"An opportunity to work. An opportunity to succeed and earn and save. To work in a place that was dignified and honoring. To work in an environment and with people who see beyond the now and have a vision for what they will become."
This isn't a lofty mission statement of a major NGO, but rather the dream of Liz Forkin Bohannon, founder of Sseko Designs. At age 22, freshly graduated and with a journalism background, Liz moved to Uganda with the intention of using her communication skills to help a youth-development program. While there, she found herself surrounded by incredibly talented and ambitious women her age who were financially unable to pursue a higher education.
Out of compassion and a sense of urgency, Liz founded Sseko, a design company that would provide opportunities for employment and social impact programs. Through trial, error, tears, and the little resources she could find at the open markets in nearby villages, Sseko Designs came to be. After hiring three young women and producing a small batch of sandals, Liz headed back to the U.S., packed up her van, and went around the country selling to boutiques. Within the first year, Sseko was able to send two women to college.
Since then, Sseko Designs continues to grow and now employs fifty women—mothers, daughters, sisters—and they all have a chance to follow their dreams and succeed.
Sseko Designs provides employment during the nine-month gap between high school and university where high-potential young women are able to earn and save enough money to pay for college tuition. Fifty percent of employees' salaries each month goes into a savings account that is not accessible until tuition is due, to ensure it goes toward education and helps defray family pressure to hand over their income.
At the end of each term, Sseko grants university scholarships that match up to 100 percent of the savings each woman has made during her nine-month employment.
In addition, this spring Sseko has launched its newest T-Strap Accent Sandal with a stationary leather T-strap and adjustable buckle at the ankle, making it easy to slip on when you're on the run. The best part? The accents are interchangeable! Every pair includes a plain leather accent and one hand-beaded accent to mix up your look from metallics to bright summer neons.
These socially conscious sandals are not only a summer staple, they're an example of how ethical fashion can help end the cycle of poverty. By buying fair trade, you can be an agent for social change and empower women in Africa and all over the world. Now that's a step in the right direction.