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Yididiya Ketema, a graduate of Welayta Sodo University’s architecture program, has always had a passion for crafting. “I used to make bags out of old pants and t-shirts,” she says. Back in school, Yididiya used a home sewing machine to transform old clothes into something new.

After graduating, Yididiya continued crafting, creating baby shoes and handbags with her parents’ old machine. “I use social media to promote my products,” she told Shega. Two years ago, she founded Jadah Design and scaled her business through TikTok and Telegram channels. “I plan on having a website to boost business further, but the cost is currently out of reach,” she adds.

Yididiya’s story exemplifies one of the many challenges faced by many Ethiopian artisans. Hundreds use social media, but few have transitioned to e-commerce platforms.

Store 251 is a platform designed to bridge this gap, offering a space for local manufacturers to sell their products. Founded by Madot Assefa, Store 251 showcases a variety of Ethiopian-made goods, including bags, clothing, accessories, shoes, and cosmetics.

“I had an interest in selling Ethiopian products internationally while living abroad,” says Madot. The platform’s name reflects this goal, with “251” being Ethiopia’s country code.

Madot studied tourism management at Gondar University, where she developed her skills in brand building and customer service. After moving to the Netherlands for her master’s degree in 2009, she worked with various companies, helping them establish a digital presence.

“Even while living abroad, I was working on adding and promoting products online,” Madot told Shega. This experience served as a foundation when she returned to Ethiopia in 2015 and began working at the Jupiter International Hotel.

At Jupiter, Madot helped list the hotel on various online booking websites, successfully attracting international guests. She then attempted to create a marketplace for Ethiopian products but faced challenges. “I bought a marketplace platform from India that didn’t function as expected,” she explains.

Undeterred, Madot embarked on a door-to-door campaign, approaching manufacturers in the capital and inviting them to join her e-commerce platform. Initially, many were hesitant due to a lack of awareness about e-commerce.

In 2017, Madot presented her plan to the Jupiter Hotel management and secured a vacant space previously intended for an antique shop. With three initial vendors on board, she launched a pop-up shop to showcase their products.

The physical store attracted the attention of other manufacturers, and the number rose to 41. This growth prompted Madot to invest in a website, purchasing one that had been developed but not used by another client.

Store 251 was officially launched in 2021. The platform prioritizes local involvement, with all manufacturers and 70% of materials sourced from Ethiopia.

The online store has partnered with Eshi Express for local orders and items are delivered within two days. For International deliveries the team uses DHL.

Mutual Success: Store 251 and Local Brands

Store 251 offers each brand a dedicated online shop and handles marketing efforts. Products are available both online and at the physical store located within the Jupiter Hotel. The platform charges a 10% commission on sales.

Initially, finding a payment gateway proved difficult. Customers initially had to send receipts as proof of payment, or a cash-on-delivery system was used. Today, the platform offers a more streamlined payment process.

According to Madot, Store 251 currently has six employees and over 65 shops on its platform including the likes of Meron Addis Ababa, Tila, Alternative Addis, Black Rhino, Wawi Fashion, ZAAF, and DikDik Shoe.

Lucy Fragrance, a local brand that makes natural, clean, and quality perfumes, is one success story. “Madot found us at an early stage,” says Senait Daniel, co-founder and CEO of Lucy. “The platform helped us gain market exposure, particularly as they do their own marketing. This allowed us to focus on production.”

Senait reports that Lucy Fragrance has sold nearly 200 items through Store 251.

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Daniel, a writer and radio host, has a keen interest in technology. Additionally, he has supported various organizations by enhancing their digital presence in his role as a social media manager.