Bethlehem Alemu owns soleRebels, the fastest growing brand in Africa! In 2004 fueled by a strong desire to create employment opportunities in her community, Alemu decided to put a refined twist on traditional Selate and Barabasso Ethiopian shoes which are made out of recycled car tires.
She assembled a group of skilled artisans in the underserved neighbourhood and motivated them to craft stylish, eco-sensible shoes out of tires and indigenous materials. The result is soleRebels, a multimillion dollar shoe company which is projected to hit $15 million dollars in revenue by 2015.
During a recent visit to Addis Ababa, I met Bethlehem at the flagship shop of soleRebels, to discuss the challenges and rewards of being a successful business woman in Africa. In a neatly decorated room surrounded by loafers, sneakers and multi-coloured flip-flops, Bethlehem talked about her vision for her company and how she juggles her family life with the demands of her career. Few entrepreneurs have inspired and motivated me like she did. Inspite of her enormous success, she remains grounded and gracious. She demonstrates her committment to her brand by being present at the shop to serve her customers and receive direct feedback about her collection. As we concluded the interview, a couple from Belgium walked into the store. Bethlehem rose enthusiastically and greeted them by name. “My wife is obsessed with soleRebels,” the bespectacled man explained to me, ”she is here to stock up before we return to Brussels.” This couple like many others in Ethiopia and around the world are drawn to the quality and comfort that soleRebels produces.
To meet the growing demand for her high quality shoes, Bethlehem has expanded her operations to employ 200 local artisans to export Ethiopia’s eco-sensible shoes to Europe and North America and Asia. With a simple dream to improve the conditions in her community, Bethlehem Alemu has created a respected brand which has garnered accolades at home and abroad.