Africa’s Most Successful Women: Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu

9 Jan

• The Selate and Barabasso grow up to SoleRebles.

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, an Ethiopian entrepreneur and the founder of SoleRebels, a thriving eco-sensitive footwear brand a specialized call as Africa’s answer to brands such as Nike, Reebok and Adidas.
Entrepreneur Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu was born and raised in Zenebework, Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia..
While the most of the locals were unemployed, Bethlehem discovered that several of them possessed remarkable artisan skills which remained largely unexploited.
By 2004, armed with startup capital sourced from her husband and members of her immediate family, Bethlehem mobilized artistically-gifted members of her community and founded SoleRebels- which has become one of Africa’s most recognizable footwear manufacturers.

Practically, all SoleRebels shoes are redesigns and reimaginations of the famous Selate and Barabasso shoe, a traditional recycled tire sole shoe which has been worn by Ethiopians for a very long time. The Selate and Barabasso shoe was famously worn by Ethiopian rebel fighters who passionately opposed western forces from colonizing the country. As matter of fact, that’s where the name ‘soleRebels’ emerged from.

SoleRebels manufactures from recycled, weather-beaten tires and mixture of locally-sourced natural fiber ingredients such as the ancient Koba plant (an indigenous plant which has been cultivated in Ethiopia for over several thousand years) and organic Abyssinian jute fiber which are used mainly in creating the mid-soles of SoleRebels shoes. By blending this ancient recycling tradition with contemporary, western-influenced, hip shoe designs, SoleRebels has built a successful footwear brand utilizing a production process that is zero carbon production and very eco-sensitive.

All of SoleRebels shoes are hand-crafted by Bethlehem’s staff of over 100 people

Today, shoes under the SoleRebels brand are sold in over 30 countries around the world and through various e-commerce sites like Amazon and Endless.

SoleRebels also sells its products through its own e-commerce site. Prices vary, but you can get a pair of SoleRebels for anywhere from $20 to $100.
The company was among the top 5 finalists of the 2011 edition of the prestigious Legatum Africa Awards For Entrepreneurship.

Early last year, she was selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.
In June she won the award of ‘Most Outstanding Businesswoman’ at the annual African Business Awards organized by African Business Magazine, and in November, she was named the ‘Most Valuable Entrepreneur’ at the 2011 Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW).

SoleRebels has opened up a retail outlet in Taiwan and has franchise proposals for Canada, Italy, Australia, Israel, Spain, Japan and the United States among other countries.
Bethlehem estimated that revenues from Sole Rebels retail operations will hit the $10 million mark by 2016. Considering the exceptional success she’s achieved in less than 8 years, she’ll probably exceed her estimations.

Forbes

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