Happily for the thousands of people who shop for SoleRebels shoes online and in markets and boutiques across Asia, Europe, and Africa, Alemu's designs have since become sleek and stylish, from rubber-soled sandals to understated flats to plush daytime slippers called TooToos.
A less visible but still impressive draw for conscientious shoppers: SoleRebels is the world's first Fair Trade–certified footwear company. Its 300-plus factory workers, many of whom had been unemployed for years before being hired, earn around three times the average industry wage in Ethiopia and receive comprehensive medical coverage for their families. They showcase their textile craftsmanship using good-for-the-planet materials like organic cotton, local fibers, and rubber repurposed from worn-out tires. "Everything about our shoes is Ethiopian: making things by hand, using recycled materials and traditional designs," says Alemu. With her outsize ambition, she's bringing local culture to people around the world—foot by foot.
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