Abai Schulze: Paving the pathways for economic opportunities in Africa

Bringing together the glamorous handcrafted products made by African artisans from the nooks and crannies of the continent, Abai Schulze has paved the pathways for economic opportunities in and for Africa. 

In 2014, she founded ZAAF, a luxury handcrafted leather and accessories brand with one goal in mind — to empower artisans in Africa to grow with new perspectives and to meet with the standard of global luxury. 

This sounds really easy but it has taken a lot of commitment from “well said” to “well done! Abai”.

The journey is the reward

Abai Schulze is an orphan who brought so many people close to her. She learnt from them on the way to success sharing and adding value.

Abai Schulze later studied economics and fine arts at George Washington University in the US and has utilized the knowledge accumulated to create unique products which are truly an expression of beauty. 

Her approach to sustainable development is to create products that people love and desire to own.

4 years after the creation of ZAAF, the leather bag brand was nominated for Socially Responsible handbag design at the Independent Handbag Designer Awards in New York, 2018. And also appearing on Runways at New York Fashion Week. ZAAF was recognized and featured in Vogue including Elle and Lucky.

Smart-hard work as an entrepreneur definitely pays, as Abai Schulze received the UNESCO Tremplin Prize for Entrepreneurship. 

In an exclusive interview, she had more to say about her entrepreneurial journey and life:


What inspired you to start your company?

My driving passion and vision for many years were centered around using my education and experiences to create economic opportunities in my country of birth. So ZAAF really is a convergence of both opportunity and passion. My passion derives from the reality that design and creative expressions using tangible elements had always been a driver for me, even though I had spent my university years focused on the hard facts of economics.

Do you come from an entrepreneurial background?

I was born in Ethiopia and my work at ZAAF reflects deep influences that span from the countryside to the capitals of the world where I have lived and studied. My life journey has taken me from an orphanage in Addis Ababa to the United States and the rest of the world. I am committed to using my academic background in economics and fine arts to create unique and practical expressions of beauty. I’m fortunate to be surrounded with some of the most brilliant people who challenge and inspire me, including my own family which is full of natural entrepreneurs.

What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?

I love to see my new designs/ideas come to life. It’s an amazing feeling to be associated with gifted artisans, and to create products that are so well received around the globe. My success serves as an inspiration to many young girls who have similar background as mine to take up entrepreneurship as a way of life to create impact.

What’s the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?

I would tell others to get smart about the sectors or areas of interest where they hope to invest their talent and energy. There are plenty of concepts which fall flat when put into actual play. It’s always better to have done your due diligence early, if for nothing else than to be properly confident about the opportunity at hand. Also, I would advise them to double-down on execution. Move with good data but by all means move and move quickly. As I always say – execution is the stuff of success – passion is just one of the ingredients.

Due to the Covid-19 crisis, her business is putting some projects pending but she disclosed that “more partnership with other brilliant African artisans and designers across the continent in 2021” is in the works already.

ZAAF’s creative African products can be found in boutiques in France, US, Nairobi, and Ethiopia.

By Elijah Christopher

Elijah Christopher

Elijah Christopher is a journalist at A New Touch Of Africa, is also a creative writer, a poet, and an IT enthusiast. He contributed to the collaborative poem written in celebration of Edwin Morgan Centenary, the first Glasgow poet laureate and Scottish national poet from the University of Glasgow. He loves meeting people and learning about new places, cultures, events, and lifestyles.

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