Some people find success in exploiting opportunities, while others find the same in helping people. There are many ways to accomplish one’s life goals, but the best and most efficient, is the path that helps you find true happiness and personal fulfillment.
This is the success story of Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, an Ethiopian female entrepreneur who set out to help the poor in her community, only to end up building a million dollar business that’s not just the leading shoe brand in Africa, but also distributes its products to over 30 countries with over 18 stores around the world, including Silicon Valley, Japan, Singapore, Austria, Greece, Spain and Switzerland.
The Early Life And Education Of Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu
Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, the eldest child of four siblings, was born in Zenebework, Addis Ababa, in 1980, to a modest father and mother who both worked at a local hospital. After her primary and secondary school education, she went on to study accounting at Unity University, and graduated in the year 2004.
A year after graduating in 2005, Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu used a plot of land she got from her grand mother to start a workshop. She set out with the concept of using the locals in her community to create ecologically and economically sustainable jobs. Some of these poor locals whom she hired were leprosy survivors, and she paid them up to four and five times the country’s minimum wage.
Her workshop went on to become a footwear brand named Solerebels, which was named after the fact that Ethiopians were one of the first to fight off the colonial masters and gain their independence.
To make their footwears, Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, used recycled tyres for the soles of the sandals and shoes, and in the process, was cleaning up the environment in every ecological sense.
The Growth And Expansion Of Solerebels
In a period of nine years, Solerebels grew from a business with just about 5 employees, to an entity that employs well over 120 people. The shoes are distributed to over 30 countries, with the likes of Amazon, Whole Foods, and Urban Outfitters selling the Solerebels brand. Her business also has a couple of franchises along with the company’s owned stores operating in countries like Japan, Spain, Taiwan, Austria, Spain, Greece, The United Kingdom, Switzerland, and a couple of others, with a combined store number of at least 18 in operation worldwide.
In 2014, she announced a new business called “The Republic Of Leather”, which focuses on high quality luxury leather goods, and are also made from recycled materials in the environment.
Her Achievements Today
Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu has been recognized as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in the year 2011, a “Woman to Watch” by Forbes in the year 2012, one of Africa’s Top 5 Female Entrepreneurs by Business Insider in the year 2012, a New York City Venture Fellow by Bloomberg in the year 2012, and one of the “100 Dynamic Women” shaping modern Africa by Arise Magazine in the year 2012.
She was invited as a counsellor at the One Young World summit and also to join the advisory team of the Green Industry Platform by the United Nations Environment Program.
Asides been invited by Bill Clinton as a speaker at the Clinton Global Initiatives panel, she was given a distinct honour in 2011 by the then world bank president, Mrs Okonjo Iweala, and was the first female entrepreneur to ever get the invitation.
In 2014, CNN named her as one of the “12 Female Entrepreneurs Who Changed the Way We Do Business.”
Today, her business ships out over 70,000 shoes yearly, and is on track to open 100 stores and achieve $100 million dollars in revenues by the end of 2017.
To Sum It All Up
Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu is a woman whose personal mission wasn’t just to help the less privileged in her community, but was also to exploit Ethiopia’s core strengths. She focused on one thing Ethiopians are really good at: the ability to make high quality hand made goods, and came up with amazing products that people couldn’t seem to resist.
In doing this, Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu used local products, local skills, and local tradition to not just make great products, but to also create job opportunities for the helpless and in the process, contribute to the growth of her country’s economy.
Today, her business is well known in many countries around the world, because of the exceptional quality and price of her products, and she has proven that anyone who cares about others and makes good use of the resources domiciled in their countries can achieve the impossible.