Bethlehem Alemu: Doing Good, Doing Well, in Ethiopia
The story of soleRebels
By Shlomo Maital
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.