While in Harar, Ethiopia, I met the "Hyena Man" a generations old family tradition of calling wild hyenas to eat raw meat off the end of a stick. The Hyena Man lets tourists hold the stick for the hyena. While waiting my turn, from out of the bushes behind me, a huge alpha male hyena decided to cut the line and leapt over me to get the raw meat directly from the Hyena Man. I don't know why I am smiling because I was quite terrified.
In 1969, when I was a young girl, my dad took a job with USAID and our family of 5 kids moved from a middle class American life in DeKalb, Illinois, to Mogadishu, Somalia.
I went to school with Somali's who had lives not so different from my own family. Their parents wanted them to be happy, healthy and educated. But I also saw many Somali's suffering from the ravages of poverty.
When the coup happened that brought down the country, my family was able to return to the safety of America. But the vast majority
of Somali's did not have the option of leaving and were caught, literally, in the crossfire.
Because I lived in Somalia, I look behind the stereotypical images of violence and poverty to see an ancient and mysterious land of beautiful people where I befriended nomads, wandered the gold seller stalls with mud floors, learned tribal crafts and had my clothes made like a local. My early experience in Somalia was, to quote Dylan “written on my soul” and started my life long love of East Africa.
Since that time, I’ve roamed other East African countries, from Kenya and Tanzania where I was nearly gored by an angry momma rhino and
climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, to the islands of Lamu with their ancient spice trade and the remote Seychelles where spies go to meet in anonymity. During my travels, I’ve collected art, antiques, textiles, bead work, and other ephemera. I try to experience destinations as much like a local as the places would allow.
Today, my own little family of 4 lives in the funky hamlet of Topanga, California, a community of creative people. 10 years ago, we adopted our daughter from Ethiopia. She is now the same age as I was when I lived in Somalia and thus a circle is connected.
Over many trips, Ethiopia has become like a second home. We’ve explored the many beautiful and sometimes dangerous corners of Ethiopia where I search for “my people” the creative outliers, artisans of fine craft. In this search, I’ve found female artisans of great talent and together, we have formed Ethio Sky.
We are artists helping artists
Women helping women
We hope you will join us.
The Long Version
Ethio Sky started off selling hats. Why? Because in 1970 when we had to leave Somalia unexpectedly (almost all Americans in Somalia were kicked out with little to no notice by the new government increasingly supported by Russia) my mom and dad (you may call them Sylvia and Ralph) returned to the US with 5 kids and no job. But Ralph did have a very cool, wildly patterned woven hat, commonly worn in Somalia. With a Somali friend as a partner, dad took the hat around to try and sell it to stores in Chicago. He quickly got orders from stores eager to import the funky little hat that seemed to fit perfectly with hippies and Gilligan's Island.
Alas, it was not to be. Communication and shipping from Somalia in 1970 was not reliable--especially given the turmoil--and dad had to give up the idea of the hat. Fast forward 46 years...
Related, or not, I happen to love hats. They make great hats in Ethiopia. So, I took up dad's idea and created Ethio Sky to create hats. My partner, Shewakena, and I searched throughout Ethiopia to find people who wove hats. We found several (who happened to be in prison but that's another story) excellent hat weavers who made, among other hats, what I called The Ralph. An exact replica of the 1970's hat from Somalia.
I got many orders for these fine looking hats. Surfers loved em, Topangans loved em, babies dug em. But I found that these hats took so much time to make, cost too much and took so much time to get them from the far reaches of the countryside (including prison) to Addis and then to me in Los Angeles, well, you get the picture. I had to learn the same lesson my dad learned. The Ralph Hat is an elusive dream.
What do you do when life gives you lemons? Make lemonade? No way. You make a strong cup of Ethiopian joe and get back to the drawing board. The products you see on Ethio Sky are the result of a whole lotta hard work, experimentation, revision and TLC on the part of everyone involved with Ethio Sky, both in Topanga and in Ethiopia.
We hope you find something here that you love as much as we loved creating it.