Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu of Ethiopia
When it comes to pride, Ethiopians are never in short supply. On a continent where far too many have lost or abandoned their cultural identity, Ethiopians wear it like a badge of honor. Their eyes shine as they recount the stories of how their freedom fighting forefathers defeated the Italian invaders, making Ethiopia the only African country to have never been colonized. To this day, they wear the same shoes as their heroes in their honor. They are called ‘barabasso’. Sandals made out of recycled tires and leather. To many Ethiopians living in poverty, their low-cost is a perfect fit. To this lady and her community of Zenabwork, they were about to be a game changer. Her name is…
Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu…
…the founder and Managing Director of SoleRebels, Africa’s fastest growing footwear company. Growing up, Bethlehem always wondered why people would work so hard with no improvement to their living conditions. She understood that poverty was not a result of laziness or fatality. They just needed to delve into their own creativity to bring something new to the market. So she did!
With a staff of five, she started by setting up a workshop in her grandmother’s plot where she worked on redesigning the traditional barabasso using ethiopia’s age-old art of making some of the world’s most beautiful fabrics and combining them with recycled tires and leather. It was the birth of SoleRebels.
She was off to a slow start as Ethiopians took some time to warm up to this new approach to their favorite footwear. Never one to give up, she turned to an international audience, offering a handcrafted eco-friendly shoe and the world fell in love with the concept.
SoleRebels now grosses over 15 million US$ yearly and is the first African consumer brand to open retail stores globally in over 55 countries. She pays her hundreds of workers four times the minimum wage and provides them with medical coverage, transportation and a renewed sense of pride.
Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu is mostly proud of the fact that she was able to change the narrative of Africans not being able to create their own wealth.
Right Your Legacy, Bethlehem Tilahun Elamu!
NdaniTV interview, 2017 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=188v7H-QEqY&t=8s