In this series, we’re introducing you to strong and savvy female entrepreneurs from Ethiopia who have partnered with social enterprise and brand ABLE.
Furtuna Mario is in the rare position of being a woman and owning her own leather business in Ethiopia. Her professional success is testament to her deep motivation to improve conditions for those around her and evidence of an insatiable work ethic. In fact, that work ethic has earned her the nickname “The Iron Lady”, which she is lovingly and respectfully referred to by all who she works with through Fayda in Fashion.
“My dad and mom are very hardworking,” said Furtuna. “If they do something, they do it right. That was passed along to me and my siblings. We’re committed to our work and doing it right.”
Yet her determination is met equally with heart. Furtuna’s life’s motto is “Do good to all people.” She is quick to credit her success to the people who have supported, encouraged and believed in her, and she wants to do the same for others both in and outside the workplace.
Growing up in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, with three siblings, her father worked as a mechanic while her mother worked as a homemaker. Furtuna never dreamed of owning her own business, but even as a young girl, she knew she wanted to pursue an education and a career.
In a country where only 30% of college students are women, and 5% don’t return after the first year, Furtuna is an anomaly. She holds a degree in nursing and a second in child development. Upon graduation, she worked in a hospital and then for an adoption agency, where she’d come to meet Barrett Ward, the CEO of ABLE.
“I got the chance to work for ABLE as their country representative, and my eyes were opened to business,” said Furtuna. “First, my husband told me that I could run my own leather business and manage it well. We noticed demand was growing but supply wasn’t as quickly, so I thought I could open my own workshop and do it in a much bigger, professional way.”She was also encouraged by other female entrepreneurs working in the leather industry in Ethiopia.
“Usually when people are working in the same kind of business, they don’t find the support from their peers. Those women, in particular, are special and kind. It’s a special instance.”
So Furtuna told the ABLE team she was leaving to start her own business, and ABLE became one of her first customers. In the early days, Furtuna, a fast learner, faced many challenges, like obstacles obtaining raw materials, training employees, meeting deadlines, and the general ins and outs of running her own business.
“It was scary at first because it was a risk for myself and others,” said Furtuna. “I kept thinking, ‘What if I hire them and the business doesn’t go well?’ But over time I came to learn that I could manage the business, and I built up confidence.”
Amplifying the stress of starting her own business was the fact that Furtuna was also 2-months pregnant with her third child when she started Fayda in Fashion. However, her growing family only motivated her even further.
“Owning my own business feels liberating in the sense that I manage my own work, and I get to hire my employees myself,” said Furtuna. “It’s really liberating compared to working for someone else.”
Currently, Fayda in Fashion employs 28 workers. Furtuna has applied what she’s learned about social impact from the ABLE team and is constantly working to keep the environment peaceful and empowering.
“One of the ways I’m keeping my employees motivated is paying a livable wage,” said Furtuna. “As they develop and gain new skills, we give them different responsibilities, and we encourage them through higher wages and promotions.”
Furtuna knows Ethiopia has a reputation for touting low wages as a way to attract foreign investment, and that’s one of the reasons she never anticipated owning her own business.
“I saw business owners pay low wages and get rich on the expense of their employees,” said Furtuna. “It gives me peace to pay living wages to my employees – peace that they have enough to eat, can afford transportation, and safe housing. I’m not profiting at the expense of their labour, and they’re earning a wage worth the work they put in here.”
Furtuna is also investing in training for her employees and wants them to think bigger and better for themselves.
“I want them to remember me as a person,” said Furtuna. “I have people I remember who encouraged me and pushed my limits. I am able to own my business because people saw a potential in me, and I want to do that for others.”
ABLE is publishing its lowest wages to protect and empower the fashion industry’s most vulnerable workers, most of whom are women. To provide consumers with complete transparency, all their partners must go through the rigorous and exhaustive ACCOUNTABLE assessment, evaluating their workplace’s equality, safety, wages and benefits, with a particular emphasis on women. To learn more about ABLE’s #PUBLISHYOURWAGES movement that inspires consumers to demand greater transparency of their favourite brands, visit www.livefashionable.com/publishyourwages.
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