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The soleRebels Story

What is soleRebels?

soleRebels is an amazing footwear company founded in 2004 by company founder and managing director Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu in her community of Zenabwork, Ethiopia!

soleRebels began as an idea: that the creation of shoes could be a platform for inspiration hope. By crafting xtraCOOL footwear that gave the person wearing them immense comfort and joy, we create great employment opportunities RIGHT INSIDE OUR OWN COMMUNITY and giving the often ignored a chance to engage in creative endeavors.

Making the world a better place... one step at a time

From our inception we proudly employed and trained the highly marginalized or those thought unemployable. Together we set out to re-imagine the traditional Ethiopian “selate” and “barabasso” shoes (recycled car tire sole shoe pictured to the right) in dynamic + vibrant new fashions.

We aimed to create something that was authentically local but had a truly universal flavor to it and for the past few years we have that and more. All the while we never lose our focus on crafting our wares from the most eco-sensible materials available: a combination of recycled, organic and bio-based materials.  Then we make shoes in the most energy efficient manner possible – with our talented hands.

Why Shoes?

We selected shoes because we saw that footwear was an excellent platform to begin to share many of the indigenous eco-sensible craft heritages and artisan talents that we have here in Ethiopia with the world! It also meant that based on the approach we were taking to footwear creation, we could source and make almost all our materials locally thereby creating an export product from 100% local inputs.

And this allowed us to riff, recreate and re-imagine the traditional “selate” and “barabasso” shoes, a recycled car tire soled shoe that has existed in Ethiopia for a LONG time. In fact it was THE footwear from back in the day when the ORIGINAL “soleRebels” fought off the invading forces and kept Ethiopia as the only African nation to never be colonized!

Why should I care about soleRebels?


soleRebels is development done right & development in action! rejecting the ineffective + damaging model of aid dependency and replacing it with the proactive idea that countries like Ethiopia are rich in physical, cultural and intellectual resources, soleRebels is LIVING PROOF that creating innovative world class products and trading them with the world is THE BEST road to greater shared prosperity for developing nations like ours!


soleRebels represents the TIP of a changing dynamic in Ethiopia, a historic and vital shift to control our own destiny by rising up the value chain and exporting higher value branded finished goods instead of low value commodity exports.


soleRebels is based on the revolutionary idea that to truly enjoy lasting development, developing nation producers MUST create, grow and control successful global brands and the equity developed in them, the very same formula that global brands in developed nations have so successfully deployed to build themselves and their countries...

Nurturing soleRebels into a market leading global eco-ethical footwear brand as we have been doing, is therefore a deeply important first for a developing world country like Ethiopia, and a feat which holds the seeds of greater shared prosperity here.

To best appreciate the significance of a global footwear brand emerging from a country like Ethiopia, we always say to people just pause for a moment and imagine the deep economic uplift and distributed benefits that become possible here in Ethiopia as soleRebels becomes possibly the TIMBERLAND or the ADDIDAS or the NIKE or the PUMA of Ethiopia or Africa!

Imagine the immense and ever growing number of jobs that are created allowing more highly marginalized residents here the chance at a decent life!

Imagine the communities that are elevated as we CONTINUE to be able to offer more employment AND HIGHER VALUE EMPLOYMENT as we add designers, ecommerce specialists, marketing mangers, production Vice President’s etc!

Imagine the ever enlarging WEB OF SUPPLIERS that are nurtured and who grow and prosper as we grow!

A developing nation company like soleRebels, building & controlling 100% of a GLOBAL brand as we have been doing, holds exactly these types of exciting possibilities. and THAT is real + true + lasting +sustainable development!!

As we like to say Africa accounts for only 2% of global trade... give us the chance to compete and WIN some market share, just like TIMBERLAND or PUMA, or NIKE or any of these global brands, and watch what we can accomplish...

Why is a globally successful Ethiopian footwear brand important?

Because self initiated, self directed market solutions are key to creating sustainable prosperity and dignity. But can you name a single globally known consumer brand from Africa or Ethiopia? Can you name a single Ethiopian or African brand that pays its employees similar wages to what international charities pay their staff ?

Africa needs far fewer charity brands and much more of its own powerful brands whose global equity it can leverage for its own good. Most importantly in the creation of the prosperity that comes from well-paid, sustainable jobs. Good jobs mean people can afford to finance their own solutions and not wait for a handout to do so.

