This inspirational Ethiopian woman entrepreneur founded the world's fastest-growing African footwear brand and the only Fair Trade-certified footwear company in the world. Her company, Sole Rebels, based in her community of Zenabwork, creates unique shoes as a platform for inspiration and hope in her country and beyond. Today 70,000 pairs of shoes leave her factory every year and are exported to 45 countries.
So, what is behind the name soleRebels? That was a piece of beautiful serendipitous poetry that sprang from the whole idea of giving deeply marginalized folks who once had no hope, the chance to become self sufficient, independent and full of hope by crafting innovative footwear from recycled tires, inner tubes, organic cottons and other great natural materials! We said, “now that is being a Sole Rebel!” It was a magical bonus to our whole idea, but one that we still believe in passionately to this day.
“We began soleRebels to bring jobs to our community, a place where there literally were none”
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 neighbours 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 flavour and appeal that is now a market beating export brand being enjoyed by people around the globe!
“We committed ourselves to not only creating jobs for our fellow citizens but to excellent paying ones; ones that were far and above what other local employers were paying for similar work! Our wages on average are over 233% higher than the industry average. That's what we mean by a PROUD WAGE!"
I grew up watching members of my family hand spin cotton with an inzert, the traditional wooden hand drop spindle used here in Ethiopia for centuries to spin cotton. I spun many rolls with my mom. Cotton culture runs deep here in Ethiopia, one of the last authentically organic environments where cotton is grown, and the art of hand spinning of cotton in this manner dates back millennia here and our artisans are among the finest. Best of all, these methods and materials have stood the test of time and are by their essence sustainable and low impact. So, in addition to recycled car tire soles, all our styles incorporate as much recycled and sustainable material as possible with ingredients like hand spun and hand loomed organic cotton fabrics, and a pallete of unique natural fibers including Abyssinian hemp and pure Abyssinian boba and Abyssinian pure leathers. All our shoes are handcrafted making it a truly zero carbon production process! Our products are made in this low-impact manner because proudly, historically that is the way it’s been done here in Ethiopia!
By crafting xtraCOOL footwear that gave the person wearing them immense comfort and joy, we create great employment opportunities right inside our own communities, and give the often ignored a chance to engage in creative endeavours.
In terms of future plans, we are now about to begin construction of a “ state of the arts” production facility. Built with indigenous eco-sensible materials and employing 100% renewable and self generating power, this unique first of its kind production facility will serve as a leading innovation centre, allowing us to develop the cultural wealth of the country while simultaneously expanding and enhancing our own production capabilities. This facility will allow us as a company to expand on Ethiopia’s unique indigenous zero carbon production methodologies and inputs - like hand spinning and hand looming heritage organic cottons- while also serving as a destination showcase for our global buyers and other key partners. here we will can showcase our products and production methods while offering unique set of services like real-time design and production services for parties seeking zero carbon fair trade footwear production.