soleRebels 101

  1. What is soleRebels ALL ABOUT?
  2. Why do soleRebels make shoes?
  3. Why should people who care about development and developing nations be EXCITED about soleRebels?
  4. BUT why is a globally successful Ethiopian footwear brand important?
  5. What's Fair Trade about soleRebels?
  6. What is unique about the way soleRebels trades?
  7. What does “GREEN by heritage” mean?
  8. What is roots. culture. tires. All about?
  9. Whats with the cool looking tree in the logo?
  10. Why is soleRebels model an important key to sustainable development?
  11. What’s behind the name soleRebels?
  12. How can I find out more about soleRebels?

1. what is soleRebels ALL ABOUT?

Original soleRebels

soleRebels is an amazing footwear company founded in 2004 by company founder + 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, and by creating great employment opportunities RIGHT INSIDE OUR OWN COMMUNITY and giving the often ignored a chance to engage in creative endeavors.

Our motto at soleRebels is: “making the world a better place. One step at a time.” And we attempt to do that, in whatever small manner, every day.

PFom our inception we proudly employed+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 . and all the while we never lose our focus on crafting our wares from the most eco-sensible materials available - a combination of recycled , organic + bio-based materials , and then making our shoes in the most energy efficient manner possible – with our talented hands .

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2. Why do soleRebels make 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 – that being hand crafted and eco-sensible - that 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! ] .

We took this wonderful indigenous age-old recycling tradition and fused it with fantastic Ethiopian artisan crafts and excellent modern design sensibilities and turned it into a market beating export brand that is now being retailed around the world. … we carry on that riff everyday growing the styles, the product range, the quality and the brand……

soleRebels features collections of superFresh , comfy + cool sandals , flip flops and shoes featuring recycled car tire soles and an array of recycled and sustainable ingredients like hand spun + hand loomed organic fabrics and a pallete of unique natural fibers including organic pure Abyssinian jutes + PURE Abyssinian KOBA.

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3. Why should people who care about development and developing nations be EXCITED about soleRebels?

well its as simple as 1,2,3!

#1 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 !

#2 soleRebels represent 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 .

#3 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 + 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 !

Imagine the foreign exchange growth our country can experience, foreign exchange that DIRECTLY assist in the overall development of the nation allowing us then to develop & FINANCE our OWN solutions OUT of poverty!

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…..

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4. BUT why is a globally successful Ethiopian footwear brand important?

Because self initiated, self directed market solutions are KEY to creating sustainable PROSPERITY and dignity.

Lets face it: Ethiopia and Africa have PLENTY of NGO’s + Charities [uuugh] . Many are in fact WELL KNOWN international “ brand name” organizations. Many employ legions of HIGHLY paid staff.

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 these international “brand name” charities pay their staff ?

Can you name a single Ethiopian or African startup company that created a globally successful product and brand , and through that achievement made its employees and stock holders prosperous ?

From this simple construct it is very clear that Ethiopia [and Africa] needs far LESS NGO + Charity brands and MUCH MORE OF OUR OWN powerful brands whose global equity we can leverage to our own good – most importantly in the creation of the prosperity that comes from WELL PAID SUSTAINABLE JOBS . good jobs means people can afford to finance their own solutions and not wait for a handout to do so

Ethiopia [and Africa ] RICHLY deserve the profits – both physical + cultural + otherwise - that come from the direct deployment of our indigenous resources into world class finished products and brands . For TOO LONG we Africans have been left out of this critical profit loop. Our profit loop ...

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5. What's Fair Trade about soleRebels?

Everyone today is concerned about reducing their carbon footprint , which is great!! And at soleRebels we also 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 preserving our environment PLUS real concern for workers is real style and something that NEVER GOES OUT OF FASHION !

soleRebels is proud to be the the 1st WFTO FAIR TRADE 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 have an authentic + 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 !

We believe that soleRebels’ message resonates with people today more than ever as consumers look for more compelling reasons to buy products and embrace brands . As the worlds 1st WFTO/IFAT FAIR TRADE certified Fair Trade footwear company , we believe soleRebels offers something unique and compelling both in terms of products and the ethos of soleRebels. while we’ve ALWAYS practiced Fair Trade from DAY 1 of the company’s birth

the IFAT accreditation lets consumers know IN A verifiable manner that the entire company behind the product is fair trade committed – wages, working condition , environment.. Everything.