Ethiopia deeply deserves the profits, both physical, cultural, and otherwise, that come from the direct deployment of our indigenous resources into world-class finished products and brands.

What's Fair Trade About soleRebels?

At soleRebels we believe that people around the world want much more from their brands. They want to see that the company that makes the products cares as much about the people who make their products as they do about reducing their footprint on the world. We believe that concern for our workers is real style and something that never goes out of fashion!

soleRebels is proud to be the the 1st WFTO/IFAT FAIR TRADE certified footwear company on the planet!

IFAT, or the WFTO as it is now called, is the only body that certifies the Fair Trade practices of companies.

soleRebels went through rigorous and ongoing auditing to become IFAT/WFTO members, and this is the most transparent, rigorous and provable method to truly prove their fair trade credentials to all!

With the IFAT/WFTO accreditation soleRebels has an authentic and unique point of difference so that consumers deeply relate to as they know in a verifiable manner that our entire company behind the product is fair trade committed. Wages, working condition, environment... everything. While some companies may say they are Fair Trade, they have not gone through the rigorous independent auditing of IFAT/WFTO to prove their credentials!

And most of all soleRebels is Fair Trade certified because it reflects the core founding principles of our company.

"We began soleRebels to bring jobs to our community, a place where there literally were NONE. This hurt us because where we are based and work is the community where we grew up, where our father grew and where our grandma settled when she migrated from the countryside in Gojjam. By the time we were growing up it was clear that a better life was non-existent for this community. We committed ourselves to not only creating jobs for our fellow citizens but to excellent paying ones; ones that were FAR & ABOVE what other local employers were paying for similar work! Our wages on average are over 233% higher than the industry average. What that means is that our average workers earn a full 4 to 5 times the legal minimum wage and over 3 TIMES the industry average. Many workers earn much more! That's what we mean by a PROUD WAGE!"

What does 'Green by Heritage' Mean?

soleRebels is an innovative and ethical company committed to creating world class footwear and apparel products and has always been. But we are also committed to creating great community based jobs while utilizing the immense, diverse, sustainable and eco-sensible materials and cultural arts of Ethiopia that are by their very nature ‘green’ and have always been.

We use the terms like “historically eco-sensible” and “green by heritage” to describe this phenomenon. We do so because we want to express a key fact: we are embracing these deeply sustainable and traditionally zero carbon methods of production not because it’s the ‘in thing’, or because we held a focus group, or because some marketing genius named Bernie told us to ‘be green'.

We embrace these production methodologies, materials, ideas and ethos’ because they are integral parts of Ethiopia’s cultural fabric, a tradition which we grew up within and feel passionately about preserving.

I grew up watching members of my family hand spin cotton with an inzert, the traditional wooden hand drop spindle used here in Ethiopia for centuries to spin cotton. I spun many rolls with my mom. Cotton culture runs deep here in Ethiopia, one of the last authentically organic environments where cotton is grown, and the ART of hand spinning of cotton in this manner dates back millennia here and our artisans are among the finest.

Best of all these methods and materials have stood the test of time and are by their essence sustainable and low impact.

So In addition to recycled car tire soles all our styles incorporate as much recycled and sustainable materials as possible with ingredients like hand spun+hand loomed organic cotton fabrics and a pallete of unique natural fibers including Abyssinian HEMP and PURE Abyssinian KOBA and Abyssinian PURE leathers. All our shoes are handcrafted making it a truly zero carbon production process! Our products are made in this low-impact manner because proudly, historically that is the way it’s been done here in Ethiopia!

What is 'roots. culture. tires'?

‘roots. culture. tires.’ is the catchy way we summarize and represent our unique ethos of historic eco-sensibility where great products are made in a low-impact manner because historically that is they way that things have been done.


The materials we use in our shoes are more than just materials. They each represent an important part of traditional Ethiopian culture. Cotton cultivation occupies a central role in Ethiopian life, having been cultivated here for thousands of years. We source it from small scale organic and traditional growers and spinners, giving you wonderously soft fabrics. We also source our leather from traditional small scale free-range animal owners. Ethiopia is home to the largest population of livestock in Africa and is crucial to reducing poverty in Africa because a large scale of the population is affected by the leather industry.


involves things like hand looming our fabrics in the traditional artisan manner on eucalyptus looms. everything we do is aimed at applying the unique cultural arts we have practiced here in Ethiopia for millennia in fresh, dynamic new fashions. creating our products this way preserves important cultural assets, gives our customers incredibly cool + stylish things to wear and generates zero carbon impact, just as has always been the case with these forms of creation! combining the expertise of several traditional Ethiopian artisan areas - from hand spinning organic cotton to artisan looming fabrics and on to footwear hand crafting - we fuse these arts with unique + innovative design sensibilities, always delivering exciting creations. the result is something we like to call fusionfashion - the ultimate marriage between traditional cultural crafts and contemporary design.


