“The Ethiopia-Based Designer Showcasing Traditional Pan-African Designs: Afropian”
Hortense Mbea is the founder and creative director of Afropian. She is a Cameroonian who was born in the U.S and travelled extensively with her family growing up, all of which made her a citizen of the world, though she is very attached to her continent.
Mbea’s first career is interpretation, it has been her profession for the past seventeen years and it remains a true passion. She did, however, leave an interpreter position with a major international organization in order to pursue other passions and set up her company, all whilst still interpreting, but as a freelancer.
Hortense says, “I have always had an artistic side, I used to draw, do ballet and jazz, I took and developed photos, I wrote, sang. As an adult I chose to focus more on my family and my trade, but there came a time when I needed that artistic outlet. That is how I founded Afropian in 2017.”
About the Company
Afropian is a pan-African brand that focuses on Ethiopia and how it relates to the rest of the continent. It’s made entirely in Africa!
“As a Cameroonian who now calls Ethiopia home, I wanted to share what I’ve learned from my many trips across the continent with my adopted country. I also wanted to share “my” Ethiopia with the rest of the continent in a unique way: by combining the striking, centennial Habesha art with art from other parts of Africa. I want to be the link between Ethiopia and other African nations” says Hortense Mbea.
The Masters behind Afropian
Behind every brand there are a group of talented and unique individuals to lay down the foundations of success. Afropian is no different and it’s this focus on traditional and authentic hand-crafted techniques that truly sets them apart.
Afropian collaborates with a Mali women’s cooperative that provides them with Bogolan. These women handle every step of the process, from spinning cotton into thread to weaving it and dying it using different clays and herbs.
This remarkable community of women has received training from a variety of international organisations and non-governmental organizations, and they are now fully self-sufficient. They’ve built a small school in their town and are now planning to create a small health center.
Bogolan (meaning “made of the earth”), also known as Bogolanfini or mudcloth, is a Mali-made painted cotton cloth. Its designs use ancient symbols to tell a tale. Bogolan was used to commemorate significant events in a woman’s or man’s life. Since the texture is so similar to gabi, Afropian decided to combine the two!
Afropian also collaborates with a community of female Gabi weavers in Addis Ababa. Gabi weaving has historically been a man’s work, with women spinning cotton into yarn, but the women who make Afropian’s gabi are a little different.
They used to be known as “donkey women,” as they used to bring heavy loads of wood on their backs from the Entoto mountains to Addis’ city markets. They now spin their yarn, dye it, and weave it into the beautiful, warm cotton cloth known as Gabi, thanks to training given by an NGO. All fifteen of them provide for their families, and the majority of them are heads of single-parent households.
In Abidjan they make everything from paintings to pendants. The majority of Afropian’s brass elements are made in Abidjan, by a master bronze-smith named Clement in his workshop near the river in Yopougon.
Afropian’s Master Bronze-Smith
He and his colleagues use the “missing wax” method, which entails carving the piece in wax before casting it in mud. The cast is then broken to expose the piece after molten brass is poured into it and allowed to solidify for a few minutes. It is then polished and gold plated or chromed, or left unfinished for a lovely antique look.
They make the classic Ethiopian cross in the same way as their colleagues in Abidjan do. The technique is the lost-wax method, which involves pouring molten brass into a mold made from a wax model. The wax model is melted and drained away after the mold is formed. And then there’s the Ethiopian cross, which has become a symbol of the nation.
What sets Afropian apart?
Ethiopia is at the heart of most of Mbea’s creations. Ethiopian art and artisanal work have never been associated with work from the rest of the continent in such a way before.
Hortense takes painful reminders of our past and turns them into beautiful art. An example of this is the way Hortense uses antique trade beads knowing they used to be currency for buying slaves in Africa. She was recently inspired by the mouth plates Ethiopian Mursi women used to deform their lower lips, which made them unmarketable by slave traders during the same period.
Afropian’s success shows that honesty, respect for tradition and true passion can lead to great success – and Hortense’s blessings seem like they’ll only continue from here into the future.
We love sharing and uplifting beautiful and inspiring Ethiopian-based designers – head on over to our Habesha Fashion and Designers group and join the conversation!