Based in Ethiopia, Oliberte is the world’s first Fair Trade-certified shoe factory, making a variety of shoes for both men and women. From sneakers and boots to sandals and moccasins, Oliberte also makes bags and other accessories. It’s probably not often that you hear of a piece of fashion that is made in Africa. Canadian entrepreneur and the force behind Oliberte, Tal Dehtiar, is trying to change this perception.

In 2009, Oliberte started building trade in sub-Saharan Africa as a footwear company partnering with different factories around sub-Saharan Africa. Three years later, in 2012, it would open its own dedicated factory in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and the next year it was announced as the world’s first Fair Trade shoe manufacturer.

The whole premise of the brand is to support the rights of workers. The company prides itself on “empowerment, transparency, and doing right by all.” Oliberte recognized that Africa is usually met with a high amount of negative generalizations.

Believing in “trade not aid”, Oliberte’s website walks the consumer through the benefits of building trade in sub-Saharan Africa over providing aid. With many in the area experiencing poverty, providing a place of work is a huge plus instead of just providing aid.

By providing a workplace, profits made can be placed back into the company and community, creating more job growth. Eventually, more factories can open, providing jobs for more people, and allowing adults to work while children gain an education. While aid can have many positive effects, it is not sustainable and leaves people dependent.

Dehtiar says the company makes sure the employees are paid minimum wage, but also, “that as we grow as a company, they’re committed to improving their conditions, whether it’s through (initiatives such as) health insurance programs … now all the factories provide maternity leave programs to all the women.”

Gaining supplies locally from partners around Africa and creating products in their factory in Ethiopia, the brand is sure that everyone along the way has fair jobs and rights. They even attempt to buy their machinery on the continent whenever possible.

In the end, the products they sell come with a lifetime warranty. Oliberte is a brand that respects consumers, the environment and its employees.

Shannon Elder

Photo: Flickr


Although the average consumer would be willing to pay 15% more for a product to ensure it was not made in a sweatshop, doubling the salary of a sweatshop worker would only increase prices by 1.8%. It is surprising, then, that the shoe industry continues to support sweatshop conditions.

Many clothing brands have attempted to be a force for good. Footwear brand TOMS has become a major force for the “one-for-one” charitable model that has since been picked up by many brands. Nike, a brand notorious for its own labor violations, has engaged in a variety of charity products. These options are readily available, but for a brand that improves labor conditions and empowers workers in Africa, you cannot do better than Oliberté footwear.

Oliberté, which describes itself as “the world’s first Fair Trade Certified footwear manufacturing facility,” was founded by Canadian Tal Dehtiar, founder of MBAs Without Borders. Dehtiar describes his goal as not simply creating an ethical brand of African footwear, but creating a quality brand of African footwear. “We don’t want people to think of Africa as the next China. We want them to think of it as the next Italy,” he said.

With its stylish selection of shoes and footwear, along with its waterproofing “gorilla wax,” Oliberté does just that. All Oliberté shoes are made at a factory in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. By working to increase employment and fair wages, along with improving working conditions at its own factory, the company supports breaking the generational cycle of poverty through social enterprise, a key point in its business plan.

Along with promoting ethical pay for workers in Ethiopia, Oliberté shoes are sourced from free-range cows, sheep and goats. This is very important for the many Ethiopians who remain economically independent on livestock.

Stylish, sturdy and ethical, Oliberté shoes are not simply a footwear brand but a new perspective on Africa. Instead of casting Africa as weak and hopeless, the brand supports empowerment that goes beyond the traditional white savior narrative of many brands working in the region. And the shoes feel great.

– Andrew Michaels

Sources: Good, Stand 4, Oliberté, Oliberté 2
Photo: Atelier Fifty Five


1. Intel
As of 2014, Intel became a conflict-free microprocessor manufacturer. According to Fast Company, this means that Intel does not source its raw materials from areas involved in armed conflict and human rights issues in order to make its processing devices. The company established this goal in 2012. Ever since, the company has worked to verify more conflict-free suppliers. Intel now looks to produce all of its products in the same way. This decision has a huge social impact because it places people above profit, demanding smelting companies to do the same if they wish to continue selling to Intel.

