Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu is an Ethiopian business woman, 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. Alemu launched “The Republic of Leather”, designing sustainable luxury leather goods and “Garden of Coffee” retail outlets to promote Ethiopian coffees.
Alemu was born in the Zenebework area of Addis Ababa. Her parents worked at a local hospital. Alemu attended public primary and secondary schools, and then went on to study accounting at Unity University, graduating in 2004.
In early 2005, Alemu founded soleRebels to provide ecologically and economically sustainable jobs for her community.
SoleRebels has flourished, growing to one hundred employees, with distribution to thirty countries worldwide, selling to market kingmakers Whole Foods, Urban Outfitters and Amazon. Franchised and company-owned stores were planned to open in Austria, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the UK. Alemu wanted to create well-paid jobs which could create prosperity using the artisan talents and natural resources of Ethiopia. The selection of footwear as the launch product for the company came later. Alemu was inspired by the seleate or barabasso, the traditional recycled tire sole shoe crafted in Ethiopia, and footwear became the locus around which she chose to build the company.
In 2016 the company sold 125,000 pairs of shoes and it had created 1,200 jobs Garden Of Coffee in 2017
In 2014, Alemu announced a new business venture, The Republic of Leather, via a blog post on the soleRebels website.. Alemu identified the luxury leather goods industry as being “ripe for a total re-imagining,” along similar lines to what she had accomplished with soleRebels and the footwear industry. Besides espousing the same ideals of ecological and economic sustainability as soleRebels, The Republic of Leather is centered on principles of customer choice—customer choice of design, producer and receiving charity of 5% of the price they pay.
In 2017, “Garden of Coffee” was added to her companies. It begins with outlets in Addis Ababa.