By Tadias Staff
Published: Friday, November 22nd, 2013
New York (TADIAS) — For Mariam-Sena (Maro) Haile, a Brooklyn-based artist and owner of the e-commerce website Deseta.net, it all started following the debut of her afro angel artwork on Facebook in 2011. “The idea of it actually started a few years back when friends who were throwing a monthly party asked me to design a logo for them, and that’s when I came up with the pink afro angel wearing lipstick and mascara,” she recalled. “I held onto that design, and two Christmases ago I designed a card that I called “3 happy angels” and posted it on Facebook, just for fun.” Friends re-posted the card, and asked if Maro was selling them. “That’s when I decided to print and sell my first line of Christmas cards. Over the past year I kept designing and selling new products in my shop” she added.
Since then a witty friend has nicknamed her “Hallmaro” (as in Hallmark), for her creative designs of holiday cards and other product lines called Deseta with the motto: “live happy.” In a recent interview with Tadias Magazine Maro shared that her playful drawings and paintings are inspired by Ethiopian culture but with her own twist that reflects her multicultural upbringing in the United States. She defines Deseta as follows: “deseta [deh-seh-ta]: n. happiness; how you feel when something puts a smile on your face. from Amharic, one of the many languages spoken in Ethiopia. also spelled/pronounced desta.”
Maro was born in Addis Ababa and grew up in Minnesota before settling in New York City in 2000. “I was born in Ethiopia, raised in a tiny town in the Midwest, and now have Brooklyn planted deep in my heart,” she said. “My target market ranges from shoppers who appreciate the unique, non-traditional aesthetic found in gift shops and boutiques to young families and friends of young families looking for printed accessories for their children.” Maro’s aim is to reach as diverse an audience as her background.
The online venture, she pointed out, ties in well with her profession. “A few years ago I landed a career as a product designer and developer; I work for companies that design and sell products for the home i.e. bedding, pillows, shower curtains, and rugs. I’ve learned so much about designing for big box retail stores and doing production with overseas factories, much to the amusement of my Ethiopian immigrant parents who thought their children would all pursue a career in academia or health.”
Maro’s father, a well known Geez scholar, relocated his family from Ethiopia to Minnesota after he was shot by a military junta during the Derg regime. That explains, she said, why she does not speak Amharic. “Starting deseta has been a great move for me,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to do my own thing, but never knew how or in what capacity.” I’ve always enjoyed being artsy since I can remember, but knew that becoming a full time studio artist was not for me.”
Another favorite product available at her store is a tote bag called Bole Girl. “I really like that design, but I do have conflicted feelings about it.” she said. “I know that the economy in Ethiopia is rapidly growing, and that Bole road is at the center of this development. This is a comforting notion for the little girl in me who has roots on Bole road, but grew up here as the only Ethiopian, only person of color for that matter, for miles. And constantly had to hear, ‘You’re Ethiopian?’ But “why aren’t you skinny like the Ethiopians on TV?’ and only knew of my country as a place that needed benefit concerts to come to its rescue. As you can imagine, I hated being Ethiopian when I was growing up. But with all the exciting economic development currently happening in Ethiopia, I know that not everyone has the same opportunity to take part in it, and that is a big problem. I also know that there is an elitist connotation to being a Bole girl, and I don’t want anyone to think that this design is intended to convey that sentiment. In the end, I just wanted to have fun with a positive image of Ethiopia, and that bag is for the little girl in many of us so that we can say yes, Ethiopia is fly and sophisticated, and we’re proud of it.”
When Deseta launched last year, Maro only had fine art pieces (commission work), and her line of holiday cards. “There was definitely an interest in the cards, as they were affordable products that were Ethiopian inspired, but with a universal, commercial appeal,” She noted. “Since then, I continued to design cards for other occasions, but I obviously don’t want to be just a card company as ‘Hallmaro’ is what a witty friend jokingly called me once. So I started to take my aesthetic to other everyday type goods, like tote bags, wall art for kids, and fun little temporary tattoos.”
The energetic entrepreneur is confident of developing a niche for Deseta, although she emphasized that “breaking into the world as an independent designer is tough and very competitive.” In fact, she said, Deseta is an reincarnation of what she tried to do five years ago when she initially came up with the brand name, registered the domain, and launched a line of nursery décor. “It was a fun and adorable line if I do say so myself,” Maro added. “But I did not have the resources to break into such a well saturated market, so I let it dissolve. It was frustrating, I had put a lot of work into it, but I really like what I’m doing now. I am creating new and unique designs that touch on our rich Ethiopian design heritage but also with a universal appeal. This process has been exciting, challenging, nerve-wracking and quite rewarding.”
Below are images of some of Maro’s Deseta designs.