else in Ethiopia) that the instructor whistles commands at us, while he dances around the room drinking orange soda. If I paid attention for the whole hour I wouldn’t be able to tolerate it very long, but I am grateful for the bike and so I just tune it out and do my own thing. However, if ever in Ethiopia I highly recommend as a cultural adventure.

It’s been a long time since I have committed myself to writing because I have been that really great kind of busy where stuff actually gets accomplished. I am fairly certain that the increase in the quality of my morning coffee has had a direct effect on my productivity level. With the arrival of Joan and Neeah, two Occupational Therapists, came a French press…NO MORE INSTANT! So as I sit here with my fabulously bohemian clay mug, purchased from the foreigner haven NGO bazaar, I feel clear headed in a way that only rich caffeine can provide.

But the NGO bazaar got me thinking. What is so fabulous there that foreigners flock? Literally we line up outside at 8:30 on a Saturday morning to get the prime pick. Why doesn’t this happen at the bazaars the Kechene women attend? Well the answer is simple. The NGO venders all offer completely unique wares that beautifully interweave Ethiopian culture with foreigner appeal and wear-ability, while the Kechene women offer much the same as every other typical Ethiopian tourist shop. So now the question becomes: how do we get Kechene products up to NGO bazaar standards so they can hold a monthly spot their too?

The shop women have maintained a stand at a bazaar all last week and are attending a new one this week. I am not sure how successful these bazaar stands are, but based on my observations from the NGO fair, my intuition tells me that they do not do so well. I went to visit them last Wednesday and while they are proud, they are not selling. This is not to say they don’t have exceptional crafting talent, it’s just the variety and uniqueness of execution gets lost. However, it is still really great for the women to be able to get their wares “out there” a little more.

Ideas. They need fresh ideas. And so I have been working on differentiation techniques with some of the Gladney staff who help support the shop. Some suggestions have to do with product, what do American families (bringing home a new child or two) want to buy? Because certainly the last thing they want to occupy their mind is how to pack a coffee ceremony or tribal drum set, which both are currently occupying places of honor in the shop. Families are not your typical tourists and frankly, if you want to be a typical tourist I would not recommend Ethiopia.

What I want to work on is marketing the Kechene shop based on the women themselves. They have such incredible stories and in my completely unbiased opinion, are deserving of business over any competing shop. They need a support system, a way to get their stories even further and this would lead to greater success in the shop. Right now I am helping them devise a “logo” (thanks mom) a depiction of who these women are, that can be embroidered or imprinted on all their handcrafted pieces. Having a “look” is an important first step. And I think from creating a unique insignia follows more creativity of product, focus of demography and awareness of quality.

So why this arduous explanation? Because we need help! It is obvious based on my experience thus far that buying chackies unique to Ethiopia is important, but there is a balance between being “culturally Ethiopian” and “glaringly Ethiopian.” Which if you don’t know what I mean picture Rastafarian with some extra flare. Now that’s a hard sell to your average American. Working through some new product ideas I can handle, though suggestions are always welcome. Where I am struggling is how else can we let the world know about these women? How can we get tourists to choose the Kechene shop over the Leper shop or some random tourist trap at Piazza? It might be hard to picture never having been here, but we are in a great bustling location and trust me, in Ethiopia, customer service is not a problem.

So in the end, I wrote this blog to ask for help. To plead for suggestions. E-mail me! ( Thoughts, ideas, questions, concerns, wishes, hopes and dreams, all is welcome.

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