Every entrepreneur has a story behind their journey, each story is different and inspired by experiences that are unique to the person. For the founder of Ethiopia’s soleRebels- an innovative company creating world class footwear, inspiration came from the need to make a difference in her community, the desire to use her skills to make a change in other people’s lives.
Named one of the 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa by FORBES in 2011, Ethiopian entrepreneur Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu is the proud owner of soleRebels, a flagship store of her eco-friendly shoe brand that has taken the world by storm. The shoes are 100% biodegradable, made from recycled tyres, leather from free-range animals and cloth hand-woven by local artisans from one of Addis Ababa’s poorest communities.
Founded in 2004, soleRebels is also the first African consumer brand to open stand-alone branded retail stores around the globe with store locations which include Silicon Valley, Barcelona, Taiwan, among others.
The company employs around 420 people, workers on average earn four to five times the Ethiopian minimum wage, according to the brand’s website. It is the only footwear company to be certified by the World Fair Trade Organization, the site notes.
“In my factory, in Yeshideble, we don’t have any machinery. You will find a lot of people sewing. It’s like music. We have a unique way of working with communities, where we have a culture of spinning and making our own clothes at home. These women, when they are old, are not so productive, so we give them jobs. We have 120 women who spin for us, they don’t need to go out, we collect the goods from them every week. These are mothers, grandmothers…they have their coffee and spin for soleRebels,” says Bethlehem.
She further explains, “We embrace these production methodologies, materials, ideas and ethos’ because they are integral parts of Ethiopia’s cultural fabric, a tradition which we grew up within and feel passionately about preserving.”
According to reports, the company expects revenue of $10 million to $12 million. It plans on becoming the first global retail chain from a developing nation to open 100 stores, and achieve over $200 million in revenues by 2019.
“What I want to see happen is that, in my company, people who are coming to work are able to go to school, are able to support their family, and are able to live the life they wanted,” she concludes.