Monday, April 5th, 2010...11:25 am

Sseko Designs: Transformative sandals benefitting Ugandan women

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I recently wrote an article for KCFreePress.com about eco fashion in Kansas City, spotlighting three fabulous Kansas City brands. Today, meet Sseko Designs.

In the past year, Sseko Designs founder Liz Bohannon has sold more than a thousand pairs of sandals to customers around the world. The sandals are transformative, meaning that they can be styled in multiple ways with multiple strap patterns, and each pair is handmade by a group of young women in Uganda who are paid full-time salaries that allow them to go to college in a country where women often don’t make it to university.

sseko

Bohannon first visited Uganda in 2008, where she was inspired to create the concept for Sseko Designs in a matter of weeks. She visited again this winter to train a second round of Sseko women. Her passion for the endeavor stemmed from the need she saw first-hand for women to be enabled to make it to college, as well as from her graduate studies in corporate social responsibility at the University of Missouri.

“My belief is that business is the most powerful tool that we have,” Bohannon said. The inspiration behind Sseko was, “Let’s take this problem that would traditionally be addressed by a nonprofit, or by the social sector, and build an entire business model around helping contribute to, or solve, this social issue.”

Since its small beginnings in December 2008, Sseko has sent its first three Ugandan employees to university, and seven more women are currently on their way.

Sseko sandals are available online at ssekodesigns.com for $42 a pair, which includes one strap design. Additional straps are available for $7-$9.

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I am so enamored and impressed by what Liz Bohannon is doing with this incredible for-benefit company. When she and I sat down to chat, she didn’t mind me keeping my camera rolling, and I know you will enjoy hearing parts of our conversation as much as we enjoyed having it!

In the video above, it’s obvious that she is a big proponent (and a walking example) of for-profit business models addressing issues that would traditionally be assigned to the nonprofit world.

Here, Liz describes her view of creating sustainable change in other countries — by teaching and enabling people there, rather than simply writing them a check. Toward the end, she describes an impromptu lesson on innovation that she gave to her current class of seven Ugandan women. The “two areas” she talks about at the beginning are the social sector and the business world.

Here, a look at how the sandals work. So easy, so versatile and so affordable! Get yours now!

And finally, Liz’s own story of how she and Sseko got to where they are now.

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