Brand Focus : Aster -


Meet Esther Kikowatz, the founder of her leather goods company, Aster that has roots in Ethiopia and Germany. The brand fuses both cultures into minimalist, handcrafted unisex designs. I sat down with her to know more about her life in Innsbruck, her thoughts on running an emerging brand and life in general.


J: How are you?
E: I'm good, thank you. How are you?

J: I'm great, thank you.

J: I understand that you are one of the O.Gs working for e.c.t studio. How has it been since then?
E: Ah yes O.G I like that. It's been a fun ride so far. Seeing the development of the brand and where the concept is going, evolving and working with a good team.

J: Do you see an evolution in terms of growth for yourself and the store back then and now?
E: Well, regarding the store - definitely. And getting settled in Innsbruck, people get to know us. They come regularly and we have our regular customers which is really nice. For me personally yes, i see a growth. It's the first time I'm being responsible for a team and working so closely with the owners Christoph and Evelyn. I really enjoy it. And yeah, its a really good journey for all of us, I think.

J: While working as a retail manager, you are also running your own business, called Aster. Tell me more about Aster.

E: Actually its called Aster(Ah-ster). It's a leather bag brand and the leather is from Ethiopia and the bags are also made from Ethiopia - I design them and I have a production that I work with in Addis Abeba and it developed through my family connections through Ethiopia. I'm very excited.

J: As an emerging brand, there’s definitely joy and struggles of running a business. How do you cope with that?

E: Well, there are ups and downs for sure. The joy is pretty easy and the downs well, I have this job which always is a good....I don't wanna say distraction, also kinda a distraction, and family and friends and just to know, ok after a down it will go up again.

J: In every business, there is the creative and technical aspects of it. Which do you think you would fair well and why?

E: My technical skills that I do well in are communication and some kind of organization. The creative part comes in waves. Sometimes I'm very creative and have various ideas for content creation and design ideas, but sometimes not. So I just have to wait and trust the process.

J: Having to juggle 2 jobs, how do you manage pressure? How do you look after your own well-being?

E: The hours are actually manageable. I work part time here as a store manager so that gives me a lot of freedom. Aster runs very smoothly on the side. I guess I could put focus in it and then it would take much more time but as of now I am fine with the way it aligns. I try to do sports and take my time to do everything.

J: What do you do when you get home in the evening?

E: Usually I plan my food - dinner and sometimes go out have a drink, ice cream, go for movies or hang out with friends. Or really if I'm more motivated or if it's really needed, I go for a run.


J: Do you speak with your family? Are they living in the same city?

E: Yes I do and No, they live in Germany and Ethiopia. Spread over the world actually.

J: What do they think about Aster?

E: They're very supportive. They really like it. I have been talking about it for so long so, yeah almost everybody I think has worn an Aster bag.

J: Do you see them working with you in your company in the near future?

E: No, I don't think so. One of my nieces showed interest and I said maybe you can do an internship one day.

J: Internship? Paid internship?

E: We'll figure that out then.

J: I’m sure team work makes the dream work. Do you intend to expand your team in the future?

E: Would be great. I would love that but as of now that's not in the picture. I see also the collaboration with the production as a teamwork and all the retailers that I sell Aster bags to, I consider them as a team. I ask them about new designs and whether customers are up for it.

J: Do you feel like you have to be almost a different person when it comes to Aster, as opposed to who you are at home?

E: No, nope.

J: Are you a competitive person?

E: Not really. I guess its not my best trade.

J: Describe your working relationship with your partner Jürgen, who is also involved in Aster.

E: He helps me a lot in so many things- organization, tax issues. Mostly he does content creation of photography and videos. He even picked out or was involved simply because he was there, when I chose the final colors of the bags. So, he helped a lot.

J: So he's already part of the team, so you have a team!

E: True!

J: Do you celebrate your successes when you work together? Or is success separated from professional and personal?

E: No, actually I didn't even consider him as a team partner so it's very intertwined. Every success is celebrated at least with a big hug or huge smile.

J: What is your goal for Aster?

E: My goal is to keep it alive and keep going and to show the world that Ethiopia has so much more to offer than just being developing country in the east of Africa. It has a lot of knowledge and craftsmanship that i want to show. I want Aster to be a product that people love and to be used for a lifetime.

J: Anything else you want to add to this interview?

E: I'm very happy that I got interviewed and I really love your shirt.

J: Thank you so much!  This is the end of the interview, I'm glad we spoke.

E: You're welcome.



Shop Aster's collection here

You can find more about Esther's brand, Aster here

Credits: All photos and videos by Jürgen Nigg.