Irrecha fashion blends roots and reinvention
In the bustling district of Shiro Meda on September 26, 2023, a vibrant scene unfolded in Addis Ababa during the holiday week as people flocked to purchase items for their families. Among the shoppers, many were drawn to traditional Ethiopian clothing stores, particularly in search of Oromo attire.
Shiro Meda is known as the epicenter of traditional clothing sales, housing various shops offering Oromo garments reflecting the people’s cultural heritage. Driba Haile, owner of a shop named after him at the same location, has over a decade of experience in the business. Speaking about customers’ preferences, he noted they seek new Irrecha clothing designs blending traditional and modern elements.
Business has been booming over the last week, which marked the peak season for his shop. The surge in clientele is linked to the approaching Irrecha Festival, which is an annual religious thanksgiving celebration among the Oromo people. It marks the end of the rainy season and the beginning of the dry season. Many visitors specifically seek traditional Irrecha garments for the festival, which involves colorful demonstrations and ceremonial activities in cities across Oromia. The vivid celebration slated for next weekend in downtown Addis will happen first, and then this will ensue.
Driba proudly shares they offer a range of Irrecha dresses and women’s accessories made from chelle beads. His shop in Addis Ababa showcases contemporary Oromo clothing designs that appeal to modern tastes. One recent addition is an innovative dress made from Chinese fabric accentuated with traditional “Mansha” cloth. Local artisans skillfully weave this distinctive Oromo textile.
The intricately embroidered dresses crafted by weavers cost 5500 Birr, while those combining Chinese fabric are 6000 Birr. Colorful designer t-shirts for men range from 3000 to 3500 Birr depending on the material.
Down the road, Emebet Belachew has owned Emebet Oromiya Traditional Cloth Shop for a year. She delights in the wide variety of regional Irrecha styles available. Customers seek garments representing Harer, Jimma, Welega, Bale and Selale traditions.
As Oromiya’s regions each have distinguishing Irrecha attire, Emebet ensures orders align with customers’ hometown styles. Most buyers favor modern versions of conventional clothing, she notes. The “Abageda” outfit especially draws interest for its close Irrecha holiday associations.
Mulugeta Taye, who owns another shop at Shiro Meda, shares his passion for selling traditional attire. Having been in the business for two years in his small shop, he has witnessed a significant increase in customers seeking Irrecha traditional clothes for the annual festival and other events.
He remarks, “In my shop, people mostly come to purchase traditional garments like ‘boku,’ which is predominantly worn in Borena for celebrations. Additionally, customers often inquire about the Shoa and Welega Irrecha clothing styles they want to wear to properly represent their home regions at the upcoming holiday.”
Lemma Wudeta, the proud proprietor of a large Oromo traditional fashion design shop that has been in business for over a decade, takes pride in creating culturally representative attire. His shop caters not only to local Oromos but also draws in individuals from different regions of Ethiopia exploring their heritage. Foreign tourists also visit to learn about and embrace Oromo culture through clothing.
He explains, “We specialize in designing male, female, and children’s clothing inspired by Oromo culture, as well as other Ethiopian traditional garments upon customer request. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with people opting to wear modern interpretations of traditional attire not just during holidays but also at weddings and other significant life events like graduations.”
Lemma’s shop predominantly utilizes quality Chinese textiles, which are then intricately and carefully woven by talented local artisans. Moreover, they offer fully handwoven dresses, tailored individually to meet the unique preferences and measurements of each discerning customer. The price of quality women’s traditional design dresses in his shop typically range from 2000 to 6500 Birr.
The enduring popularity of traditional Oromo clothing continues to soar amongst younger generations, driven by a creative blend of contemporary silhouettes and cultural pride in their history. In the heart of the busy Shiro Meda market, these vibrant shops have become popular hubs of cultural expression.
As Driba aptly summarizes his views, “In the past, options were far more limited for traditional attire. But now, with a colourful multitude of modernized designs and interpretations available, people – especially the youth – have more opportunities to express themselves through their clothing choices and represent their backgrounds proudly.”