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Shoes from Ethiopia

18 April, 2011

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Voice 1

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2

And I’m Joshua Leo. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 3

“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.”

Voice 1

These are the words of Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu. She is the founder and owner of soleRebels. This shoe company is in Ethiopia. Her business is extremely successful. But it is also very good for the environment and the people of Ethiopia who work for her. She hopes that her business model will change the way businesses all over Africa are run. In fact, she hopes that her business will change the whole continent of Africa! Today’s Spotlight is on Bethlehem and her company, soleRebels.

Voice 2

Ethiopia is a country with a rich and ancient history. Experts believe it is one of the oldest countries in the world. And scientists say they see evidence of human existence from many, many years ago. It has also been an independent country for many years - since ancient times. It is one of the two African countries that were never colonized. Ethiopians have fought to keep their independence. Today, it is the tenth largest country in Africa by area. And, it has the second largest population.

Voice 1

But today, the country also struggles. In its recent history, it has had many wars and conflicts. Recently, in the 1980s, the country experienced many famines. Millions of people died from lack of food and water. Today, Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world. But experts say that its economy is also one of Africa’s fastest growing. Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu and her soleRebels brand are part of this new economy!

Voice 2

Bethlehem began soleRebels in 2004. She started the company in Zenabwork, a small village in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. There were many skilled people in the area, but no one had a job. Bethlehem explains her idea.

Voice 3

“I grew up watching our family and neighbours struggling. So, we decided to create the “better life” we were all waiting for. We used our community’s wonderful artisan skills and focused them into a sustainable, global, fair trade footwear business.

We chose shoes because we saw that footwear was an excellent way to begin to share many of the native earth-friendly, craft traditions and artisan skills that we have here in Ethiopia. It is a great way to share them with the world! It also meant that we could make the shoes by hand, and make the process friendly to the earth. That is because we could get and make all our materials locally. That way, we did not have to import anything, and we could export everything.”

Voice 1

But the idea for making shoes also had another important meaning for Bethlehem. The design for Bethlehem’s shoes has existed in Ethiopia for a long time. In fact, she says it is the same kind of footwear the original rebels wore while defending Ethiopia from invading forces. These old style shoes used old car tires for the bottoms, or soles, of the shoes. This is the same case for Bethlehem’s new shoes.

Voice 2

Bethlehem took this old idea of shoes and re-imagined it. She believed the local style of cloth-making would make the shoe more appealing to people of modern times. She explains.

Voice 3

"I grew up watching members of my family hand spin cotton with an inzert. That is the traditional wooden hand drop spindle used here in Ethiopia to spin cotton. I made many rolls of cotton with my mother. Cotton culture runs deep here in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is one of the last real organic environments where cotton is grown. The art of hand spinning cotton in this manner is centuries old. And our artisans are among the best."

Voice 1

Being earth friendly is another important part of soleRebels. Bethlehem explains:

Voice 3

“Here in Ethiopia recycling is a way of life. In fact, we have been recycling for years without ever calling it recycling. When you have limited resources, everything is valued and valuable.”

Voice 1

So, soleRebels only uses organic cotton. That is, cotton grown without the use of chemicals. Workers make each shoe by hand. They use old car tires. These tires would normally be buried in the ground or burned as waste. Using them as shoes gives them a new useful life. Containers for delivering the shoes are made from recycled shipping cartons. They are shipped in cotton bags that can be used again and again. SoleRebels is carbon neutral. Their production methods produce no extra carbon into the air.

Voice 2

But soleRebels is really about more than just shoes or being good to the environment. The soleRebels website says: “For us here at soleRebels, creating great footwear is also a means of creating hope.”

Voice 1

One way soleRebels creates hope is by creating jobs in its community. It has created more than 140 jobs in Zenabwork. It offers fair wages. Bethlehem believes that to change people’s lives, people need good pay. Workers at soleRebels earn almost four times more than workers at other businesses in Ethiopia. They receive health insurance for their families. And Bethlehem encourages workers to use the business knowledge from soleRebels to start their own businesses.

Voice 2

Today, soleRebels offers many different versions of their shoes. SoleRebels footwear is sold around the world - from Malaysia to the US to the UK to Japan. Mostly, soleRebels sells to people who are concerned about the environment. But they are also concerned with the people who make the products - that they are receiving a fair wage, and able to live a good life.

Voice 1

SoleRebels hopes to be the model for a new kind of successful business in Africa. It uses traditional ideas and methods from Ethiopia. It uses material they already have, and skills they already know. This small business gives people in this struggling country jobs. Bethlehem hopes that in the future, soleRebels will continue to grow. Such a successful global business is a first for a developing world country. Bethlehem hopes that soleRebels can even become competition for bigger footwear brands like Nike and Adidas. But for now, soleRebels will continue to try and grow. On the soleRebels website Bethlehem says:

Voice 3

“We are proud of what we have done. We will always work to do more. And we are honored by the support we have received from retail buyers and other people for our great products.”

Voice 2

The writer and producer of this program was Liz Waid. The voices were from the United States. All quotes have been adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. Computer users can hear more Spotlight programs on our website at http://www.radio.english.net. This program is called “Shoes From Ethiopia.”

Voice 1

If you have a comment or question about this program, you can email us at radio @ English . net. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program! Goodbye!

Comments

real friend

real friend said on January 26, 2010

thanks for the ideas and the experiences you share from evry place. they arevery useful and inspiring.Thanks for your program. and thanks for accepting me as a friend
God bless you

witchdalat

witchdalat said on April 19, 2011

i have just called on soleRebel website. The footwear is very nice and friendly with environment. I will use my old jean pant to make a couple of footwear to go in my house and a small bag. Thanks.

GelezniyDen

GelezniyDen said on April 22, 2011

Hello every body and good morning all people in the beautiful world. The woman who being founder this company just wise and clever human because in my country where we have a lot of amount resources and many of us can’t start own business but this woman show us that we can all we only should have wish and all

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