Among Ethiopians the well-known Scotch Whisky brand Johnnie Walker is humorously nicknamed Yohannes Aramde. And recently a collection of t-shirts depicting the gabi-clad version of the Scotsman, complete with his own dula, has become a hit in the Ethiopian Diaspora and at home. On social media Yohannes Aramde’s Twitter handle says it all, “#walkdifferent, #becauseyoudeservebetter.” The series was unveiled this past July during the 2013 ESFNA Ethiopian Soccer Tournament in Maryland by a trio of young Ethiopian designers and entrepreneurs residing in the U.S. — Teffera G. Teffera, Zerabrook Minassie and Ambaye Michael Tesfay.
Unlike John “Johnnie” Walker who started to sell whisky in his grocery shop in Ayrshire, Scotland in 1820, the Ethiopian Yohannes Aramde is Teffera G. Teffera’s imagination that comes in the capacity of a merchant who, in departure from his Scotsman twin’s profession, barters in rich stories. These t-shirts come in colors equivalent to the whiskey’s different labels: red, black, green and blue. True to form, the standard and price is also set in ascending order of color, with blue selling the highest.
In a recent interview Teffera said the trio design and sell products that capture the bilingual vernacular of the Ethiopian-American community. He said the three are united by their shared experiences as young adults who grew up in Ethiopia and Washington, D.C. while they completed higher education.
As a basis for the design, Yohannes Aramde was nurtured by the distinct ways that the Ethiopian diaspora has weaved its traditions and mannerisms so thoroughly into the social fabric of Washington, D.C. For Teffera in particular, he felt strongly that the environment that inspired the concept is the same demographic that they are trying to reach. For a few months after graduating in May 2011, he toyed with designs that his friend Dagmawit Mekonnen visualized while Ambaye and Zerabrook advised every step of the way.
The result was Yohannes Aramde whose persona for Ethiopians provokes comical food for thought. Here, he sets down his dula, picks up his buna or perhaps tela, to re-situate historical icons and cultural symbols into a compelling perspective that reflects the modern Ethiopian experience in the Diaspora. Yohannes Aramde seems as much learned in the kine (literary tradition of wax and gold) of Ethiopia’s forefathers as he is in the social media explosion of the 21st century through its vivid presence via t-shirts, tweets and Instagram pictures.
In one design, a solemn Emperor Menelik charges an Uncle Sam’esque forefinger in a would-be war recruitment poster for the Battle of Adwa. In another, the colors of the Ethiopian flag converge onto the American flag’s layout, at once a startling and clever meditation of the dual experiences of its client-base.
Below are photos from the collection courtesy the designers. As a fun twist, the owners say there is a 5PM to 9PM weekday ‘happy-hour’ when you shop on their website — you will get a $5 discount.
About the Author: Heran Abate is a creative non-fiction writer. Born and raised in Ethiopia, she recently graduated from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut where she studied Sociology and Hispanic Cultures and Literatures.