Sustainable fashion is not limited to just clothes, it extends to other fashion items like bags, shoes and jewelry. In Africa, we have prominent sustainable footwear brands like SoleRebels.
SoleRebels is a hand-made footwear brand that produces comfortable and easy-to-wear sandals, slip-ons, sneakers, laced shoes etc, using naturally-occurring materials. The brand is owned by Ethiopian business woman, Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu.
Brand Story: How It All Began
Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, who was an accountant in a local hospital before she started her brand, grew up in a small village in Ethiopia. She noticed how the village artisans made beautiful footwear with raw materials, but still remained poor and jobless and this sparked the birth of her brand.
“The reason why I started this business, was to help my community and do something nice for the world.”
The idea of using recycled materials came from the fact that she wanted the brand to be solely dependent on local materials, i.e. creating an export from 100% local inputs.
Weaving The African Heritage Into Fashion Pieces
The craftsmanship in Ethiopia has a long history, as handmade footwear have been worn for a long time. The Ethiopian soldiers who fought off the invading French forces, causing Ethiopia to be the only African nation not to be colonized wore these shoes. The SoleRebels footwear has provided a very good opportunity to share the Ethiopian indigenous eco-sensible craft heritage, and raw talents with the whole world.
The inspiration for the shoes in the fashion brand comes from the famous traditional Ethiopian shoes, known as Selate and Barabasso, which employ recycled tyres for the soles. All products in the SoleRebels brand have a strong infusion of the ancient Ethiopian culture, as well as a hint of modern design.
What Parts Of SoleRebels Depicts Sustainable And Eco–Friendly Practices?
All the footwear in the SoleRebels brand are strictly handmade, therefore making it a zero carbon production process. This means that there isn’t any form of processing involved which would release harmful gases to the atmosphere. The shoes, otherwise known as ‘zero emission’ shoes, are made with recycled and sustainable materials such as recycled tyres, hand spun and hand loomed organic cotton, organic jute and koba plant fibre.
As opposed to used tyres being burnt, and oxides of carbon being emitted into the atmosphere, the tyres are recycled to make the soles of the footwear in the SoleRebels brand. Organic cotton, which has been cultivated in Ethiopia for over a thousand years, is also used to make the inner part of the footwears.
Loomed fabrics, Abyssinian Pure Leather, Hand woven Abyssinian Oragnic Jute and Koba Plant Fibre are some of the naturally occurring plant fibres and materials that are grown in Ethiopia, thus making the footwear brand a sustainable one.
Does The Ethiopian Fashion Brand Actively Contribute To The African Economy?
Since its inception in 2004, the SoleRebels brand has helped to create over 1,200 jobs both in Ethiopia and internationally, even though there are only 2 retail stores in Africa, both located in Ethiopia.
With stores in Germany, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, United States and more, the products are simply exported and sold in these stores. It is known that the African government encourages exports of products because it increases revenue, as well as liquidity and it also helps them to manage inflation efficiently.
The SoleRebels brand, which was named the Fastest Growing African Shoe Brand in 2014 has helped to improve the economy in Africa, as well as positively affecting the communities in Ethiopia. The footwear brand can however help more communities in Africa by opening more retail stores.
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