2. Warby Parker
The eyeglass company follows the TOMS business model: buy one, give one. At Warby Parker, every pair of glasses bought donates the equivalent dollar amount to Warby’s nonprofit partners, like VisionSpring. The money is then used to train aspiring optometrists in developing countries to properly conduct basic eye exams and how to sell eyeglasses to their communities at affordable prices. The great thing about Warby’s business approach is that it aims to create sustainable change by investing in building livelihoods. The Warby Parker website explains the importance of a single pair of frames: a single pair can increase productivity by 35 percent and increase monthly earnings by 20 percent. Today, 703 million people do not have access to eyewear, but thanks to Warby Parker, more than 18,000 people in over 35 countries have improved their eyesight.

The founder of the “one-for-one” model has clothed the feet of more than 2 million children and has increased maternal healthcare participation by 42 percent as a result of shoe donations. TOMS’ work also enrolled 1,000 new students in Liberian primary schools and identified 100 children as malnourished, thanks to shoe-integrated health screenings in Malawi. The business currently works with more than 100 giving partners and aids more than 70 countries worldwide. Not only does TOMS work to give shoes, but the company also invests in supporting responsible shoe industries, providing safe water and quality education, training birth attendants and supplying birth kits. TOMS even works with bullying prevention centers in the United States by funding programs and training crisis employees to run Crisis Text Line.

4. Roshan Telecom
Afghanistan’s leading telecommunications provider is also one of the world’s most socially responsible businesses. It is a certified B Corporation, which means that it meets high and demanding standards for ethical business practices. It also works to proactively further the social and economic welfare of less developed areas. In 2014, the company expanded internationally, bringing its professional and humanitarian services along to countries like Burundi, Uganda and Tanzania. The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, another humanitarian player, largely owns Roshan Telecom. Together, they provide e-learning, telemedicine and environmentally friendly educational facilities. Roshan also works in East Africa to establish and strengthen mobile infrastructure.

5. Oliberté
The fair-trade, eco-friendly footwear factory supports workers’ rights in sub-Saharan Africa. Tal Dehtiar, the founder of Oliberté, began his work in 2009, partnering with factories and suppliers in Africa. In 2012, the company moved into its own factory in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In September 2013, it became the world’s first Fair Trade Certified™ footwear manufacturing factory. Oliberté follows the motto “Trade. Not aid.” It works to create social enterprise by providing safe and ethical working environments, in addition to recycling profits into factory and job creation. So far, Oliberté has locations in Ethiopia, Liberia and Kenya. Dehtiar is looking to develop more factories in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Zambia. The ultimate goal is to enable a healthier generation, where men and women can earn a salary, kids can go to school and one proud family can give birth to another.

6. Bloomberg Philanthropies
The Foundation Center follows founder Michael R. Bloomberg’s humanitarian works. The American politician, business mogul and philanthropist served as the 108th Mayor of New York City and dedicated his life to investing in a better, cleaner and safer future. Bloomberg Philanthropies focuses on bettering public health, education, the environment, government innovation and the arts, among many others. Bloomberg Philanthropies’ work is quantifiable and supported by data. For example, The Foundation invested $53 million over a five-year time frame to fix the overfishing problem in Brazil, the Philippines and Chile. So far, 7 percent of the world’s fisheries, and counting, are being revived, thereby bringing back countless jobs and livelihoods in addition to revitalizing ocean life. As of 2013, Bloomberg Philanthropies distributed $452 million to humanitarian projects worldwide.

7. Sanergy
Sanergy works to provide sustainable sanitation in urban slums. So far, the company has opened 701 Fresh Life Toilets, each of which comes with toilet paper, sawdust, soap, and water for handwashing, according to the Sanergy website. Each toilet also provides a waste receptacle, a sanitary bin for women, a mirror, a coat hook and a solar lantern for early morning or nighttime trips. Access to the facilities is priced, but it is comparable to informal settlements. Fresh Life Toilets prices even offer more bang for their buck because they include all the products and services that other toilets do not offer. Thanks to Sanergy, waste removal is safer, more sanitary and even eco-friendly, as the waste is converted into fertilizer and electricity. Since the company’s start, 5,446 metric tons of waste have been properly transported and treated, and 727 jobs have been created.

– Lin Sabones

Sources: Fast Company, Warby Parker, TOMS, Oliberté, Sanergy
Photo: Designed Good