Published on February 21st, 2013 | by Pattie Kettle1
Rebelling With Your Feet to help Ethiopia: Sole Rebels
What do you do when there’s no jobs in your community? Well, if you are Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, you rebel by creating jobs in a sustainable industry, that’s how!
Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu began SoleRebels as a way of bringing jobs to her community. When she migrated from the countryside in Gojjam to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia in search of ‘a better life’ and saw that there really wasn’t one – she took action. She made a commitment to not only create jobs for her fellow citizens which were EXCELLENT paying ones, but jobs which were FAR ABOVE what other local employers were paying for similar work. She also committed to providing local jobs which provide a decent standard of living for workers and their families. Her goal was to create wages for workers which are on average 4x the legal minimum wage and 3x the industry average for similar work.
Next on her ‘to-do’ list was to create sustainable production. Her equation looks something like this:
RECYCLING + LOCALLY SOURCED ORGANIC MATERIALS + TALENTED HANDS = LOW CARBON FOOTPRINT + ENVIRONMENTAL RESPECT + COOL PRODUCTS
Talk about a recipe for success. Bethlehem’s thinking was that, in Ethiopia, recycling things is a way of life. In fact, people have been recycling for years and years without ever calling it recycling. When there are limited resources everything is valued and valuable. Everything has its purpose – even if it is not the original purpose it was intended for. For Ethiopians, ingenuity + resourcefulness equals TRUE RECYCLING.
Bethlehem’s company has taken the traditional Ethiopian selate shoe (recycled tire shoe) and re-imagined it as a very hip, dynamic, eye-catching fashion. Her staff of hardworking Ethiopians regularly challenge themselves to find new uses for indigenous and recycled materials. Styles include camouflages put into peaceful use, ingenious arrays and uses of Ethiopian hemps, and on to the most wild use of tires and inner tubes you can imagine.
Preserving Ethnic Heritage
Part of the company’s success, in addition to its beautiful products and commitment to workers, is the way it leverages the uniquely Ethiopian heritage to build a global, market leading eco-ethical brand. Everything the company does is guided by applying the unique cultural arts practiced in Ethiopia for millennia. By preserving important cultural assets in fresh, fun, dynamic new fashions, it’s a win/win for both producer and purchaser.
Sole Rebels believes in building power for workers and their surrounding community. Every action the company takes is with community betterment in mind. Besides creating a myriad of employment opportunities and always looking to increase these, the company challenges themselves to do more, more, more! One example of the kind of giving back Sole Rebels does is their artisan education fund. This fund provides monies for the education of Sole Rebel artisan’s children and/or the children of close relatives. Like all Sole Rebel programs the artisan education fund is flexible and demand driven – meaning the workers get to decide where to allocate money.