Get Familiar: Dechase
Inspired by a journey between the metropolitan cities of Addis Ababa and Amsterdam, Dechase is a contemporary shoe brand that merges diversity, sustainability and African heritage into its core brand ethos. They hosted a pop-up at Zeedijk 93 from May 27th until May 29th. We spoke to Tewodros and Milki to get familiar with the brand's inspirations and intentions.
Can you explain to our readers how the studio started and what you set out to do?
Tewodros: While studying physiotherapy I had the opportunity to do an internship in Addis Abeba preparing the Ethiopian national Athletics team for the 2016 Olympic Games. Packing my bags I only brought sneakers with me. And touching down in Ethiopia during the rainy season I soon learned that sneakers weren’t always my best choice.
I soon started to keep an eye out to get some high-quality boots. One day I walked into a barbershop and stumbled upon a barber wearing the most amazing leather boots I’d seen yet. While the barber was cutting I immediately asked the gentlemen ‘’where’d you get those?.’’ A question that completely changed my journey.
I was then brought to a small shoe factory where I was introduced to an exceptionally skilled team producing footwear that last beyond the season. It was all small and everything was made by craftsmen. One year and many updates later, the first shoe named the ‘’Keff’’ was born. Keff meaning something ‘’to be proud’’ of was the start of something that without plan organically grew into a brand.
What is the creative process?
Tewodros: We have a very strong link with our small team in Ethiopia, they are extremely skilled and involved in our design process. We learn and grab inspiration from each other so we always start with their creative input to get in touch with what they’ve been working on in the sampling lab.
From there we start with a seasonal theme. As most of our styles are timeless we try to build around seasonal themes that are centred around values that we support, with as an example our next season’s theme is called ‘’Andenet’’ meaning unity. Looking into our heritage we take a lot of pride in the communal aspect of living because the strong foundational values are what keeps communities strong.
What is your favourite part of working with leather?
Milki: Ethiopia is the largest manufacturer of leather in Africa. And Ethiopian leather is highly demanded known for their natural qualities of clarity, strength and thickness. A large industry were 95% of the production gets exported. We believe that an obstacle of development in Africa is that mostly only raw materials and resources get exported to other countries. With most of the value in the supply chain laying In the final steps of the supply chain. This depletes Africa of their rich resources hence keeping the continent underdeveloped. We take large pride in completely producing our products in Ethiopia and our top priority is always to source as much as possible locally. We strive to be an example for the opportunities of made in Africa products and what the industry has to offer.
Who did you look up to when you were first working on this project?
Tewodros: We always felt inspired looking at brands with a strong social responsibility, Veja has been pioneering sustainable footwear production which we respected and looked up to. We share the feeling of responsibility for not settling for the easiest production options and always questioning our supply chain. From last season we've completely switched our production to a chrome-free leather production, meaning there are no waste chemicals left after the production cycle. We're proud to be the first one doing this in Ethiopia.
What’s the first thing you have designed that made you want to pursue this journey?
Tewodros: When I first walked into the atelier the first shoe I made was the Keff, as mentioned before it means something to be proud of. After coming back to Amsterdam all my friends started asking where they were from. I could proudly answer that they were made in Ethiopia. After that I started making the shoes for them and shipping them over. It all started to get bigger from there, starting with 10 shoes that eventually turned into a concept store ordering 200 pairs. At that moment I had no idea what to do. With no previous experience in business and fashion I just flew over to Ethiopia and produced them and decided to roll with the punches. It was very challenging, from the production process to picking the first shipment from Schiphol and boxing the shoes by myself. It was difficult but felt like a responsibility to pursue this journey.
Where did you find your brand name?
Tewodros: When starting the production the production manager asked me what the name was of the brand. Never thinking of building a brand I just put my initials, TD, in the shoes as the branding. The company started as TD Leatherboots and then in 2019 it developed into Dechase which is also my last name.
How big is the team that you work with?
The first years of the brand I worked by himself. Three years ago Milki Abadura joined the team. From there we really built the brand, together with our team in Ethiopia, one designer and one production manager. The past year we have invested in growing our Amsterdam-based team, which now consists of 6 people in total.
What can we expect to see from you in the future?
Milki: We've got some really cool collaborations coming up. But next to products we want to engage more with creative initiatives. To build bridges and team up with brands all over the world to produce products in Africa.
What do you want your audience to take away from your projects, what’s the objective here?
Milki: We'd like to change the perception of Africa by making high quality products. This could maybe even change the fashion industry. We hope to translate that to our audience by our products. Our end goal is always to give back that's the main reason we've started, to create work opportunities and positively impact development in Ethiopia.
Where do you see similarities between Addis Ababa and Amsterdam?
Tewodros: People love to go out for food, grab a coffee at a local cafe and hang out at a terrace. Same as in Amsterdam, whenever you can you take a moment to drink coffee with your friends. Also there are a lot of international organisations in Addis Abeba which results in a rich mix of people and cultures. This especially is what I like the most about Amsterdam, richness in culture and people.