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.

Shoes perform the dual function of making a fashion statement and protecting our delicate feet from dirt and dust. It is without doubt that I say that everyone loves great shoes that both look good and feel great.
Sadly, for many school kids in Nigeria, having such shoes is simply not an option, and when it is an option, it is a luxury for them. The desire to make a remarkable impact in the lives of these Nigerian school children, coupled with intense passion for making beautiful shoes led Temilade Adegbite, an entrepreneur shoemaker to launch Right Legs shoe business.

Temilade who didn’t come from an entrepreneurial background was inspired to launch into entrepreneurship due to her personal problems with finding shoes that fit her big foot. As she grew older, it became a challenge as it became more difficult getting the designs she wanted for my size. She found out through a survey she carried out that a lot of other people face her dilemma and she acted on the thought that prompted her into learning shoemaking craft and produce designs that are inclusive of all sizes.

Temilade sees building a business that produces bespoke shoes for customers as a means to contributing to the society at a social impact level, using her expertise to produce shoes for those kids that don’t have and cannot afford them.

This is why the goal of Right Legs is centered around catering to big-footed customers and supporting poor kids with good footwear to wear to school. And as a standard policy, 5% on the price of every set of footwear bought by customers goes towards the making of school shoes for kids that can’t afford to buy them.

Beyond the profit, her greatest satisfaction as an entrepreneur comes from being able to solve the problem of access to footwear in different sizes. Another satisfaction comes from being able to create great shoes from raw materials, producing something that is both beautiful and practical and that everyone wants on their feet.
Temilade also enjoys the pleasure of creating shoes for Nigerian future leaders.

Her personal experience is the best piece of advice she can give to every intending business owner, it is simply:

Find the need and solve the problem.