Today’s eclipse highlights our inherent connection with the natural world. Fashion designer Yonael Marga (he/him) shares how his collection draws inspiration from the past and looks to the future to bring Ethiofuturism to the world of fashion.

Chereka means ‘moon’ in Amharic,’ explains Yonael Marga Nuru, Founder, Creative Director and Designer of slow fashion luxury brand Yonael Marga, based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

“It serves as a portal to the future of our own imagination.”

Hailing from Harrar in eastern Ethiopia, Yonael grew up with a multicultural perspective, living in various parts of the country growing up. 

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, in his hometown “people dress and express themselves in a cohesive way.”

Home to the Great Rift Valley, the cradle of life, Ethiopia’s ancient culture has played a key role in shaping history well beyond its own borders. Known at different points in history as Kush, Nubia, Asksum and Abyssina, Ethiopia has ties with the the three main Abrahamic religions.

The influences of this rich cultural heritage and tradition, including fashion, inspire Yonael’s work today.

Drawing on Afrofuturism and Ethiofuturism, he combines fantasy and story-telling through visual art, graphic design and fashion. Chereka looks into the past and explores its interplay with the future through an Ethiopian lens.

An affinity for fashion found Yonael at a young age. 

His designs were inspired by one of his auntie’s – a fashion-forward woman who he based the figures in his sketches on.

He was also influenced by his own experiences and exposure to the many different cultures that make up Ethiopia.

When the time came to choose a study, there were no fashion schools in Ethiopia so he chose architecture.

“Fashion as an industry is challenging to develop here,” explains Yonael. “What I learned is that the discipline and principles of architecture can be applied to any design process.

“As humans, we constantly evolve to become something new, to find solutions for things. I use fashion as a bridge to communicate ideas, bringing life experiences and our history into my creations.” 

His first public project, Chereka, is inspired by the myriad traditions of his homeland.

“The aim of this project is to take certain elements from these diverse identities, combining elements that often don’t mix to birth new perspectives,” explains Yonael.

With handwoven fabrics sourced from local suppliers, Chereka brings together silhouettes and embroidery to connect the modern with the traditional. 

“This collection came together after the start of COVID,” he explains. 

“It was a time of deep reflection and I was looking at the many influences of our culture. I wanted to create something strong visually and structurally while being wearable.”

When it comes to details, the embroidery in Chereka draws on emblems from Ethiopian royalty as well as landscapes of settlements, paying homage to traditional villages, churches, mosques and palaces.

The collection brings Yonaels’s architectural skill to its silhouettes.

“The forms here are predominantly inspired by the silhouettes of royal attire which in turn is reflected in similar traditional clothes.”

“Characterised by strong shoulders, tight bodices and draping, Chereka uses quintessentially traditional hand loomed fabric called ‘gabi’, woven from cotton.”

The overall aesthetic is elevated further with the celebration of traditional hair styling.

“The Albaso style from the North combines with the Guta – a traditional style from the Harrar region. Goongoon and variations of braids blend geometric lines and shapes inspired by architecture. The idea here is to re-imagine these elements for the modern woman.”

Where does the influence of Afrofuturism come into play for Yonael?

“I first learned about Afrofuturism from a friend who’d spent time in the UK. 

“That idea of connecting to ancestral roots while looking ahead and imagining the future was something that reflected the direction I was already moving in.

“Because I don’t live in the US or UK context, I adopt an Ethiofuturist approach as a subset of Afrofuturism. 

“The collection is a means of encouraging an open dialogue about our history and our future. I hope to bring Ethiofuturism to the world.”

See more of the inspiration behind the Yonael Marga Chereka collection on Instagram: @yonaelmarga

Follow Yonael Marga: @yonaelmarga

WORDS: Marie-Anne Leuty
DESIGN + CONCEPT: Yonael Marga
CURATOR: Anatoli Bulti
PHOTOGRAPHY: Nafkot Gebeyehu
MUAH: Mical Zerai

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