For centuries, cotton has been part of the rich socio-cultural tapestry of Ethiopian life. Ethiopia is known for some of the most beautiful, intricate textiles of the globe. For generations, women have been responsible for the cultivation and hand-spinning of cotton into yarn. The yarn is often weaved into shemma, a hand-woven panel of fabric used in traditional Ethiopian clothing.
The process of textile making shows how vital the family unit is to Ethiopian culture. The family and the extended family are genuinely the cruxes of society. Individuals are often valued and recognized for more than their own achievements and social status. People also establish themselves based on the success, social standing, and honor of their family. The needs of the family are paramount and Ethiopian women come to know unity, humility, strength, and virtue through traditional family values and community culture.
Habesha kemis is an Ethiopian dress, traditionally worn at formal events, made from shemma panels. The dress features expertly hand-woven cotton fabric, featuring Tibeb accents. Tibeb patterns are created by weaving multicolored threads along the waistband, cuffs or hems of the kemis. The dress is often worn with a netela, a light shawl to wrap around the shoulders or head. It is important to remember there are variations of the Habesha kemis throughout Ethiopia. Varying weights and thickness based on climate, differing colors, and Tibeb patterns based on regional aesthetics and customs.
The commonly white shade of the dress symbolizes a woman's purity and spiritual connection. While men often lead religious ceremonies in Ethiopian culture, women are believed to be spiritual conduits and mediums. Women are the unassuming power and unifying force of the family. The Habesha kemis connects the women with their foremothers' strength and the effortless beauty and femininity that comes from being a nurturer, provider, and integral part of the community. Though traditionally found in Ethiopian and Eritrean, Island Tribe has ventured deeper into the culture with one-of-a-kind Habesha kemis.