Manale Dagnew – Ethiopian-born, American fashion designer, artist and entrepreneur

Her impact as a haute couture wedding gown designer has gained industry–wide respect and a top 5 designer ranking. Manale is iconic in American bridal fashion circles. Receiving the Magic Johnson Award for her achievements in 2000 was an indication of her reach and talent.

Gondar, Ethiopia is where Manale’s journey begins. Her parents, members of prominent warrior families, are an unlikely love story. An arranged marriage brought them together, and they proved a perfect match! Inseparable and interconnected, they were recognized locally as a loving couple who respected and admired one another.  Manale’s fashion eye may have been a result of her parent’s union. Fashionable dressers, bold and fearless, they both expressed themselves with flair and flamboyance, while remaining ever humble.

Her father, Dejazmah Dagnew Tessema, fought the fascist regime and protected his family and county. The people called him “Aba Mable Dagnew” (Lord of Tides) to signify his heroism and bravery. Manale’s mother, w/o Amsalewark Asefaw, stood by her husband’s side and played a significant role during the war. Even though she was captured by the Italians at the age of 16, her “warrior” spirit would prevail, leading to an escape and reunion with her husband.

Dejazmcah Dagnew, a hero of the people, served his country as governor and senator before he died, leaving behind a young wife, 4 children and many dependent family members.  Her mother’s strength of character would be on display soon thereafter as w/o Amsalewark single handedly created a very successful restaurant business in the early 1980s to support her family. Manale’s march towards fashion design came from the will, courage, empathy and generosity she witnessed from her parents.  Her principles, convictions and spiritual strength represent her parent’s everlasting impact. 

At the age of four, a young Manale and her siblings were separated and placed in different boarding schools. Alone, Manale would exercise introspection to stay rooted in her family’s foundations, although its configuration was disjointed. Throughout her young life in Addis Ababa, she would interpret life’s events spiritually with a deep belief in all things being based in goodness. Her independence would shape her future and create her target for success: America.

In 1975, she went to the United States in pursuit of her dreams and education. While there, she earned two degrees: a Bachelor of Arts degree in Costume Design in 1984 at SunyNew Paltz, NY andan Associate Degree in 1989 from the prestigious fashion college, Fashion Institute of Technology New York City, NY.The city of NY, the streets, the people she encountered and the lessons learned defined her growth and development, enabling her to venture further afield and open her horizons to many different cultures in the world of design.

In 1990,upon her return to New York City, she was hired as a fashion designer and worked for various fashion design houses in New York and Korea, manufacturing in Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China.In 1995, after being a bridesmaid 7 times, with the request of her beloved international friends, Manale started her own brand and founded her bridal gown company in 1996.  Manale Couture Bridal & Evening Brand, sold to over 40 high-end stores and department stores in the U.S. and Canada.

For 20 years, Manale spent her time travelling around the world in pursuit of beauty. This incredible journey has been a great tool in guiding her to redefine and shape her exceptional work as an artist and a designer of wearable art. Creating and passing on her passion to others became her way of life.  As an internationally recognized designer, producing and making high-end bridal and evening wear in the U.S,Paris, India, Dubai and China became the norm.  But little by little, Manale felt the need to give back to the present generation of Ethiopia, and to honour her beloved parents. 

In 2009, Manale came back to Ethiopia to set up a new fashion house,using all the skills acquired in her international career and integrating her Ethiopian heritage.  This was no easy undertaking – she embarked upon the most challenging 5 years of her life in Ethiopia. She grew professionally and artistically, but it was her new-found self-awareness that paved the way for a grand transformation. She now understood her true life principles.The once speechless and shy girl wasnow able to use her dreams as the staircase to connect to the Stars, while remaining firmly grounded in Nature. The artist who fought with herself and found ways to develop her art and life is now living her true destiny. Those early days of misfortune have become her stepping-stones to success.

In 2010, Manale travelled to Gondar to make a documentary of her father’s life, and in the following yearsshe continued to study her country of birth through travel to the North, South and Eastern regions of Ethiopia.

During her travels, she discovered traditional motifs and beautifulprecious and semi-precious gemstones in Bahir Dar, Gondar, Gayent highlands and the southern regions of Ethiopia. These treasures, such as the amethyst, chrysoprase and moss agate, mesmerized Manale and fuelled her desire to introduce Ethiopian gems to the world.

In 2015, Manale founded her jewellery and accessory company, Manale Inc., in New York. She travelled between Paris, Milan, New York and Addis Ababa to develop the new brand, creating beautiful pieces for people with distinctive lifestyles. The Manale jewellery and accessory brand is currently being sold on Ethiopian Airlines.

“If you love everything that is great, noble, just and beautiful,

And you work with all your heart, all your mind and all your will to achieve it and make it a reality,

Your future is already mapped out for you:

One day you will live in conditions that match your aspirations and your ideal,

You will find freedom, light and peace.

And, when you leave the earth,

All that will truly remain is what matches the aspirations of your soul and spirit.”


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