Zenabwork, a small village community in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia is crafting some seriously funky footwear using 100% locally sourced materials. soleRebels is all about original sustainable footwear, exuding the same coolness that is attached to brands like Nike and Adidas. Pro ‘trade not aid’ the award-winning African shoes business is working to break the chains of dependency on aid, instead aiming to get people into work by creating jobs within the local community – which are often scarce. Founded in 2004 by Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, soleRebels has sought to harness the skills of local artisans by creating a sustainable, fair-trade footwear company that now has an increasing global presence.
Tapping into Ethiopia’s craft heritage, designs are inspired by the traditional ‘selate’ and ‘barabasso’ shoes that were made from recycled car tyres. The designs seek to re-imagine the styles by fusing them with artisan craftwork. Comfy flip flops and hip shoes are produced using materials such as recycled tyres, handspun and hand loomed organic fabrics, unique natural fibers such as pure Abyssinian jutes and KOBA (an indigenous plant); all with a focus on providing comfort and softness in the fit. Even the packaging is sustainable, made from recycled shipping cartons and the shoes are supplied in re-useable hand loomed cotton bags.
Bethlehem’s desire is to create a global business with local roots and in doing so help create the type of sustainable development that will help drive the economic upliftment of marginalised communities across the continent. An inspiring story, read more about Bethlehem’s philosophy and vision for soleRebels here.