Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu

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Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu (born 1980) is an Ethiopian businesswoman, founder and executive director of soleRebels, Africa's fastest growing footwear company. Only thirty-four as of 2014, Alemu has received a slew of honors and accolades for her business acumen, as well as her efforts to shift the discourse on Africa away from poverty alleviation by external actors and instead highlight the entrepreneurial spirit, social capitol, and vast economic potential of the continent, and Ethiopia in particular.[1] Alemu recently launched a second company, The Republic of Leather, focusing on custom-designed sustainable luxury leather goods.[2]

Early Life[edit]

Alemu was born in the Zenebework area of Addis Ababa in 1980, the eldest of four siblings. 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.[3]

Business Ventures[edit]

In early 2005, fresh out of college, Alemu founded soleRebels to provide ecologically and economically sustainable jobs for her local community. The company began out of a workshop on a plot of land owned by Alemu's grandmother in Zenebework. SoleRebels has since flourished, growing to over one hundred employees, with distribution to over thirty countries worldwide, selling to market kingmakers Whole Foods, Urban Outfitters and Amazon. Franchised and company-owned stores are slated to open in Austria, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the UK.[4] Alemu wanted to create well-paid jobs which could create sustained prosperity by utilizing the artisan talents and natural resources of Ethiopia, first and foremost. The selection of footwear as the ideal product for the company came later. Alemu found herself particularly 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]

On April 9, 2014, Alemu announced the creation of a new business venture, The Republic of Leather, via a blog post on the soleRebels website. In the post, 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. Alemu went on to outline defining features of new company. 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 the design of the product, customer choice of the artisan-producer, and customer choice of the recipient of the charitable donation--5% of the product's purchase price.[6]


With every business venture, 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."[7] 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.[7]

Honors and Accolades[edit]

  • In 2011 Alemu was chosen by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader.[8]
  • In 2011 Alemu won a prestigious Legatum Africa Award for Entrepreneurship.[9]
  • In 2012 Alemu was included on Forbes '100 Most Powerful' and profiled as a "Woman to Watch."[10]
  • In 2012 Alemu was named by Business Insider as one of "Africa's Top 5 Female Entrepreneurs."[11]
  • In 2012 Alemu was chosen as NYC Venture Fellow by Mayor Bloomberg.[12]
  • In 2012 Alemu was chosen as one of Arise Magazine's "100 Dynamic Women," who are shaping modern Africa.[13]
  • In 2013 Alemu was listed as #62 in Fast Company's "100 Most Creative People in Business 2013."[14]
  • In 2013 Alemu was a Counsellor at that year's One Young World Summit.[15]
  • In 2013 Alemu was listed as one of Madame Figaro's "15 Most Powerful African Women."[16]
  • 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.[17]
  • In 2013 Alemu was chosen by readers of The Guardian as one of "Africa's Top Women Achievers."[18]
  • In 2014 Alemu was named as one of CNN's "12 Female Entrepreneurs Who Changed the Way We Do Business."[19]


  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. ^ "Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu". Ethiopian Woman Unleashed. Retrieved 10 June 2014. 
  4. ^ Pitts, Beth. "Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, a Forbes 'World's 100 Most Powerful' Woman". Retrieved 16 June 2014. 
  5. ^ Pitts, Beth. "Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, a Forbes 'World's 100 Most Powerful' Woman". Retrieved 16 June 2014. 
  6. ^ Pitts, Beth. "Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, a Forbes 'World's 100 Most Powerful' Woman". Retrieved 16 June 2014. 
  7. ^ a b Pitts, Beth; Alemu, Bethlehem Tilahun (February 21, 2013). "Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, a Forbes 'World's 100 Most Powerful' Woman". The Next Woman. Retrieved 26 June 2014. 
  8. ^ Zopf, Yann (2011). "World Economic Forum Announces Young Global Leaders 2011 (Africa)". Retrieved 25 June 2014. 
  9. ^ "Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu". The Next Woman. Retrieved 25 June 2014. 
  10. ^ "Women to Watch: Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu". Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  11. ^ Voakes, Greg (June 29, 2012). "Africa's Top 5 Women Entrepreneurs". Business Insider. Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  12. ^ "2012 Fellows". 2012. Retrieved 25 June 2014. 
  13. ^ "Arise 100: Dynamic Women". Arise Magazine. 2012. Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  14. ^ Rockwood, Katie. "62. Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu". Fast Company. Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  15. ^ "Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu". Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  16. ^ "15 Most Powerful African Women". Elle Afrique. 03/05/2013. Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  17. ^ "soleRebels CEO joins Green Industry Platform Advisory Board". UNIDO. November 5, 2013. Retrieved 25 June 2014. 
  18. ^ Allen, Paddy; Ifeachor, Adaobi (March 8, 2013). "Africa's top women achievers--nominated by you". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 June 2014. 
  19. ^ Davies, Catriona. "12 Female Entrepreneurs who Changed the Way We do Business". CNN. Retrieved 24 June 2014.