Wharton Business School Spotlights SoleRebels’ Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, Founder & CEO of SoleRebels. (Courtesy photo)

In Ethiopia, Trading Poverty for Prosperity Provides Global Success for soleRebels (Wharton)

By Knowledge Wharton Network – University of Pennsylvania

Making recycled tires from Africa into fashionable footwear that sells around the world? That’s the amazing success story of soleRebels, which just opened a second store in Taiwan. The Ethiopian shoe brand sells in over 50 countries and counts Urban Outfitters, Whole Foods and Amazon.com among its retailers. Offering generous benefits to its employees and using only environmentally friendly materials, it is the first company certified by the World Fair Trade Organization for its practices. Stating its ambition, soleRebels hails itself as “Africa’s Nike.”

Just eight years ago, Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu started soleRebels with her first five employees on her grandmother’s plot of land in Ethiopia. She has since seen her business grow, and has received a number of accolades. Forbes recently listed her as one of the most powerful women to watch, along with Kate Middleton and South Carolina governor Nikki Haley. She was recently featured on a BBC series with business leaders around the world.

Alemu aims to pay “proud” wages, offers her employees on-site medical checkups and free transportation for her disabled employees. She explains that having grown up in Ethiopia, the real solution to poverty is to give people jobs that they are proud and happy to do. “The best way to create prosperity is the tried and true method,” she tells Arabic Knowledge@Wharton. “Create amazing products with service to match, pay your workers very well, and operate in a highly ethical and transparent manner.”

Click here to read an edited transcript of the conversation.

Related:
SoleRebels Opens 2nd Taiwan Store (TADIAS)

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