Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu (born 1980) 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.[1] Alemu launched "The Republic of Leather", designing sustainable luxury leather goods,[2] and "Garden of Coffee" retail outlets to promote Ethiopian coffees.[3]

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu
SoleRebels Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu.png
EducationUnity University

Early lifeEdit

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.[4]

Business venturesEdit

In early 2005, Alemu founded soleRebels to provide ecologically and economically sustainable jobs for her community.


The company began out of a workshop on a plot of land owned by Alemu's grandmother in Zenebework.

Tyres for shoes

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.[5] 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.[5]

In 2016 the company sold 125,000 pairs of shoes and it had created 1,200 jobs.[3]

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.[citation needed] 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.[5]

In 2017, "Garden of Coffee" was added to her companies. It begins with outlets in Addis Ababa.[3]


An interview on Nigerian TV

Alemu seeks to challenge the traditional narrative about Africa and in particular, Ethiopia, "countering the shibboleth that Africa and Africans don't know how to create their way to prosperity."[6] Alemu believes Ethiopians must wrest control of their own narrative from the "people and elites with a vested interest in positioning Ethiopia as 'needing help' and specifically needing the 'help' they happen to be offering," as Alemu explained in an interview with The Next Woman. The global success of companies like soleRebels helps to dispel these old narratives and allows for Ethiopians to shape their own international image.[6]

Honors and accoladesEdit

  • In 2011 Alemu was chosen by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader.[7][8]
  • In 2012 Alemu was included on Forbes '100 Most Powerful' and profiled as a "Woman to Watch."[9]
  • In 2012 Alemu was named by Business Insider as one of "Africa's Top 5 Female Entrepreneurs."[10]
  • In 2012 Alemu was chosen as NYC Venture Fellow by Mayor Bloomberg.[11]
  • In 2012 Alemu was chosen as one of Arise Magazine's "100 Dynamic Women," who are shaping modern Africa.[12]
  • In 2013 Alemu was listed as #62 in Fast Company's "100 Most Creative People in Business 2013."[13]
  • In 2013 Alemu was a Counsellor at that year's One Young World Summit.[14]
  • In 2013 Alemu was listed as one of Madame Figaro's "15 Most Powerful African Women."[15]
  • In 2013 Alemu was chosen to join the advisory board of the Green Industry Platform, convened by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization and the UN Environment Program.[16]
  • In 2013 Alemu was chosen by readers of The Guardian as one of "Africa's Top Women Achievers."[17]
  • In 2014 Alemu was named as one of CNN's "12 Female Entrepreneurs Who Changed the Way We Do Business."[18]


  1. ^ "Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu". soleRebels Footwear. Retrieved 10 June 2014.
  2. ^ Alemu, Bethlehem Tilahun (April 9, 2014). "Exclusive: Introducing Republic of Leather". Retrieved 24 June 2014.
  3. ^ a b c Britton, Bianca (2017-01-31). "Ethiopian shoe designer hopes for repeat success with coffee". CNNMoney. Retrieved 2017-07-03.
  4. ^ "Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu". Ethiopian Woman Unleashed. Archived from the original on 24 September 2014. Retrieved 10 June 2014.
  5. ^ a b c Pitts, Beth. "Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, a Forbes 'World's 100 Most Powerful' Woman". Archived from the original on 1 September 2014. Retrieved 16 June 2014.
  6. ^ a b Pitts, Beth; Alemu, Bethlehem Tilahun (February 21, 2013). "Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, a Forbes 'World's 100 Most Powerful' Woman". The Next Woman. Archived from the original on 1 September 2014. Retrieved 26 June 2014.
  7. ^ Zopf, Yann. "World Economic Forum Announces Young Global Leaders 2011 (Africa)".[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ "Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu". The Next Woman. Archived from the original on 2 September 2014. Retrieved 25 June 2014.
  9. ^ "Women to Watch: Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu". Retrieved 24 June 2014.
  10. ^ Voakes, Greg (June 29, 2012). "Africa's Top 5 Women Entrepreneurs". Business Insider. Retrieved 24 June 2014.
  11. ^ "2012 Fellows". 2012. Retrieved 25 June 2014.
  12. ^ "Arise 100: Dynamic Women". Arise Magazine. 2012. Archived from the original on 2014-07-24. Retrieved 24 June 2014.
  13. ^ Rockwood, Katie. "62. Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu". Fast Company. Retrieved 24 June 2014.
  14. ^ "Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu". Archived from the original on 24 June 2014. Retrieved 24 June 2014.
  15. ^ "15 Most Powerful African Women". Elle Afrique. 03/05/2013. Archived from the original on 2014-06-07. Retrieved 24 June 2014. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  16. ^ "soleRebels CEO joins Green Industry Platform Advisory Board". UNIDO. November 5, 2013. Archived from the original on 2014-10-19. Retrieved 25 June 2014.
  17. ^ Allen, Paddy; Ifeachor, Adaobi (March 8, 2013). "Africa's top women achievers--nominated by you". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 June 2014.
  18. ^ Davies, Catriona. "12 Female Entrepreneurs who Changed the Way We do Business". CNN. Retrieved 24 June 2014.