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Fair Trade Footwear Takes Baby Steps to Inspire Fashion WorldFriday, October 23, 2015 > 10:09:11
Oliberté founder and CEO Tal Dehtiar talks what's next for world’s only Fair Trade Certified™ footwear brand
October is Fair Trade Month and while there are a lot of great brands upholding those values, Oliberté is has an interesting story because it remains the world’s only Fair Trade Certified™ footwear brand. PSFK caught up with its founder and CEO Tal Dehtiar to see how the company has been doing since opening the world’s first Fair Trade Certified™ footwear manufacturing factory in 2013 and what we can expect to see in the near future.
PSFK: Why are there so few fair trade footwear companies? Do you think we’ll see more in the future?
Tal Dehtiar: Things are steadily becoming more progressive in the footwear industry as more people become aware of the positive effects fair trade certification has. It’s always been important for us to set an example for those who want to enter the market, setting a bar which shows that doing things properly and with respect should be one of the core values of any business.
Why do business in Africa?
Although many people cite the poverty and corruption, we’re looking to change the negative generalizations because that’s not our experience. We see pride, talent and materials that are less harsh on the environment. We believe in it as a place that can grow and support its people so we’re working to create fair jobs with workers’ rights.
What makes Oliberté unique?
Each pair of shoes is crafted by hand at our Fair Trade Certified™ factory. We use premium leather that comes from hormone-free and free-range cattle sourced locally in Ethiopia.
Whenever possible, we source from within the continent of Africa for materials like laces, natural rubber and our machinery. Our designs are uniquely rugged with influences ranging from classic heritage like the Mogado-hi and Adibo, to progressive street silhouettes featured in our collaboration with American designer Mack McNairy.
What are some of the challenges Oliberté faces?
It’s sometimes a challenge to convey that each pair of shoes represents much more than the sum of its parts because each pair represents sustainable job creation in an area of the world where this didn’t previously exist. In many cases, it also represents someone learning a trade for the first time, which can in turn generate jobs for their children and grandchildren.
What other companies do you look up to for what they are doing?
Patagonia has been great about running a business with respect. The steps they have taken to ensure a better tomorrow have been inspiring. We’re also inspired by others in our BCorp and fairtrade community.
How is the company currently doing?
Oliberté is doing amazing. We’ve just launched a premium collection and we’re gearing up to launch the world’s first baby shoes produced in a Fair Trade Certified™ factory. We’ve also partnered with the African Wildlife Federation on a Scout Boot. The lead ranger in the Ethiopian Highlands came into our factory and custom designed a boot for the scouts. We provided these boots to the scouts so that their money can be used on communication devices and lookout stations to aid in their conservation efforts. We’re bringing a retail version of the boot to market, with a portion of the sales going back to support of their program.
What’s next for Oliberté?
We continue to build and strengthen our model to show everyone that if it can be in Ethiopia, we as an industry should be able to do it anywhere. We’re seeing a lot of global business, but we also want to build a market in Africa. Why should only Westerners be able to take advantage of all our hard work and social mission? We’re working on a different price range to give Africans an affordable, responsibly made shoe.