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.
From the humblest of beginnings, Bethlehem has built soleRebels into the planet’s fastest growing African footwear brand and the very first global footwear brand to ever emerge from a developing nation. She has created world class jobs, and empowered her community and country, whilst presenting a galvanized, dynamic face of African creativity to the global market.
Bethlehem was born and raised in the Zenabwork/Total area of Addis Ababa, one of the most impoverished and marginalized communities of Ethiopia. Growing up Bethlehem saw that Ethiopia had plenty of charity “brands” but not a single global brand of its own, so she set out to change all that.
In early 2005, fresh out of college in Addis Ababa, Bethlehem founded the trailblazing footwear company, soleRebels to provide solid community-based jobs. Tapping into her community’s and the nation’s rich artisan wealth and heritages, Bethlehem started re-imagining what footwear could be.
Seven years, many shoes and hundreds of creative, dignified and well paying jobs later, soleRebels is the planet’s fastest growing African footwear brand and the world’s first and only World Fair Trade Federation [WFTO] Fair Trade certified footwear company.
Constantly elevating the idea of what her brand can achieve, Bethlehem has led soleRebels to become the first ever brand from a developing nation to open branded, stand-alone retail stores around the globe including in Asia and the EU.
soleRebels has been expanding rapidly and today exports to no fewer than 45 countries and is targeting 50 stand alone soleRebels retail stores across the United States by 2018 and 500 worldwide by 2022.
Now hailed as the Nike of Africa, Bethlehem is proud that soleRebels stands as living proof that creating innovative world-class brands is the best road to greater shared prosperity for developing nations like Ethiopia.