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Feature Friday ~ Sseko Sandals

February 26, 2010

I was introduced to Sseko Sandals by a friend about 6 months ago. As an advocate of women and women's education I was immediately interested in this business. The dream of Liz Forkin Bohannon, Sseko Sandals is a Ugandan based business that employees women to help fund their education. Liz described much of how it works in my interview with her.


1. First, I've got to ask; how did you end up in Uganda? And how soon
after college did you travel there?

I moved to Uganda about 3 months
after I graduated. I knew I wanted to spend some time in Africa. At that
time, I had a friend who lived in Kampala who offered to let me live
with her until I got my feet on the ground. There was a youth
development organization based in Kampala that has a mission and vision
that really resonated with me. My background is in communications, so I
decided to volunteer with this group doing donor relations, writing and
general public relations work. That is what I did for the first
couple months I was there…until I met an incredible group of young
women…and the story changes a little bit.


2. How did you decide on sandals? Was there an 'aha" moment
where you knew that sandals were the key?

The youth development organization I was
working with has a girl's Leadership Academy. It is a highly competitive
secondary school that preps students for University. The Ugandan school
system is designed with a nine month gap between
secondary school and university. These nine months are intended to
allow time for students to earn money for tuition before continuing on
to university. However, in an impoverished and male dominated society,
many of these young women struggle to find fair work during this time.
The logical (and at the time, seemingly simple) solution to this problem
was to start a company that could provide sustainable, fair wage
employment to get these bright young women on to University. I wanted to
make a product for the western market. Specifically, I wanted to target
women, who I thought would really get behind and get excited about
supporting these young women across the globe. So shoes were the answer!


3. Once you were set on sandals how did you go about creating them? It
seems so intimidating to design and create something while wandering
through a foreign country!

Trial and error in the most literal sense. I
had the basic design in mind and from there I just set out on a hilarious
journey of trying to develop the first "prototype." Literally, I
wandered around the city for two days in the rain, looking for a tool to
punch holes in leather. I finally found it! And it was basically a
makeshift punch welded out of two pieces of a car. Also, I wanted to use
all local materials in an effort to not only provide employment to these
young women, but to stimulate and support the local economy as well. I
tried a ton of different things: methods, materials, designs until
finally I came up with what is now known as a Sseko sandal!


4. What is the process like for selecting the Ugandan women that you
will employ?

We actually leave the hiring up to the school
administration. They know the girls better than we do at that point and
basically recommend the girls that they think would probably have the
most difficult time finding work once they graduate high school. (That
usually has to do with what area of the country they are from, their
family backgrounds etc.) 


5. Is there something that you can pin point as the biggest challenge
throughout the entire process of starting your own business? (in another
country no less!)

So. Much. To. Do.  Trying to start a manufacturing
company in a country that just doesn't really have the infrastructure or
systems set up to produce means. We had to start at square one
with everything–from the creation of the production to the actual sale
and telling the story and everything in between. This could probably be a
really long, dramatic answer. I will leave it at that and let your
imaginations wander. (And say that I never knew starting a company would
involve so many near-death experiences on the back of motorcycles
carrying a bag of fifty sandals on my head…)


6. Where do you see Sseko Sandals five years from now?

My goal for Sseko
is that we would grow to where we can offer employment to every girl
that graduates from the Leadership Academy to ensure that they continue
their education. At that point, our first classes of girls will also be
graduated from college. I would love for these women to come back and
have leadership, management and ownership positions within the company.

I REALLY want these blue and white sandals! (Mom… size 7!) :) Haha.

Isn't this a great organization? Not only does the purchase of some sandals get you an entirely unique pair of shoes but it also supports the education of someone! The fabric of the sandals changes with what is available for purchase at the market!

To buy your sandals, learn more about Sseko, see more styles and follow their blog check out: 

Thanks to Liz (and Sseko Sandals) for her unbelievably inspiring story and organization!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Paige permalink
    February 26, 2010 8:29 pm

    Thanks for writing about Sseko, Katie! What a great idea that has changed a lot of young women’s lives.

  2. Dad permalink
    February 27, 2010 12:36 am

    Very good Feature Friday. I told Mom to check out your size 7 request. And, Mom did secure 4 tickets to Momma Mia on 3-27. I also reserved a room at the Hampton Inn for us for Thursday thru Saturday nights. The one at I-95 South at Salisbury Rd; 3.57 miles and 6 minutes from your apt!

  3. kristen permalink
    March 1, 2010 9:20 pm

    KB- I’m once again stalking you (I know you like it). OMG- I.WANT.THESE.

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