Q & A: Mimi Girma, Yesaet
Yesaet is a sustainable clothing boutique presenting modern luxury inspired by centuries of ancient African craft. Yesaet's sustainable, made-to-order collection focuses on exquisite textiles, comfort, versatility and timelessness. We sat down with Founder and fellow Dumbonian Mimi Girma to learn about how a little girl from Ethiopia had a big dream – and achieved her goals.
What is the inspiration behind Yesaet? What's the origin story?
Mimi: I was born in Ethiopia. When I was three years old, my family moved to West Africa, to Côte d’Ivoire. I spent my childhood there, until I was about 13 years old, experiencing the colors, the textiles, the music of the Ivory Coast. In addition, there was a strong Ethiopian community there, so kept our Ethiopian culture alive through music, community gatherings, textiles, and even food. I was immersed in both West African culture, and East African culture. Art is a way of life in Africa. You get your clothes made at the local tailor. People are much more artisanal in their approach to making things. I moved to England for High School and University, but this way of life – it stayed with me,
I worked in fashion in NYC for years, and came to a crossroads, in terms of my career. I had always worked on my own designs, as a way to tell my story, and incorporate the many influences I have from around the world, and I realized I had a decision to make: keep working in the corporate world, or move forward to reconnect with my culture, my roots. That was my opportunity to launch Yesaet.
As my thoughts came together, I decided that it was time for me to go back to Ethiopia–not only to reconnect with my family, but also to discover the art of the artisanal textile, which is inherent to Ethiopian culture. It was really extraordinary. Seeing it for myself after all those years, being surrounded by it, and learning from the artisans there, it was so powerful that that one ten day trip catapulted me into Yesaet!
Yesaet is like farm to fiber to fashion.
Congratulations! What an incredible journey. Tell us more about the tenants of the brand.
Yesaet is story of love and a story of culture. It's a story of different roads coming together, of taking something that's handmade and turning it into a very modern product/collection that people all around the world can relate to.
Sustainability is a critical component of Yesaet. It's almost like farm to fiber to fashion: from taking cotton off the bud, spinning it by hand, and then weaving it by hand so that it becomes a cloth, to cutting and sewing it - so you have a special, one of kind artisanal piece.
What led you to a storefront in Dumbo?
I love working with people one-on-one, so opening the store in Dumbo made sense. With a store, people can come feel the textiles, get to know the story, and understand where each piece comes from, how it was made. It is also a chance for me to get to know the customers and create a community. It's slow fashion at its best. In all the years that I have worked in fashion, this is probably the happiest that I've been. And so those are pretty much the reasons I'm two years into Yesaet right now.
The journey has definitely not been easy. I launched Yesaet in March 2020. Almost immediately, factories were closing, and everything was crashing around us. So I started with mask making and doing outdoor pop-ups in order to keep it as Covid safe as possible. I really appreciate having friends and a community that really believed in what I was making. They encouraged me and helped me set things up. One thing led to another, and now I'm here in Dumbo in a little retail store.
And why Dumbo?
Because Dumbo is home and I feel more than ever that it’s important to cultivate community and dialogue, through design, responsible fashion, technology and culture. Dumbo is an oasis of calm and creativity, at the intersection of bustling cultural neighborhoods. We value connecting, sharing, learning as we share YESAET and build our community.
Yesaet is a story of love, and a story of culture. It's a story of the different roads coming together, of taking something that's handmade and turning it into a very modern product/collection that people all around the world can relate to.
What is it like to be an independent shop that promotes slow fashion in a country that favors consumerism, fast and cheap fashion?
There are many challenges, of course. I want to make Yesaet as sustainable as possible. My concept has been made-to-order from the very beginning. A regular retailer will have thousands of units per style in different sizes, but it’s not guaranteed that a style will sell. What’s not sold often ends up landfills. With Yesaet, people come, see and feel a style that they love, then they order the size and the adjustments that fits them the best. In that way, we can avoid overproduction and help reduce waste.
I definitely am focused on placing Yesaet in sustainable boutiques. I also make everything in New York. It's super local!
Of course, made-to-order usually takes about two weeks, and it can be challenging explaining to customers who don't want to wait, who might walk away if they don't find what they want on the rack. But, I feel like my community for Yesaet has been the customers who are willing to wait because they understand that slow fashion is important and understand our mission.
Much of your pieces are hand dyed. Can you tell us about this process.
I first started experimenting with natural dyes during covid, as I found myself with time on my hands to experiment since everything had closed around us. We all found comfort in nature and here as well, I found myself looking to nature to heal, reconnect, and give meaning to my work.
I reached out to local businesses for their food and floral waste, all led by women who were very supportive of the work.
Can you tell us about a garment in your collection that has particular meaning for you?
We strive to create with positive impact, because we feel it’s not enough to make quality product. We must create responsibly and make a positive impact.The Maaza botanical skirt is a wonderful collaboration with artisans in Ethiopia as well as women led natural dyers and manufacturers here in NY. I love the marriage of both worlds coming together to create artful artisanal luxury pieces to treasure for a lifetime.
And we always ask: what's your favorite place in Dumbo?
Walking along the East River in Brooklyn Bridge Park!