A lot of future brides envision their dream wedding dress. Amsale Aberra ’81 couldn’t find that perfect dress when she got married in 1985, so she designed her own. Now this University of Massachusetts Boston alumna and visionary behind the bridal gown brand Amsale is making women’s dreams come true all over the country.
Born in Ethiopia, Aberra came to the United States in 1973 – when she was 17 – to go to college. When a revolution broke out in her native country, she had to stay in the U.S. and work a number of odd jobs so she could support herself and finish her undergraduate education at UMass Boston.
"I would design and sew my own clothes because I couldn't afford to buy new things,” she said. “That's when I first thought of becoming a fashion designer."
Encouraged to Study Fashion
The friends she met during her days at UMass Boston are the ones who first encouraged her to study fashion.
“To me, I always wanted to make dresses, and in college I studied political science,” Aberra told CNN’s African Voices program. “So when we would go to parties, I would go out and get my own fabric to make my own dress. People were just amazed that I was making this stuff. Then they would say, 'You know, you should really study fashion.'"
Aberra enrolled at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology and went on to work as a design assistant for Harvé Benard before starting her own business in the loft of her New York City apartment. Her now $25-million business has grown to encompass three collections: Amsale, Christos, and Kenneth Pool.
Aberra’s gowns have graced magazine covers and have been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Grey’s Anatomy, and the movies 27 Dresses and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Halle Berry, Julia Roberts, Selma Blair, Salma Hayek, Lucy Liu, Heather Graham, Kim Basinger, Deborah Norville, Vivica A. Fox, Vanessa Williams, Lisa Kudrow, Heidi Klum, and Katherine Heigl are just some of the celebrities who have worn her creations.
In June 2011, a reality TV series featuring the sales clerks at her flagship store in New York City, Amsale’s Girls, started airing.
“I’m so grateful to get that kind of recognition, especially when it comes to wedding dresses,” Aberra said.