Entrepreneurial Journey of Bethlehem Tilahun
Bethlehem Tilahun was born in Zenebework, a small, rural community in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. From a young age, she saw the potential of using recyclable materials and of local craftsmanship around her to make world-class products that can compete and win big in the global arena. An observation that eventually influenced her to brainstorm ways to use these remarkable artisan skills in her community and generate sustainable income for the community.
From Idea to Action
In 2004, SoleRebels was founded with a simple yet effective slogan “roots; culture; tires”. A brand that focuses on producing eco-sensitive footwear locally. After seventeen years of ups and downs soleRebels became the planets fastest growing African footwear brand, the world’s first and only World Fair Trade Federation (WFTO) FAIR TRADE certified Footwear Company and the very first global footwear brand to ever emerge from a developing nation.
The name soleRebels is derived from a traditional shoe famous among Ethiopian rebels back in the days called Barabasso – shoes with soles made from recycled tires. The success of soleRebels comes from combining traditional recycling methods with contemporary, western influenced shoe designs.
soleRebels now distribute to over thirty countries worldwide and are sold by market dominators: Whole Foods, Urban Outfitters and Amazon. Bethlehem Tilahun has solidified herself as a remarkable entrepreneur who has her community at heart. She tapped into the artisan potential of her community and made a brand they can truly call their own.
In her own words:
“My driving passions are sharing Ethiopian cultures with the world and finding exciting ways to keep these cultures vibrant and fully relevant.”
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Her effort has been recognized worldwide as she was the first female African entrepreneur to address the Clinton Global Initiative in 2011 and African Business Awards named her ‘Outstanding African Business Woman’. She was Listed on Forbes Magazine’s 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa in 2011 and named One of Africa’s Most successful Women in 2012.
In an interview in 2018 Bethlehem shared what Business meant to her
“Business is about solving problems. Trying to identify the singular most difficult situation would be doing a disservice to this simple fact: If you are not continuously encountering tough situations as an entrepreneur, and solving them, then you are not really in business. Encountering obstacles and overcoming them is my day-to-day existence”
A True Success Story
By 2016 close to 1,200 jobs have been created through SoleRebels. Her entreprenurial adventure however, didn’t stop there as 2017 marked the launch of Garden of Coffee – A roasted coffee exporting company. It quickly become a success story and was awarded #1 Value Added Coffee Exporter by The Ethiopian Coffee and Tea Authority.
Bethlehem continues to stand at the forefront of African entrepreneurs successfully challenging the Global marketplace with locally made products. Her passion for Community development and exhibiting local artesian and talent have Barren fruit. It’s a community initiative that is making tangible difference in society.
She continues to Inspire generations of African entrepreneurs to thrive for greatness and to keep their communities at heart.