Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu

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Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu in 2017

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu (born 1980) is an Ethiopian businesswoman, founder and executive director of soleRebels, Africa's "fastest growing footwear company". Alemu has received honors and accolades for her business acumen, as well as her efforts to shift the discourse on Africa away from poverty to the continent's entrepreneurial spirit, social capital, and economic potential[1]. Alemu launched "The Republic of Leather", designing sustainable luxury leather goods[2], and "Garden of Coffee" retail outlets to promote Ethiopian coffees. [3]


  • I wanted to show that it is possible to be a local person, in Ethiopia and in Africa, and to be globally successful.
  • It is possible to deploy local resources while creating a market-leading global brand, and to do it all from scratch.
  • If we want to have truly equitable societies, then we need to embrace equity on all levels. And that means women’s economic empowerment and the key to that is women entrepreneurs.
  • "Prosperity creation is the sole route to the elimination of poverty. And to create sustained prosperity, you have to create something truly world class."
  • For people to be innovative... they don't have to really travel a long way or copy somebody's business idea. It's right there.
  • Don't just make things, make things better. "Innovation is...improving the state of what was before."
  • “… the needle I am constantly attempting to thread: building exciting brands around our unique cultures, brands that become ubiquitous and impactful.” [4]
  • “People are traveling a long ways to bring in different ideas into their continent and country to start a business. But my idea is, look at who you are as a person. How you grew up. Everything around you is a business idea. When you see a problem, find the solution. That will be a business idea.” [5]
  • there is no blueprint when it comes to being an entrepreneur.[6]
  • “We’re selling an experience. We’re not selling a product. We’re not trying to fit in somewhere…the need is for you. It’s not massively produced.”[7]
  • that one of the important lessons her parents instilled in her as a child was that there was no difference between her and her three brothers. While they did different kinds of work, she said there was no preference between girls’ work and boys’ work.[8]
  • that helped give her confidence in her contributions to society as a woman, and ultimately, what she is doing today.[9]
  • “For me, I never thought because I’m a woman I’m not going to do something, I’m not going to try it this or that. The way I see myself is… I’m a person. I am capable of doing whatever I want and I’m going to succeed because I’m going to be working really hard to be there each and every day. So, for African girls and women to say ‘I’m not going to be able to do this, I’m not capable of doing this,’ you’re killing yourself. If we are brave enough to go out to sell ideas to people, I think we can succeed.” [10]
  • “I always reflect and think about the same thing: business is about solving problems. Trying to identify the singular most difficult situation would be doing a disservice to this simple fact: if you are not continuously encountering tough situations as an entrepreneur, and solving them, then you are not really in business. Encountering obstacles and overcoming them is my day-to-day existence.” [11]
  • “I have developed a fine sense of my weaknesses, and I address those by building my team with people who have that strength I may lack. So I flip any weakness I may have and make it a strength … Weakness recognition, and a full embrace of that, is a powerful tool.” [12]
  • “I think conventional wisdom is, by definition, the antithesis of entrepreneurialism, so I am probably on the other side of a lot of it.” [13]
  • “I like to visualise my goals in my own private space. I try and make it as real as possible so it is almost tangible to me. That gives these goals an immediacy and realness both for me and for my team that allows people to really chase that idea or goal in a visceral way.” [14]
  • “I am always engaging with people on my team, finding out what they need to make them better at what they do, and what makes them happier. This lets us have an incredible level of overall team happiness and leads to long-term team members…

I am also always on the lookout for talented people who may have never been given a shot at doing something BUT who I can see have talent that just needs an opportunity.” [15]

  • “I began Garden of Coffee so that people everywhere can experience the magic of hand-roasted Ethiopian coffees, roasted at their source by Ethiopia’s finest coffee artisans.[16]
  • My driving passions as an entrepreneur are always about sharing Ethiopian cultures with the world and finding exciting ways to keep these cultures vibrant and fully relevant.[17]
  • I completed all my education here in Ethiopia, and I have NEVER lived anywhere else but Ethiopia.[18]
  • “We Decided to Create the Better Life We were all waiting for” [19]
  • ” Having grown up watching our family and neighbors struggling, we decided to create the “better life” we were all waiting for by harnessing our community’s incredible artisan skills and channeling them into a sustainable, global, fair trade footwear business. We have done that and more and we are proud to say that the soleRebels brand is being enjoyed by people in over 30 countries around the world.” [20]
  • “We are doing well. We are trying to do $2m this year. In 2016, we are planning to do $20m. So that’s why we are working hard and we are trying to expand our working facility. The demand is here. It’s up to us to take that advantage and to make it happen,” [21]
  • “Since we are a fair trade organisation people want to buy fair trade shoes from us but they want to buy at cheap prices. That I don’t understand. I know that running a business is not that easy and there is always a threat, there is always a risk that we are going to take, but I love it.” [22]
  • “My driving passions,” [23]
  • “are sharing Ethiopian cultures with the world and finding exciting ways to keep these cultures vibrant and fully relevant.” [24]
  • “To me, very successful entrepreneurs have the ability not simply to come up with an idea,”[25]
  • “but to exquisitely execute that idea over and over and make it into a living, breathing reality. The best entrepreneurs literally seem to live their companies.”[26]
  • “I think the best companies and brands are built by entrepreneurs willing to self-fund their ideas,” [27]
  • “My advice would be to build your idea piece by piece and get real and honest traction in the market with that idea while retaining as much equity as you can.”[28]
  • “If you have a crazy idea, go for it! Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.” [29]
  • “Love what you do, because without a genuine love and passion, you won’t be successful.”[30]
  • “This gave me a good knowledge of the industry, which was extremely useful in terms of setting up the company and making it grow,”[31]
  • “I knew that there were so many talented people out there who could do great things if only given a chance. However, due to extreme poverty, stigma, and marginalization,… many of them could not even get simple jobs. This was devastating for me, as I had grown up with them. They were my neighbours, my family members.”[32]
  • “That’s why we have always said that this company is about maximizing local talent and local resources to create good paying jobs, that in turn would create extraordinary footwear,”[33]
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