“I create, take risks: I live my passion: I am an Entrepreneur”


Semhal Guesh is the founder and CEO of KABANA Leather Company. She studied Architecture in the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development (EiABC), Addis Ababa University and then earned a diploma in Sustainable Business Management from the Swedish Institute of Management.

She has also received a certificate in Factory Supervision from Skyline, Leather Industry Development Institute (LIDI) and certificates in Project Management, Leadership, and Entrepreneurship training from US Embassy, received a diploma in Sustainable business management from Swedish Institute, YALI fellowship and other programs.

Right after her graduation, Semhal served in an Architect’s office (BKW Architects) and in construction companies back to back for few months, later she worked for two years in Architecture and engineering firm. She has also worked as a managing director for an event organizing company.

After realizing that she wanted to dedicate her life to achieve her passion and to have her own company, she started her journey until she finally established Kabana Leather, which is socially and environmentally conscious leather accessories manufacturer and exporter.

The Ethiopian Herald had a short stay with this young determined entrepreneur to walk us through her journey and experience. Enjoy your reading.

Please tell us a bit about your career journey and what motivates you to keep on going?

Design has always been my passion. It has always been my motivation to continue working no matter how much obstacles I faced in life. The Kabana team which is a real composition of amazing and strong women is the other thing that drives me to take each of my steps in my career.

With my employees on the other hand, I have enough inspiring stories that can motivate anyone. The fact that Kabana’s leather is bringing out positive impact and is changing people’s lives with employment opportunity is something that wakes me up every morning with a smile on my face.

What kinds of goods are being produced in your company and are you engaged in export market?

Using more than 90 percent of locally sourced raw materials, we produce leather bags such as travel bags, tote bags, laptop bags, wallets and belts. Even though most of our products go to export market to countries including USA, Europe and few African countries like South Africa and Rwanda, we are also engaged in the local market as well.

What were your biggest challenges and what lessons did you learn from the process?

The Covid-19 pandemic was a trial for me, my team and the Kabana brand. We had major setbacks and almost closed shops. We struggled like the majority of businesses across the world. This year has also been the toughest because our clients had cancelled their orders. But once business resumed, all cancelled orders were shipped with major discounts.

I was forced to let few of my temporary employees go and repurpose the factory to produce masks and other personal protective equipments, something we have never done before. Thankfully, with the support of Mastercard Foundation, we were able to recover and secured our employees jobs.

Moreover, I have taken several life lessons from my failures that I had gone through before establishing this company and I was destined to meet with incredible strong women who are my mentors.

How do you balance your work life and other aspects of lives and how is your relationship with your employees?

We have more than hundred employees and support more than 300 families through the job that we have created. Though I do not have established a family yet, I have definitely made a family for myself as I genuinely consider my employees as one.

We have opened a daycare that allows our employees bring their children to work and ensure a work-life balance for them.

Outside of my work life, I have younger brothers and a sister that I am very close with. I try to spend as much as time with them. I make sure to spend quality time with the people in my life but also make sure to take time for myself. I enjoy spending time at home, reading, and cooking. But, I am still learning to balance and I believe it is an ongoing process.

What are the biggest achievements of your company?

We, at Kabana, achieved to train close to 250 people within our factory and managed to create employment opportunities to hundred and plus people of them. To that end, we were able to receive awards like ‘Young Female Entrepreneur for 2018’ by UNDP.

Similarly, we had received awards from Continental Entrepreneur 2020/21, Leadership award 2021 and also selected for Mandela fellowship 2020,

As a woman who runs your own successful company, what piece of advice would like to give to our readers?

Though I am still learning and moving towards achieving better results in my company, I would like to make two points for the women who are struggling. One is to never give up, follow your passion and to always strive to bring positive impact in our community.

My other advice for women is to join women associations such as Association for Women in Business (AWiB) that can empower, motivate and bring out their bests in any fields that they are engaged in.

The Ethiopian Herald April 17/2021

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