‘One of The World’s Most Powerful Women’ With Her Soaring Footwear Brand


Ethiopian businesswoman, Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, is the founder and executive director of soleRebels. The footwear brand is one of the fastest growing companies in Africa, expanding to various countries like Austria, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the UK. SoleRebels was founded with the idea to create shoes that are created with the eco-sensible material, which also provides a platform to inspire hope. This was achieved by creating employment opportunities for Ethiopian artisans who craft the xtraCOOL footwear.
Bethlehem Alemu grew up grew up in Zenabwork, a poor village in the suburbs of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. After completing her degree in accounting at Unity University, she identified the issues and opportunities in her community, which fuelled the establishment of the footwear brand. With soleRebels, Alemu aimed to provide economical and ecological solutions to the community which would improve the local’s standard of living and promote job creation. SoleRebels has since flourished with over a hundred employees and distributions to over thirty countries globally.
The company employs and trains members in Ethiopia who are usually highly marginalised and/or unemployed and source their materials from what is naturally available in Ethiopia to produce “barabasso” (recycled tire sole shoes) inspired footwear. The designs of the shoes are usually vibrant and lively with universal flavour which buyers from Whole Foods, Amazon and Urban Outfitters love. Crafted by talented African hands, the shoes are one of the most energy efficient manufactured products in Africa with various organic and bio-based materials used.
With the motto “Making the world a better place. One step at a time”, and several success stories, soleRebels has gained recognitions worldwide with Bethlehem Alemu winning several accolades over the past decade such as being chosen as NYC Venture Fellow by Mayor Bloomberg in 2012; and Alemu being included on Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful in the same year. She has been profiled as a “Woman to Watch”, named “Africa’s Top 5 Female Entrepreneurs”, chosen by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader and many more awards.
SoleRebels has been developing Ethiopian communities by enlightening people about innovative methods to create opportunities with the physical, cultural, intellectual and natural resources provided to Ethiopia. These methods are encouraged to be utilised by all other African countries with similar resources to alleviate themselves from poverty-stricken situations, comapared to fast developing countries that trade locally produced goods worldwide.
By changing the dynamics of Ethiopia’s economic and ecological state, soleRebels together with Bethlehem Alemu, urge Africans to control their own destinies by rising up the value chain and exporting higher value branded finished goods instead of low commodity exports.
Alemu stated, “When people think of innovation, they think of a new technology or some such thing. But innovation is in fact, substantively improving the state of what was before” which highlights their revolutionary concepts and driving forces which have assisted the footwear brand in gaining such global success over the years
Currently, her business rakes in annual revenues in excess of $1 million, which gave her the opportunity to launch her second business, Republic of Leather, a business that trades luxury leather products like bags, belts and accessories.
Buoyed by her success with SoleRebels, Bethlehem recently launched the Republic of Leather, a new business that trades in luxury leather products like bags, belts and other non-footwear leather accessories.