Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, the pioneering and enterprising creator of the inspirational SoleRebels ethical footwear brand, and Republic of Leather, her business venture that puts Ethiopia’s handcrafted leatherwear and accessories on the global map, believes the future of a truly sustainable specialty coffee market can be found in coffee’s birthplace, her native Ethiopia. After more than a decade of building SoleRebels into a global footwear and leather goods brand that combines traditional Ethiopian craftsmanship and materials with fresh new designs while also paying top dollar throughout the supply chain, Alemu late last year launched an equally ambitious new coffee venture called Garden of Coffee.
The company has just opened its first branded roastery café in the Bole area of Addis Ababa, occupying approximately 10,000 square feet that serves as something of an immersive shrine to Ethiopian coffee culture and craft. Alemu described the facility as far more than merely a new retail storefront; her company’s goal is to completely redefine the seed-to-cup coffee journey by promoting what she calls “Origin Trade.” Garden of Coffee plans to open similar roastery cafés in two major markets in the United States within the next four to six months before growing from there. Bethlehem also said the company plans to open in Germany, China, Japan, the U.K. and Australia. Growing the Ethiopian-owned brand featuring Ethiopian products that are carried through the production chain entirely by Ethiopians to such a scale is unprecedented in other origin countries in the coffee sector. At the café bar, customers can order from a vast range of already roasted coffees, with each cup served showing the specific region within which the coffee was grown. Signage within the café celebrates and highlights individual coffee varietals and growing regions. For each region, we have developed specific graphics and iconography that reflect the origin,” said Bethlehem. “For example, for Harrar, the icon is a multicolored woven basket that Harrar is famed for. For Wolega, Sidama, Jimma and Yirgacheffe, we use tapestry icons that pay homage to the hand-woven fabric traditions of these regions using the traditional colors that region uses.” Each packaged bag from Garden of Coffee includes a map showing where the coffee was grown, processing method, coffee varietal, roast level, roast date, the name of the coffee roaster, and, for to-order roasts, the name of the recipient. All these elements are designed to promote a more exciting, hands-on and authentic Ethiopian coffee experience that she believes will resonate with consumers across the globe.”
About Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu
Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu is founder and Managing Director of soleRebels, the world's fastest-growing African footwear brand and the only Fair Trade-certified footwear company in the world. Growing up in a poor suburb of Addis Ababa, Bethlehem decided that there was only one way to defeat poverty – use local craftsmanship to make products that can compete in the global marketplace. She decided on footwear and today 70,000 pairs of shoes leave her factory every year. soleRebels has been expanding rapidly and has 18 stores around the world, including in Silicon Valley (USA), Japan, Singapore, Austria, Greece, Spain and Switzerland, along with an aggressive e-commerce marketing strategy. It expects to open another 50 to 60 stores in next 18 to 36 months. In 2015, Bethlehem launched an new venture, Republic of Leather, offering bespoke, hand crafted Leather wear and accessories. In late 2016 Bethlehem launched her latest venture, Garden of Coffee, an Ethiopian coffee brand born with global ambitions.
Bethlehem was the first female African entrepreneur to address the Clinton Global Initiative; was named Outstanding African Business Woman by African Business Awards in 2011; and was named one of the top 12 women entrepreneurs of the last century by CNN. Bethlehem is a UN Goodwill Ambassador for Entrepreneurship also sits on the board of United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO).