Yodit Smith and Selamawit Yirga gained their entrepreneurial spirit from their parents, who have owned and operated their own business for decades. After years of brainstorming ideas for a business endeavor they could do together, the sisters decided fashion was the answer.
Following in the footsteps of their parents, Smith, 31, and Yirga, 26, founded herKEMIS, a Washington, DC-based luxury womenswear brand that looks to pair high fashion with philanthropy.
“When we decided to become entrepreneurs, we did not just want to do it for monetary purposes,” Smith said. “Making a difference, women empowerment, giving back to the community and protecting human rights are some of the very important things that we wanted to incorporate into our business.”
The sisters launched the brand last spring, imbuing their endeavor with their principles and cultural identity. Drawing inspiration from their Ethiopian heritage, the sisters branded the company with “KEMIS,” the Amharic word for “dress.”
With a focus on transparency, inclusivity, and sustainability, Smith and Yirga look to deviate from how traditional fashion industry giants operate. herKEMIS employs an ethical supply-chain, designing and producing luxury items while limiting textile waste and its impact on the environment.
“The ever-growing fast fashion and the demand for cheap labor by big brands is creating forced labor and abuse,” Smith said. “Overproduction and over-consumption has become a threat not only to our planet, but to human rights.”
According to a 2019 study by New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, entry-level workers in Ethiopia’s garment industry make $26 per month — the lowest-paid globally.
herKEMIS aims to buck this trend, with plans to move its production to Africa in the next 5 to 10 years and partnering with like-minded brands to establish a garment factory with well-paying job opportunities and a school for women.
The company will also donate up to 5% of its profits to charities and nonprofit organizations around the world that assist communities struggling with famine and war.
“Our mission is to create well-paying job opportunities and a safe learning environment for women in the impoverished and under-served areas of the country,” Smith said.