BETHLEHEM T. ALEMU | SOLEREBELS

 

FASHION WITH A DIFFERENCE :THE STORY OF SOLEREBELS 

“The price of being a Fairtrade company isn’t cheap but the returns aren’t either”. 

SoleRebels is the world’s first fair trade foot wear company and produces its footwear from locally sourced recyclable materials including KABO root which is indigenous to Ethiopia as well as tires. soleRebels produces sandals and other shoes which are inspired in the traditional Selate and Barabasso tyre footwear once worn by Ethiopian rebels. Bethlehem Alemu the managing director and co-founder started the company in 2004.

The company began as an initiative to offer employment opportunities to the people in her local community who Bethlehem describes as people that had the skills but no opportunity to work. In addition, the company was also started to offer locals an opportunity to create a better life for themselves and their families. soleRebels was started with an investment of less than $1000(USD) made by Bethlehem’s immediate family. Bethlehem saw an opportunity to use the abundant artisans in her village to create footwear that was ecofriendly, culturally influenced as well as stylish.

SoleRebels has grown from being just a community initiative to a giant in the African and worldwide fashion industry. The company’s turnover is about 5 million dollars and it has grown from only employing about 3 people to providing employment for about 75 people. Currently the company ships to over 55 countries including Canada, Japan and Austria. As the business has grown, Bethlehem has not forgotten the reason behind the starting of the company.

SoleRebels pays its workers almost 4 times the national average and is among one of the only businesses that provides health insurance for its workers.

Bethlehem’s commitment to her company’s ethos as well as her determination have earned her several prestigious awards including certification by the World’s fair trade organization as an officially recognized Fairtrade company. She has also received awards for entrepreneurshipincluding being named one of Africa’s top 5 female entrepreneurs by Forbes and her nomination for the prestigious Legatum Award for entrepreneurship. She also received the Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award at the 2012 World Economic Forum on Africa.

 

 

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WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A FAIRTRADE COMPANY ?

In Bethlehem’s words being in Fairtrade is “paying a proper amount of money for the producer. It’s not about me taking a lot of money but for the producer who are the people who need it and do the actual work.”

This means that soleRebels prices are higher in order to ensure that producers receive an amount that reflects how much work goes into producing a pair of shoes. soleRebels shoes cost between 35$-95$.A major challenge of being a fair trade company is that certain companies attempt to procure shoes from soleRebels at unfair prices.

There is a common misconception among some producers that assert that Fairtrade products are cheaper than normal products. However, production costs for fair trade companies such as soleRebels are usually higher. Despite these challenges,  the benefits  outweigh the costs for as the business continues to expand and local community continues to benefit from the employment that the company offers. soleRebels proves that one can still build a profit making business while paying for producers’ work at fair prices.

“The price of being a Fairtrade company isn’t cheap but the returns aren’t either”.

soleRebelsis an example of using entrepreneurship to benefit the community as well as adopting a policy that assures that producers are not cheated but are awarded their dues and their rights are respected. It presents a model that could be followed by other entrepreneurs throughout Africa. Furthermore, it can be argued that the Bethlehem’s soleRebels brand presents a challenge to the dominant narrative that being a fair trade company is not profitable or sustainable in an African context. soleRebels continues to push boundaries in ways that other footwear companies including North American and European giants such as Nike and Adidas have not yet begun to.

Find more about soleRebels on their 
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