The TRUE AFRICA 100 is our list of innovators, opinion-formers, game-changers, pioneers, dreamers and mavericks who we feel are shaping the Africa of today.

Bethlehem is the CEO and founder of Ethiopian footwear label, soleRebels. She founded the label in 2005, after completing university, to provide well-paid jobs in her community in Ethiopia. It is now the fastest-growing footwear brand from Africa, with over 100 employees and distributed in over 30 countries globally. Bethlehem also has a second company called The Republic of Leather, centred on luxury custom-designed leather products. The Ethiopian businesswoman and entrepreneur gives advice on how to make it in a difficult industry.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs trying to build a business in their local community?

I would like to share (what I call) the soleRebels six-point plan for everlasting success:

Number 1: LOVE your customers. Passionately and always. Without them you have nothing!

Number 2: Create truly AWESOME products that your customers will love; deliver these products with equally amazing customer-focused service so they will love you in return!

Number 3: Market honestly. No-one likes being scammed.

Number 4: Stay agile; never allow complacency to occur. Always be eager to examine all your assumptions and, if needed, react immediately if those assumptions come up short.

Number 5: Be open and transparent. Above all, be responsive: most companies are posting and tweeting all over the place but many never take time to listen and respond when you contact them. C’mon, when a customer asks you a question, answer it – ASAP!

Number 6: Embrace failure. No-one created true awesomeness by being timid. Going big means you will fail, often. What you learn and apply from that failure though, will enable you to achieve greatness….

Number 7: Repeat points 1 through to 6 – forever!

Why do you think soleRebels as a business has done so well in a notoriously tough industry?

I believe that one of the central elements of our success is the fact that we have always seen ourselves as a creative-force company first and foremost, manifesting our creativity and craft through shoes.

Anyone can make a shoe. But not anyone can, year in, year out, create top-tier products that feel as amazing as they look… not just anyone can synthesise multiple artisan crafts, invigorate them and make them relevant in multiple forms of footwear. Not anyone can invent a supply chain from scratch, specifically oriented to service this type of footwear company and keep that supply chain growing and evolving and flourishing, while having at the core of that supply chain the ambition to be eco-friendly and fair trade produced!

Not anyone can create deep and lasting bonds with customers through the delivery of top-grade customer service that delivers lasting customer satisfaction… Not anyone can create a brand that engages and excites people globally… Not anyone can meld old-world craftsmanship with contemporary design AND technology…

It’s VERY important to understand that, at our core, soleRebels is an artisan-driven company. We are creative artisans who aim to craft the coolest and most comfortable footwear. We do this by combining our heritage artisan crafts with modern design sensibilities, while pouring our creative selves into our shoes.

The final result is that when our footwear is bought, you can SEE, FEEL and enjoy all the elements of heart, soul and creative craftsmanship that have gone into their construction.

Who’s your African of the year?

The African entrepreneur! For all the reasons above.

Follow Bethlehem on Twitter @BethlehemAlemu

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