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Ethiopia firm recycling tires into shoes

Ethiopia firm recycling tyres into shoes does big business via internet

SoleRebels offers inspiration

Old truck tyres never die, they just turn into sandals. For decades that has been the tradition in Ethiopia, where everyone from farmers to guerrilla fighters has fashioned worn-out road rubber into cheap, long-lasting footwear.

But now, thanks to a young woman entrepreneur who has combined the internet’s selling power with nimble business practices more often associated with Asian countries, the idea has been turned into an unlikely international hit. By adding funky cotton and leather uppers to recycled tyre soles, Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu has sold many thousands of pairs of handmade flip-flops, boat shoes, loafers and Converse-style trainers to foreign customers.

In the run-up to Christmas, workers at the soleRebels “factory” – a small house on the outskirts of the Ethiopian capital – were frantically cutting, sewing and gluing to fulfil internet purchases from customers as far away as Canada and Australia. Alemu’s brother packed pairs of cotton and suede trainers into a box about to be couriered to Amazon.com, the company’s main customer, which receives the shoes in the US three to five days after placing its bulk order. “We are sitting in Addis Ababa but acting like an American company,” said Alemu, an excitable 30-year-old former accountant who is fond of reeling off the numbers that illustrate her firm’s rapid growth.

Just five years after start-up, soleRebels employs 45 full-time staff who can produce up to 500 pairs of shoes a day. More will be hired after next month once the footwear range, priced between £21 and £40, goes on sale online in the UK and Japan on Amazon’s new footwear website javari.co.uk. The company’s sales target for 2010 is an impressive £300,000, but Alemu’s ultimate goal – one she seems deadly serious about – is far loftier: to become “the Timberland or Skechers of Africa”.

The success of soleRebels, which has thrived in the global market with no outside support other than a government line of credit to help meet large orders, is challenging preconceptions both about Ethiopia and the best way to lift its people out of poverty.

Read more – The Guardian

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