Again while many companies claim to be fair trade firms they have not gone through the rigorous auditing like soleRebels to become IFAT / WFTO accredited , the most transparent , rigorous and provable method to truly prove their fair trade credentials to all !

And most of all soleRebels is Fair Trade certified because it reflects the core founding principles of our company . as we said we began soleRebels to bring jobs to our community, a place where there literally were NONE. This hurt us because where we work + are based is the community where we grew up, where our father grew and where our grandma settled when she migrated from the countryside in Gojjam to Addis Ababa here in ETHIOPIA in search of "a better life". by the time we were growing up it was clear that a better life was non existent for this community. so we committed ourselves to not only creating jobs for our fellow citizens but EXCELLENT paying ones, ones that were FAR + ABOVE what other local employers were paying for similar work! with wages that provided a decent standard of living for workers + their families and most importantly JOBS that were RIGHT THERE in the middle of where we all lived ! our wages on average are over 233% higher than the industry average . what that means is that our average workers earn a full 4-5 times the legal minimum wage and over 3 TIMES the industry avg. Many workers earn much more ! that's what we mean by a PROUD WAGE!

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6. What is unique about the way soleRebels trades?

soleRebels is all about producers controlling the fruits of their labors . That means building the EQUITY of their brands and realizing the long term value of that equity by netting a FAIR deal in terms of price when they sell their products .

In an time when supply chains are STIILL so dislocated and disconnected from the producer to the consumer we feel that soleRebels provides an interesting and viable alternative. we also believe that consumers relate to this type of business model where they can see that the producer controls the brand and also reaps the benefits. THAT is truly sustainable development in action. so soleRebels resonates with important VALUES while providing great products and a chance to REPRESENT those values - so it’s a double win for our customers and us!

To do this soleRebels are pioneers & BIG proponents of producer direct Fair Trade.

Producer direct Fair Trade means:

  1. NO MIDDLEMAN to absorb profits. Too often even in so called Fiar Trade trading , the producers products must go through various “fair traders” to reach the final consumer. Those traders , because they need to add their markups , often SQUUEEZE the producer , often worse than mainstream buyers, resulting in LOST $ for the producer. And the producer without the DIRECT LINKS to the buyers or final consumers is at the mercy of these trades.
  2. revolutionary trade . it maximizes the producers benefits [yup the folks that actually make the stuff] WHILE also giving maximum value to the retailer and the best price to the final consumer as there are no middle stages to SKIM off profits and inflate the cost of products. That is a A HUGE WIN:WIN for everyone involved [ except the middleman. Sorry middleman!]

soleRebels have been trading like this with many of our global customers like Amazon, urban outfitters, whole foods whom we ship DIRECTLY, handling all the account functions - from order intake to production to marketing and invoicing in-house right here in Ethiopia BY OURSELVES.

Direct producer trade with global customers means a few other key things:

  1. It allows soleRebels to understand market needs and demands in real time. That means w e can react to what buyers AND CONSUMERS really want in their products.
  2. It means that we are constantly developing and upgrading our business skills to a world class level; that means we become better and better BIZ PEOPLE, which means we can become stronger and more successful as a company which means more and better jobs for our community and our country which means more HOPE all around !!
  3. It allows soleRebels the company to maximize the $ it receives for its products which in turn means MORE AND BETTER PAYING JOBS can be created in the soleRebels community , more foreign exchange is netted for the country, which means more development can be funded.

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7. What does “GREEN by heritage” mean?

We think the idea of a “green business” is a bit of a fad-dish label that doesn’t express the value of who and what we are. a better way of understanding who we are and why we do what we do is this :

soleRebels is as an innovative and ethical company committed to creating world class footwear and apparel products , 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 the KEY fact that 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 . and best of all these methods and materials have stood the test of time and are by their essence sustainable and low impact.

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 .

So In addition to recycled car tire soles all our styles incorporate as much recycled + sustainable materials as possible with ingredients like hand spun+hand loomed organic cotton fabrics []click and see[] 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!

All our shoes are handcrafted making it a TRULY ZERO carbon production process ! and our products are made in this low-impact manner because proudly, historically that is the way it’s been done here in Ethiopia! IT also makes great sense given that we have so many talented hands here in ethiopia that are too often idle because of lack of opportunity and hand works creates great things . this ethos is a major point of affinity for consumers worldwide and a BIG reason why soleRebels has been embraced by folks from boston to beijing!!!!!

