I am so excited to share today’s interview with Astere Justine Haile, owner and creative behind the brand House North of Addis. Astere’s story was one I found very inspiring as someone who has roots in another part of the world. Her story reminds us that sometimes when we revisit the past it can propel us forward, in ways that we could have never imagined. I love that House North of Addis has a strong foundation, based on working with local artisans and that through her vision Astere is able to invest in her ancestral home. What could be more inspiring than that! Please stop by Astere’s beautiful shop at House North of Addis by clicking here, you can also follow her on Instagram here.
What was the catalyst that prompted you to create House North of Addis?
Growing up in Montreal, I never had the chance to be immersed in Ethiopian culture. The extent of my heritage was limited to food, music and the rare dresses I’d receive in the mail from my grandmother. Then in 2012, I went to Ethiopia for the first time and I think a part of me never came back! I had forever wanted to go, so it was a long time coming. Being immersed in the culture and travelling from North to South opened my eyes to so much that the rest of the world doesn’t know about Ethiopia. And then I discovered the textile tradition and fell in love so hard with it.
Since that trip, I dreamed of showing the world the beauty of these amazing textiles, but also of enhancing the lives of the many artisans who keep ancestral weaving traditions alive. I wasn’t sure just how to do that until I started sewing pillow covers out of ‘gabis’, those traditional handmade cotton blankets used to keep us warm in high mountain altitudes. By partnering with people who care about artisans and deal with them in a fair trade and ethical fashion, I created House North of Addis.
I run this business from my home, and I make everything myself. So it’s all on a very small scale right now, but I believe in what I do. I believe in Ethiopian artisans. I believe in nurturing tradition. Although I transform ‘gabis’ into my own creations, everyone who buys a House North of Addis product puts an authentic piece of Ethiopia in their home. And this, this is why I do it all – to bring a bit of Ethiopian beauty into homes while supporting traditional weavers.
What’s been your most important lesson in business?
I’ve learned to believe in myself and an idea that not everyone may understand at first. I’ve learned that there will be times of self-doubt, fear of failure… it’s part of the game. But better fail while trying than wonder what could’ve been if only I had tried. Whatever the outcome, I’ll be glad to have given it a fighting chance.
What are you most proud of?
I am proud to showcase the work of Ethiopian artisans, and put forth the ancestral art of hand weaving in a world of mass production.
Who/What inspires you and what is your favourite quote?
In terms of what I do right now, I am inspired by several makers, Justina Blakeney being right at the top of that list. I am also inspired by my late mother who was so driven and talented and taught me so much. And my father who has the highest mental stamina and work ethic I have ever seen.
“Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flame.” – Rumi
What helps you keep going on days you want to quit?
I speak to friends who really believe in what I do and remind me why it’s important to continue. And these days, I just open a page of Grace Bonney’s In the Company of Women, and I’m ready to go again!
What advice do you have for someone like you… who is thinking of starting a business or advice to your younger self?
I was always so shy to showcase myself when I was younger. I would tell my younger self to stop being afraid because when you own your gifts and talents, it’ll open doors you never knew could open.
To someone who wants to start a business: Just start. Start small, but start. Next, believe in yourself. And if you’re having trouble, then pretend to believe in yourself until you realize, well damn! I AM good at this. Jump. Go for it. Don’t think too much. Just trust your guts and go. Surround yourself with positivity, people who genuinely love and believe in you. Finally, prepare to work hard. And harder. And harder still. Because it’s worth it and it’s the only way to succeed.
How do you balance life and your creative work/business?
I have an amazing husband who supports what I do and is fully involved in caring for our four wonderful sons ages from 1 to 8, and our Great Dane. Then, there’s time management: I have a full-time job as a bilingual copywriter, I write and do side work for magazines and I make everything for House North of Addis, including making my own labels, all the sewing, sourcing materials, marketing and photographing everything. We all have 24 hours. I run a tight ship to get everything done and I waste no time. I rise early, and often sleep late. I also do my best to leave my weekends free for my family.
I think balance is understanding that there will be very intense periods of work and knowing that there will also be more quiet times. I just roll with it.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Starting a business requires so much of a person and I am not even doing this full-time. But the rewards of doing something you believe in, giving yourself that chance to make it happen, are worth every hour
Thanks again Astere for taking the time to chat with us and share your story, it definitely inspired me.