SOLE REBELS: Innovation in the heart of Africa
In a time when society is pushing a more environmentally friendly agenda toward sustainable living, there has been a noticeable increase of businesses jumping on the fair trade and vegan trend. However, one enterprise which has always cemented itself in self-sufficiency and sustainability its brand is the African footwear company, Solerebels. Founded in 2004 by Ethiopian businesswoman, Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, the brand delivers ecological produced shoes, through a combination of locally sourced materials and traditional methods of craftsmanship.
Raised in Zenabwork, an area within the capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, Bethlehem cites her inspirations for beginning the global brand, from within her community and the country itself. The company pride themselves on maintaining a zero carbon footprint, by using vegan friendly, locally sourced and repurposed materials, consisting of repurposed car tires, Abyssinian leather, cotton, Koba and Hemp so no machinery for transportation purposes is required. The brand provides a wide variety of shoe styles, ranging from sandals to trainers, catering for both men and women.
Each pair of shoes are crafted out of these materials through hand spinning and using a loom, by skilled artisans from the community, who produce the footwear at the company's headquarters in Addis Ababa. Integrating everyday life and culture of Ethiopia into the heart of the business, may not have been a conscious decision, however, it immediately sets Solerebels apart from other footwear companies who offshore production. In this way, the brand demonstrates a key aspect: the importance of community in enterprise.
When the brand originally started, the team was very small, however, job growth has created a team several hundred strong, highlighting an important aim of Solerebels: to uplift and strengthen African communities by providing well paid skilled jobs.
Directly injecting opportunities and finance into the community, revolutionizes the negative stigma attached to the African continent regarding prosperity. Too often, Ethiopia and Africa as a whole are dubbed a continent stricken by poverty, that is dependant upon foreign aid, and looks to the West for ideas and business acumen. Solerebels ingenuity refutes this viewpoint, and the company continues to defy the norms of how an enterprise should be run and who it should be headed by.
Development of an African business model which is steeped in reproducing the heritage and tradition from Ethiopia, into durable, hand-crafted footwear for customers around the globe to enjoy, provides a source of connection to the African continent, while continually creating job opportunities and economic prosperity within Africa. Furthermore, Solerebels break the gender-based stigmas around the capability of women in the workplace. Bethlehem is a businesswoman who owns 100% of a brand which has now opened a chain of 12 stores globally, has wholesale deals with Amazon and Urban Outfitters and is the world's first WTFO (World Fair Trade Organization) certified footwear company, and she is just getting started.
This footwear brand offers inspiration from all angles. Whether it's the Eco-friendly materials used, their dedication to strengthening African communities and economies or the display of powerful womanhood, Solerebels tells a story of Africa ...updated and accurate: beautiful, unrefined, innovative and prosperous. Just like the Ethiopian freedom fighters who fought in the Ethiopian civil war, these shoes bare a tire sole, giving Africans (both on the continent and in Diaspora) a defiant spirit to represent themselves through fashion and footwear...one step at a time.
Written by Charlie Reynolds-Thompson