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Bethlehem Alemu: Doing Good, Doing Well, in Ethiopia

The story of soleRebels

By Shlomo Maital

 bethlehem alemu

Bethlehem Alemu – soleRebels

     Bethlehem Alemu is a young Ethiopian woman whose business soleRebels creates beautiful shoes, made entirely in her village and surrounding region (including the materials).   She can tell her story far better than I.  So, in her own words, here it is. It is a bit lengthy, but worth reading to the end. 

      “My name is Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu and I am the founder and Managing Director of soleRebels   here in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It is my immense pleasure to introduce myself and soleRebels to you.     For us here at soleRebels, creating great footwear is also a means of creating hope.  This is the concept behind soleRebels.

   soleRebels began in 2004 as an idea: to bring jobs to our community, Zenabwork, a small village in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a place where there literally were none.     Having grown up watching our family and neighbors struggling, we decided to create the “better life” we were all waiting for by harnessing our community’s incredible artisan skills and channeling them into a sustainable, global, fair trade footwear business. We have done that and more and we are proud to say that the soleRebels brand is being enjoyed by people in over 30 countries around the world.

We selected shoes because we saw that footwear was an excellent platform to begin to share many of the indigenous eco-sensible craft heritages and artisan talents that we have here in Ethiopia with the world! It also meant that based on the approach we were taking to footwear creation – that being hand crafted and eco-sensible – that we could source and make almost ALL our materials locally, thereby creating an export product from 100% local inputs.   This allowed us to riff, recreate, and re-imagine the traditional “selate” and “barabasso” shoes, a recycled car tire soled shoe that has existed in Ethiopia for a LONG time (in fact, it was THE footwear from back in the day when the ORIGINAL “soleRebels” fought off the invading forces and kept Ethiopia as the only African nation to never be colonized!).   We took this wonderful indigenous age-old recycling tradition and fused it with fantastic Ethiopian artisan crafts and excellent modern design sensibilities and turned it into footwear that has universal flavor + appeal that is now a market beating export brand being enjoyed by people around the globe!!!!

We carry on that original riff everyday growing the styles, the product range, the quality and the brand. soleRebels features collections of superFresh, comfy + cool sandals, flip flops and shoes featuring recycled car tire soles and an array of recycled and sustainable ingredients like hand spun + hand loomed organic fabrics and a pallete of unique natural fibers including organic pure abyssinian jutes and PURE Abyssinian KOBA.   So have fun, help others and be proud that you are making the world a better place. one step at a time. and really, what more could you ask from your shoes… ”

   Support Bethlehem Alemu.   Buy her shoes; ask your shoe store to stock them.  It will do more good than buying Nike’s or Adidas. 

Exporting the Bubble to Asia

By Shlomo Maital


 Suppose, just suppose, you have a bad cold or a case of the flu.  Do you cough into your elbow, avoiding infecting others, or do you blast your germs right into their faces?    Obvious, right?

    Why then are U.S. and European banks doing the latter – infecting emerging markets (e.g. Asia) with their financial crisis, after ruining their own economies?

    In today’s Financial Times, Claire Jones reports that bank lending to emerging markets has reached record levels.  She reports:

 “Banks piled into emerging markets at a record pace earlier this year, highlighting the scale of the global search for yield that has partially reversed since the US Federal Reserve said it intended to slow its bond buying.   Cross-border lending to emerging markets surged by $267bn, to an estimated $3.4tn, in the first quarter of 2013, the Bank for International Settlements said on Sunday.  The Bank for International Settlements (the central banks’ central bank) said the 8.4 per cent increase was by far the highest recorded, with the amount of interbank lending rising by almost $200bn, or 12 per cent.    … 85 per cent of the rise was accounted for by more lending to China, Brazil and Russia.    The publication of the figures comes as the US Federal Open Market Committee gears up for its policy meeting, ending on Wednesday, when it could decide the timing and pace at which it will slow its $85bn worth of monthly bond purchases.

    Jones adds:  “With interest rates close to zero across advanced economies and liquidity abundant as a result of their central banks’ mass bond-buying sprees, credit has flowed into emerging markets in recent years as lenders and investors sought higher returns. According to the BIS data, interbank lending to emerging markets in the Asia-Pacific region alone has doubled since the investment bank Lehman Brothers collapsed five years ago.”

   What is going on?

  Simple.   America’s Fed, under Greenspan,  purposely created a housing bubble by bashing interest rates down to near zero and flooding the market with cheap credit.  That led to the global financial collapse.  To fight the recession, the Fed has pumped $85 b. in new credit in the markets every single month (by buying bonds).  But what to do with the money?  Banks are cautious about lending it and financial returns are miniscule.  So, why not export the money to emerging markets, where rates are higher?  

    The result has been to help foster a housing bubble in China, in Singapore and in other countries. 

    This is just one more example, though an extreme one, of how the U.S. Fed runs its monetary policy solely for the interest of the United States, while generating major collateral damage to other nations.

      It’s time to create a global currency, and run it through a global Central Bank.  The U.S. dollar long ago lost all claim or right to its role as the world’s money.  It is far too selfish. 

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
September 2013
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