How one woman’s desire to help her community led to the creation of one of the finest handicraft makers in Kenya and Ethiopia
Editor’s Note: From the archives; TrioCraft is still alive and thriving today and have a showroom at Mentewab Building as well as their production facility in Kadisco.
Trio Craft Plc. may be fairly new to Ethiopia but it is borne out of a prior company, Trio Craft Ltd. based in Nairobi, Kenya where it operated with great success for over 20 years. Today, it is one of the premier handicrafts producers in Ethiopia and maintains a sizable manufacturing facility in the Kadisco area of Addis. With a production staff of over 60 full time employees, the company produces an array of artisan products including table & bed linens, traditionally themed clothing with a uniquely modern feel and accessories such as rugs, handbags and scarves. At the center of this company is its founder and GM, Wzo. Elizabeth Kassa. According to Wzo. Elizabeth, the name of the company – Trio Craft – signifies the three corners of its foundation; herself, her primary partner (and sister) Aster Kassa and last but not least, God.
Even before moving to East Africa where the Trio Craft story first began, Elizabeth owned and managed Atlantic Business Center (ABC) a craft and arts center in West Africa. In addition, her sister Aster who holds advanced degrees in International Relations and business, has traveled across Africa in her previous career at USAID before joining Trio as the Deputy General Manager and head of Marketing/Sales. Small wonder then that the Trio Craft of today has in short order emerged as a force to be reckoned with in its industry.
Socially Rooted Beginnings
But there is much more to Trio’s and indeed Elizabeth’s story than this. In fact one of the more striking aspects of it is how the venture first started in Kenya as a way for Elizabeth – then a social worker – to help Kenyan women in her neighborhood by teaching them weaving and other related skills so they could make a living for themselves. Gradually, with the purchase of some equipment to support these efforts, both the size and sophistication of her operations (and clientele) started to grow. At one point, Elizabeth and Trio Craft Kenya were supplying many hotels and in particular eco lodges with rugs, bed lines and other accessories due to the high quality of their work and authenticity of their products. Today, there are several such firms in Kenya operated by many of the same women Elizabeth herself trained. It is a fact that she speaks of with a hint of pride at leaving behind in Kenya an entire handicrafts industry helping those women who had always been the main beneficiaries of her company.
It seems that Elizabeth’s initial career as a social worker has never been far from her heart after all. Although Trio Craft Ethiopia is a successful company producing exceptional quality products for both local and foreign consumption, in many ways it is also the latest manifestation of her philanthropic nature. She still recruits amongst women of low income (although men are welcome too) and conducts intensive craft skill training sessions to develop existing skills for crafts works from her recruits and give them a chance to make a better life for themselves. Annually, about 100 people are given handicraft exams to see who has natural talent. Those who excel are sent off for formal training followed by 8-10 months of on the job training at Trio. Throughout this process, Trio provides tuition expenses, transportation and pocket money for its recruits to make sure they have the best chance of completing their training. The self taught Elizabeth takes special care to teach her recruits how to make striking master pieces that are modern and yet in complete harmony with the cultural balance.
The Ultimate Satisfaction of Balance
Balance in business and good deeds is perhaps one element of what gives rise to the kind of satisfaction which is the namesake of Trio’s latest line of artisan products, Ercata. Using the finest organic cotton from regional farmers of Ethiopia, Trio combines ingenuity, creativity and traditional decorations with subtle interpretation to produce export standard goods. The holistic balance employed from the cutting room floor to its founder and chief inspiration’s office is exactly the kind of satisfaction the name of the line is meant to convey…