UnoEth may mean ‘one Ethiopia’ but the team behind this budding brand extends to father-daughter cofounder duo and their team of artisans banding together to craft handmade leather handbags, totes, backpacks, duffles and accessories that are sourced straight from Ethiopia.
“This is bigger than just selling bags,” says Xiomara Rosa-Tedla, who founded UnoEth with her father, Dagne Tedla, in 2015. “It’s creating opportunities for people who look like me and who share my same heritage.”
You can call the brand somewhat of a happy accident: During a visit to Ethiopia, Tedla brought back a leather messenger bag for his daughter. The gift sparked a ton of interest from friends and family, who inquired about where they could purchase one.
That was the impetus for launching UnoEth—a way to connect people with the beautiful craftsmanship that Ethiopia has to offer. To start, the father-daughter duo brought on Muzeyen Siraj as their first artisan partner, also helping him obtain his export license.
And Rosa-Tedla, who had previously worked in marketing and advertising, took the plunge into full-time entrepreneurship. Since launching, she’s also designed several of the brand’s bags. She speaks with Sweet July about transitioning from corporate America to owning her own business, working alongside her father, and UnoEth’s evolving mission to work with and support other small business owners.
A lot of family-owned businesses exist but not too many are father-daughter brands. What’s it like working with your dad?
We did have to learn our different working styles. I come from a corporate background and I’m very Type A. He was a professor at Sacramento City College and he has more of a laissez-faire attitude. But it’s special. We really do love each other. And I think this makes us approachable as a brand.
What was it like pivoting to entrepreneurship? And how did this previous professional experience help you?
I started my career in marketing and advertising. I learned how to communicate to the consumer and the psychology behind things. But it made me really want to get into what is actually sold versus communicating how to sell it. So I went back to school—I studied fashion design and merchandising, and I wanted to be a buyer. That’s where I really got a lot of my experience with retail. It just seems organic—how our business started while I was working as a buyer. I really get to marry my marketing and advertising side with my analytical buyer side.
This entrepreneurial spirit is something that I’ve had since I was a kid. It stems from my mother, who’s a business owner, and my grandmother who was a business owner as well. It just kind of came naturally to start my own.
You mention your mission is much more than selling bags. Can you discuss its ongoing impact?
This has a direct impact on people in places like Addis Ababa where my dad is from and where there’s not a lot of job opportunities. It made me realize, “Oh, I need to keep doing this all over the globe.” I really think that it’s important to partner with artisans because I’m also a small business owner. I understand how things run, how much this really matters and moves the needle in communities.
It’s really important to showcase this artwork and craftsmanship, and share it with people who actually value it—people who really value quality and making a difference with their purchases.
Can you talk about one of your favorite UnoEth bags?
I think one is the Enku backpack. It’s just such a great classic backpack that I’ve worn all around the world and people will stop me and ask me about it. Another one that I cherish is our messenger bag. It means so much to me because this is what started our business. And it’s still a bestseller today. I love that our styles are classic and simple. I love that minimalistic aesthetic and a lot of other people do too.
How did it feel to see your bags on television screens, in shows like Insecure?
I cried! I read the email [from the Insecure team], ran to the locker room and started bawling. I think it really shows the intention of everyone that worked on that show. They really worked hard to collaborate with Black-owned brands and feature them on the big screen. To even just be amongst BLK MKT Vintage and Telfar and Brandon Blackwood, it just meant the world to me. It was a huge blessing and just a sign to keep going.
When you think about the characteristics of the people who wear your products, what comes to mind?
I think of a hard-working woman who is always on the go, who enjoys quality and versatility and also classic and timeless styles. They also enjoy pieces that have a backstory. I have such a dynamic group of customers, who work in nonprofit sectors and who are really movers and shakers. Women like Issa Rae and the character she portrays—women who are just kind of moving through life and learning about themselves.