The first and only fair trade certified footwear company on the planet, soleRebels seeks to make the world a better place, one step at a time. Based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, soleRebels was founded in 2004 by Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu to bring employment to the community of Zenabwork, a small village where there were previously no jobs. Seeing how her family and neighbors struggled as she was growing up, Alemu decided to create the better life everyone was waiting for by harnessing her community’s artisan skills in an eco-sensible business. Combining Ethiopian heritage crafts with modern design, soleRebels produces locally made, eco-friendly shoes that are re-imagined versions of the traditional selate and barabasso shoes, a recycled tire shoe that was worn by rebel fighters who opposed invading forces and kept Ethiopia as the only African nation to never be colonized.
At soleRebels, creating great footwear means creating hope. By taking age-old Ethiopian recycling and artisan traditions to make modern footwear with universal aesthetics and appeal, the company preserves local cultures while giving customers hip, stylish, and sustainable options. soleRebels sandals, flip-flops, and shoes are all made from recycled car tire soles and other sustainable materials like natural fibers and hand-spun and hand-loomed organic fabrics. Additionally, the company pays its workers four times the legal minimum wage and three times the average industry wage, offers employee benefits, and runs community programs such as an artisan education fund.
Today, soleRebels are sold in over 40 countries around the world, including the US, the UK, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, Germany, Sweden, Portugal, India, and more. Alemu estimates that revenues from retail operations will reach $10 million by 2016. Over the years, she has received several accolades for her work, including being named one of “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women 2012” by Forbes Magazine.