In Ethiopia we've been recycling for years without ever calling it recycling. When you have limited resources everything is valuable and everything has a purpose even if not the original purpose it was intended for. So for us here in Ethiopia its equal parts ingenuity and resourcefulness that equals true recycling. Using car tires as soles is a loving recycling tradition that's endured since the original soleRebels strapped used tires to their feet and fought off the invading colonizers. So a great recycling tradition endures. Challenging ourselves to find new uses for indigenous and recycled materials comes very naturally to us. Our packaging is made from recycled shipping cartons and pairs are shipped in re-useable hand loomed cotton bags. We come very close to our over riding goal of a near ZERO waste effect from production.

We are NOW about to begin construction of a “ state of the arts” production facility. Built with indigenous eco-sensible materials and employing 100% renewable and self generating power, this unique 1st of its kind production facility will serve as a leading innovation center, allowing us to develop the cultural wealth of the country while simultaneously expanding and enhancing our own production capabilities. this facility will allow us as a company to expand on Ethiopia’s unique indigenous zero carbon production methodologies and inputs - like hand spinning and hand looming heritage organic cottons- while also serving as a destination showcase for our global buyers and other key partners. here we will can showcase our products and production methods while offering unique set of services like real-time design and production services for parties seeking zero carbon fair trade footwear production.

What's the Cool-Looking Tree in the Logo?

koba tree

The ancient and exalted koba tree is an indigenous plant cultivated here in Ethiopia for over 10,000 years!

Aside from being a cool looking logo, we use it as our way of paying tribute to our unique heritage of eco-sensibility. 

We chose this as our brand symbol as the koba tree represents enduring and amazing qualities. 

A marvel of natural efficiency, every part of the koba plant has a use. Its fibers are used in the creation of many wonderful things, including many of our products; its roots provide food in times of food shortage; it is self re-generating once harvested, requires little water to grow and no chemical inputs.

That's why we call it the freedom tree + the tree of hope. The koba plant. cool. effective. resource friendly. just like us…


How Does our Business Model Help Ethiopia?

We founded this company to bring job opportunities to some of the most marginalized citizens in our nation, people who coincidentally happen to be our neighbors and relatives.

In addition we are helping to preserve important local cultural arts while giving citizens a sense of pride and doing this as we blast amazing footwear to our worldwide customers! We are proud of what we have accomplished, determined to do ever more and are honored by the support of we have received from retail buyers and consumers for our great products.

soleRebels model provides a living and breathing example of what can happen when young and motivated grassroots African entrepreneurs take on the global market, compete and win.

Africa and Ethiopia in particular desperately needs more trade and not aid or charity. Only then, with sufficient financial resources evenly spread, can we begin to bask in the self satisfaction that comes from financing the solutions to our own problems and not having them financed from outside. Trade is essential to Africa’s upliftment as it is the key to job creation, income realization and ultimately, if conducted on the right terms, hope.

Today, Africa accounts for a mere two percent of global trade. If Sub-Saharan Africa were to increase that share by only one percent, it would generate additional export revenues each year greater than the total amount of annual assistance that Africa currently receives. We simply need the opportunity to increase our market share, something EVERY GOOD STRONG GLOBAL business seeks to do. With your support we are doing just that! Now THAT is great reason for hope!

What's Behind the Name 'soleRebels'?

That was a piece of beautiful serendipitous poetry that sprang from the whole idea of giving deeply marginalized folks who once had NO HOPE, the chance to become self sufficient, independent and FULL OF HOPE by crafting innovative FOOTWEAR from recycled tires, inner tubes, organic cottons + other great natural materials! we said “now THAT is being a sole Rebel!” It was a magical bonus to our whole idea but one that we still believe in passionately to this day.

How Can I Learn More About soleRebels?

Easy! JUST check out our great website!

There is lots of great information about the company, our products, our unique and cool history and a huge media section where you can see what different media are saying about soleRebels cool footwear!

Or drop us an email with any questions or comments at We love hearing from everyone and always make a point of replying quickly.