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8. What is roots. culture. tires. All about?

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 lo impact manner because historically that is they way that things have been done .

involves utilizing indigenous eco-sensible inputs like hand spun heritage organic cottons. ethiopia is said to be one of the birthplaces of cotton cultivation so cotton understandably occupies a central role in Ethiopian cultural life , having been cultivated here for 1000's of years . we source our cotton from small scale heritage organic + traditional growers , ensuring that you get a wondrously soft cotton and a historic crop continues to flourish. Ethiopia is one of the LAST authentically organic environments in which cotton is grown. Owing to the privations endured here most small-scale cotton farmers never used anything more complex than animal dung as fertilizer. The support that we give to these small-scale farmers ensures not only their ability to grow their birthright crop in this traditional organic manner but also has a meaningful impact on the local + global ecosystem .

The ART of hand spinning of cotton also dates back millennia here in ethiopia and our artisans are among the finest . we line our shoe interiors and strap linings with the fabric made from this organic hand spun so that slipping your feet inside a soleRebel is a DECADENT treat - just like sliding into your favorite socks. spinning these organics by hand means we preserve + promote an ancient artisan craft here in ethiopia while also ensuring that our small cotton farmers can continue growing a historic crop in the same way they've been doing for 100's of years . and best of all materials like these make gorgeous + very COMFY things !

Ethiopia is also home to the largest population of livestock in Africa, with at least 40 million people owning livestock. The sector is crucially important in reducing poverty, as a large percentage of the population is directly affected by the leather industry. There are NO ANIMAL FACTORIES here . Only the loving tradition of small scale free range animal raising , where animals freely roam and graze tended to by their owners. Its the same tradition that's endured here for millennia and proudly survives until this day. This is what we mean when we say our leathers are Abyssinian PURE !

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.

here in ethiopia recycling things is a way of life; in fact we've been recycling for years without ever calling it recycling. when you have limited resources everything is valued + valuable, everything has a purpose even if not the original purpose it was intended for - and if not one can be found for it. so for us here in ethiopia its equal parts ingenuity + resourcefulness that equals true recycling. for example we collect & sort used tires and then hand cut them into soles , ensuring a perfectly fitted sole that is long lasting and very comfortable. 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 Italian forces back in the day when they tried to take over + colonize Ethiopia [and that took some TRACTION , running all over the rugged countryside here dodging bullets and air raids !!!!] So a great recycling tradition endures AND , best of all, something that might otherwise go to waste now enjoys a dynamic + new + useful purpose while keeping our landfills less clogged AND SAVING CO2 from being emitted when landfill bound tires are burned. YIKES!

And we do much more . challenging ourselves to find new uses for indigenous and recycled materials comes very naturally to us - from vintage camouflages that we have put into peaceful use to our ingenious uses for ethiopian hemps+jutes and then on to the most wild uses of tires and inner tubes you can imagine, you will quickly see what we mean when we say: "here in ethiopia recycling things is a way of life".

Our packaging is made from recycled shipping cartons and pairs are shipped in re-useable hand loomed cotton bags. soleRebels also minimizes production waste by making innovative POP display units from scrap and natural materials as well as re-using waste in production ! with our repurposing of production waste materials into production inputs , 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.

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9. Whats with the cool looking tree in the logo?

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 treeofhope . the koba plant . cool. effective . resource friendly. just like us…

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10. Why is soleRebels model an important key to sustainable development?

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.

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

Africa + 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 ALWAYS financed from outside. Trade IS such an essential KEY to Africa’s upliftment as it is the key to job creation , income realization and ultimately , if conducted on the right terms , that all too elusive thing that sustains us all – hope.

[ sorry Bob + Bono time to face it: Charity + AID may feel nice BUT neither ever created sustained prosperity for the recipients. And we won’t get started on the “poverty alleviation” stuff because really all that’s about is moving the dial on some meaningless number that has NOTHING to do with creating jobs and self-directed + self-controlled prosperity, which is what we want and what is needed ! ]

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. And with your support we are doing just that ! Now THAT is great reason for hope!

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11. 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.

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12. How can I find out 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