My big idea came from my environment: the Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu’s story


Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, photo credit:

Whenever people discuss about business today, they talk a lot about innovation, management and strategies that make ordinary people wonder if they could really survive in the business world.

However, one very simple way of starting up a business is to find a need around your immediate environment and try to fulfill that need.

As simple as this might sound, it is the starting point of all business around the world today as people rarely buy or engage services that they do not need.

This is the story of Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, the CEO of solerebels, the planet’s fastest growing African footwear brand and the very first global footwear brand to ever emerge from a developing nation.

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu was born in zenebework in Addis-Ababa, ethopia. The community in which Bethlehem was born is a small rural one in which the people were very poor.

Although most people of zenebework were poor due to lack of jobs and job opportunities, very many of them possessed local creative skills in foot wears making.


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One would wonder, how could people who possess such skills remain largely poor impoverished.

Well, the answer was what Bethlehem discovered. Bethlehem discovered that despite the skills possessed by her people, a platform with which to launch their products was the reason for their poor status.

This realization drove Bethlehem into thinking about a remedy for the situation. In the course of finding a solution to this problem, solerebels emerged.

Solerebels was designed to bring a platform whereby members of her community could show case their skills and simultaneously earn a source of livelihood, and create wealth in the long run.

Bethlehem sourced funds from her husband and members of her immediate family. She also mobilized creative artisans in her community and in 2004, solerebels was born.

In Bethlehem’s plan, solerebels was not just going to be another footwear making factory. She re-imagined what footwear could be and infused the traditional Ethiopia into it.

Solerebels footwears are redesigns of the famous selate and barabasso footwears.

Fierce Ethiopian warriors – who were the reason why Ethiopia was never colonized – wore Selate and Barabasso foot wears whose soles were made of recycled tires while fighting western powers who wanted to colonize the country.

As a matter of fact this was from where Bethlehem got the name ‘solerebels.’

Bethlehem took it up a notch further by infusing western culture shoe designs into her production line.

TO GO WITH AFP STORY IN FRENCH BY EMMANUEL GOUJON Ethiopian entrepreneur Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu (L), 30, checks a pair of sandals on September 18, 2009 at her workshop in Addis Ababa. With recycled tires and brightly colored fabrics, Alemu started her business, SoleRebels, five years ago in the village of Zenabework, outside Addis Ababa to help improve living conditions for its residents. Now, her recycled shoes are sold around the world. AFP PHOTO / AARON MAASHO (Photo credit should read AARON MAASHO/AFP/Getty Images)

Bethlehem inspecting the final product, photo credit:

Today, solerebels produces about 70,000 pairs of foot wears every year with an annual income of at least $1 million dollars.

Solerebels have been on a rapid expansion with 18 stores around the world including in USA, Asia and Europe.

With the aggressive e-commerce strategy being employed by solerebels, and additional 50- 60 stores are expected to open shop in the next 2 years.

Bethlehem has earned both local and international awards in recognition of her brand, company and their policies.

The CEO of solerebels got named the ‘Most Valuable Entrepreneur, 2011’ at the Global Entrepreneurship Week.

In early 2014, Bethlehem was selected as a young global leader at the world economic summit as well as winning an award of the ‘Most Outstanding Businesswoman’ at the African business awards, an annual award organized by African business magazine.


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Solerebels is officially recognized as an eco- friendly company, which uses a production process that produces zero carbon as all of its foot wares are hand crafted.

The raw materials used are sourced locally from recycled weather-beaten tires and other natural ingredients such as the Koba plant and Abyssinian jute fiber.

In my opinion, the solerebels presents a model on what one can achieve if we take a critical look around our immediate environment and its needs.

So what is that need that abounds in your immediate environment? Think of a solution.



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