The rampant pandemic has hurt businesses worldwide of all sizes and types. As if that is not enough, Ethiopia has been rocked by a series of security challenges imposing unimaginable challenges on business activities across all sectors. In Ethiopia, a wedding is not just a matter for the couple—it calls for a number of small businesses to make the big day happen. From the decorators to the DJs, and from the photographers to event managers, they all play their part on that special day. As Covid restrictions are easing and weddings are finding their return, these businesses seem to be entertaining the reinvigorated atmosphere of social gatherings, writes Bamlak Fekdu.
If one sees a series of cars, blowing their horns on the streets of Addis Ababa, it signals newlyweds moving around on their special day. Addis Ababa primarily has two wedding seasons, largely dictated by the fasting patterns of the Orthodox Church. The foremost one starts on January 7, when Christmas fasting ends, and lasts until mid-to-late February, when the 55-day Ethiopian Lent starts. A secondary season then starts after Ethiopian Orthodox Easter. This post-Easter wedding season has brought a glimmer of hope to businesses that cater to matrimonial ceremonies.
Two years ago, when the first case of Covid-19 surfaced in Ethiopia, mass ceremonial events like weddings were suspended. Further, instability, war, and the state of emergency announced by the federal government dealt further blows to the extremity where gatherings involving more than four people were not permitted.
With the entire industry in limbo, concerned stakeholders were hit hard including clothing, furniture, and accessories providers as well as hotels and makeup studios, to name a few. Now, those hectic days surrounding wedding seasons are coming back to normalcy, though not at previous levels still. Those on the aesthetic side of the business are showing their dynamism and fetching increased attention. One such case are décor providers.
Amy Décor and Events, on Jomo Kenyatta Street near St. Urael Church, is among the providers of aesthetic or glinting works for weddings. Amelewerk Wondimu, the 31-year-old Owner, is expecting an increased influx of customers this year. In this new season, she perceives a trend towards more traditional decoration, rather than the contemporary. For example, her company offers chairs in the shape of the Begena, a musical instrument.
Amelework remembers the time during the pandemic where discounts were the norm. “We reduced some of our prices by up to 80Pct.” Her décor shop currently offers various packages of decorative works for bridal and baby showers, engagements, marriage proposals, birthdays, funerals, and of course, weddings.
“Nowadays, various textiles, lights, and an elaborate backdrop behind the newlyweds’ stage are just the basics,” she explained while adding that “depending on the level, the work costs anywhere between ETB80,000 to 200,000 and above. This excludes car rental expenses. Despite the skyrocketing cost of living, customers are capable of paying.”
There are several items which decide the price range. For example, commonly-found aluminum thrones for the couple can be rented for ETB10,000, while chairs for bridesmaids and groomsmen cost ETB800. On the other side, traditional thrones are leased for ETB1,400 while those for bridesmaids and groomsmen go for ETB400 each.
“It is too sad customers’ attitude towards traditional decoration is not there yet as they are relatively cheaper,” she added. Amelework believes that her clients should better consider traditional and cultural options because Ethiopian wedding traditions call for up to five days of ceremonies and thus expenses could pile up. However, the response from her customers is usually negative.
The price of glinting services has been escalating for some time now since most up-to-date and fashionable decoration items are imported and are victim to the nation’s foreign exchange crunch and devaluation woes of the Ethiopian Birr. Industry players are forced to utilize forex either from parallel markets or hawala service providers.
Behind the rosy picture espoused by beauty and glinting businesses—and the glamour of their work—the snags faced with forex are dragging industry players back. Eyerusalem Girma, Owner of Jojo Makeup Studio on Africa Avenue, is one of the impacted makeup industry players. She attended makeup school in Bangkok, Thailand five years ago at SMA Makeup Academy but returned to the unexpected.
She has observed growing attitudinal changes coupled with the growing appetite of the youth in relation to the rising use of social media and celebrations like birthdays as well as bridal and baby showers.
“It’s the wedding season now, a revival period after two months of hibernation,” she said. She recalls how the pandemic dimmed her business alongside her customers’ memories. During those harsh two years or so, many couples were celebrating their special day by way of photoshoots with full consideration for clothing and makeup—as if they would have had the wedding been a full-on celebration.
Although seasonal, it pays off, according to Eyerusalem who charges up to ETB20,000 for bridal makeup packages.
While the business of wedding décor is growing, other businesses are emerging using the practical opportunities that weddings offer and turning it into profit. Coordination—or protocol—of wedding-day activities used to be assigned to someone close to the bridal party. Now, they are slowly becoming a business of their own with semi-professionals getting employed to take care of the nitty-gritty details of the special day. Commonly known as ‘Protocols’, they help with planning and coordination works.
Addis, whose last name is withheld upon request, is among those who earns decent revenue through this activity; he has been providing wedding protocol services for close to a decade now. Ensuring great success for a wedding is gained when planning starts well ahead of time, said Addis, adding that booking a venue in the off-season enables couples to avoid peak-season rates. It starts with advising the couples on what they could or should be doing and providing the various choices.
He remembers the good times when he started the business about ten years ago, charging an average of ETB500 to 800.
Recently, he asked for a minimum of ETB25,000 per event for coordination. The figure depends on how much is required of him and the size of the wedding.
“If the couple wants the complete services of a wedding planner, the total goes as high as ETB100,000,” he told EBR.
A wedding without spicey music is unthinkable. A few decades ago, live band music was a more powerful instrument to amplify the special day. Now, bands are almost completely replaced by DJs.
Eyouel Tigeneh (Dj Eyu) is one of those who makes a small fortune out of the job, engaged in the business for over five years. He started the career five years ago at an event around his neighborhood, at which the hired DJ did not show. “It went successfully. Fortunately, an attendee of the wedding requested I play music at his wedding in a few weeks’ time,” he says. “It was ETB2,500. I got paid.”
He contemplated the advantage of the wedding season. The income he earns is, however, proportionally lower than what his seniors achieve. Yet, during wedding seasons, business is lucrative as he also rents out sound systems. He measures his success by clients’ bookings during the ceremonial seasons, and this year appears to be over-booked compared to last year. “When I am double booked, I prepare for the event and hire other DJs for the job.”
The business he started charging ETB2,500 has now jumped to as high as ETB100,000 as per the client’s demand, with ETB30,000 on the lower end. “I have 20 events booked for this season,” he told EBR.
The rhythmic—or not so rhythmic—dance of car horns signals one other feature of the Ethiopian wedding. These days, extravagant vehicles like stretch limousines to regular everyday cars, are almost a necessity for matrimonial ceremonies.
The husband of Amelework, co-Owner of Amy Décor and events, engages in renting out decorated luxurious vehicles. His Hummer limo is usually leased out for ETB50,000, while other brands of limos, such as of Lincoln, cost between ETB25,000 and 50,000.
Despite inflation and a deflated economy, glinting service providers are enjoying their season of plenty. One only hopes that the aesthetically beautified wedding brings blessings to the groom and bride. EBR
10th Year • May 2022 • No. 107