Archive for the ‘C+C’ tag

On Sandal Ground

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Sseko DesignsPhoto Credit: Sseko Designs

The Create Cultivate conference took place in Portland recently. Attendees made floral crowns with Erba Studio’s Riley Messina, listened to speakers from local tomboy fashion label Wildfang and drank Oregon-made Union Wine (is it local?).

The standout presentation was from Liz Forkin Bohannon, the founder of Sseko Designs. A journalism graduate from the University of Missouri, Liz travelled to Uganda post-college. Her firstthought was to set up a charity. Her Ugandan friends told her they didn’t want charity; they needed a job. She brainstormed different business ideas (a poultry farm!) and settled on manufacturing a sandal design she made for friends in college.

Sseko Designs is now Uganda’s largest shoe exporter and employs 46 people and has enabled 30 women to attend university. In Uganda, there is a nine-month gapbetween finishing high school and starting college. The gap is intended for students earn money to pay their fees. Sseko employs gap-year women and allows them enough money for university tuition.

“Our biggest marketing challenge is communicating a rather complex story and mission in a way that is easily digestible,” says Liz. “The reality is, we don’t use a simple model that can be summed up in a three-word tagline to help solve the issues of gender inequality and extreme poverty. At our core, we sell products and we need to be able to sell a lot of those products to continue to grow our impact. We try to tell beautiful and compelling stories of hope and opportunity. All of this makes for a difficult, but fun challenge.”

It seems to be working. The Sseko Designs website features the personal stories and videos of women who make the sandals. The Starboard Sandal was featured in the June issue of Vogue magazine. The brand proves that a little creativity and storytelling can take you a long way, all the way to college. Just don’t call Sseko the next Toms.

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