Can shoes save Africa?
Ethiopia produces high-quality cotton and leather. Ethiopians have been working these materials for ages. Ethiopia also has an incredibly cheap labor market. The Economist reports that this combination has started Ethiopia down the path towards becoming a major footwear manufacturer.
In America, I don’t imagine we’re that likely to see the products of this footwear revolution. The article points out that Ethiopia itself is one of the target markets, with manufacturers producing cheap plastic sandals (which are proving vital to keeping people safe). The draw of cheap manufacturing will also doubtlessly be huge. Instead of “Made in China” we might start seeing “Made in Ethiopia,” if we bother looking inside our shoes.
One company, however, is already producing footwear targeted at Westerners. SoleRebels is Ethiopian owned. It produces hand-made shoes using Ethiopian leather, Ethiopian cotton, and recycled tires. The company is certified Fair Trade. They have numerous articles all over their website trumpeting that they are a good company.
I like recycling. I like responsible business. I like the idea of helping the little business. But I’m not going to invest in something unless I really like the product. So, do I like the product? Well… yes. I like them a lot!
The shoes are a combination of Chucks, Toms, and Sanuks. They appear a little rough around the edges, but in a way that suggests they were not made in a machine. They come in bold colors, they come in quirky styles. They are unique, but not so much so that they are weird. They seem to be a perfect combination to say, “I’m hip, I’m new, I’m interested in saving the world, but I’m not going nuts about it.”
Almost as exciting as the shoes themselves was the price. All the shoes I’d say are for men come in at $75 a pair with free shipping. Comparable shoes (by Sanuk or Toms) come in around $50-60 a pair. Considering that I cannot walk a mile in my neighborhood without seeing a few pair of Toms, and that I have never even heard of SoleRebel, the added value of being unique easily makes up the price difference. Add in that you are helping Ethiopia while also helping the environment and I believe these are a solid buy.
I have already ordered a pair, but I have no idea when I will actually get them. The e-mail I received says: “Your new soles will be hand-made and shipped to you soon.” When they do arrive, I will be sure to post with pictures and a review. I might even go into my thoughts about buying Fair Trade products… maybe.
Oh, and if anyone was wondering if I dared pick one of those bold, loud styles… no. Let my conservative fashion sense shine.