Sseko Designs: A Hand-Up not a Hand-Out. Empowering Women through Sandals
Graduate success stories
For many in the developed countries of the west, the sandal is a symbol of summer and of good times, the epitome of comfort allowing the sun, sand and warmth to flood in. A seasonal throwaway, a frivolous accessory and a functional piece of footwear for the right climate, the humble sandal has gone through a number of incarnations, retraced its steps and been reinvented many times. Whatever its function it is a product which continues to sell in vast numbers throughout the world. The Croc, the Scholl sandal and Birkenstock spring to mind as leaders in this fashion niche though they too have made room for the humble flip-flop. An indispensable fashion accessory for some, the sandal has also become a symbol of hope and opportunity for others. Reinvented it can symbolise something good with value added rather than something which is merely consumed – it can be a form of ethical and empowering consumption.
In my quest to showcase beautiful businesses I came across Sseko Designs, a sandal and accessories business lauded by the Huffington Post and Bloomberg Business to name but two. Sseko Designs promote and make sandals and an emerging range of other products such as tote bags, clutch bags and sandal accessories (SsekoDesigns.com).
Sseko Designs operate out of Uganda in Africa, a country broken since the brutality of the Amin regime in the 1970s, by years of conflict, social unrest, political dictatorship and health crises such as a 30% HIV / Aids rate. It is a country wedded to traditional cultural and social arrangements and the position of many women is circumscribed as a result. Like many countries throughout the world, developed or developing, Uganda might be described as a traditionally patriarchal society where women’s roles are restricted and their ability to flourish, develop their own identity and manage their own destiny is limited. Limited by culture, tradition and in many cases, the cycle of poverty.
One sandal – Endless possibilities
In circumstances like this it is important not to preach or embark on some missionary journey. But Sseko Designs is a business with a mission as an initiator of change, empowering women by linking fashion, consumption (and sandals) with education and employment. Creating employment and not dependency, developing skills whilst generating funds for a future of education, training and hope. Insistent they are not a charity, Sseko offer a hand up rather than a hand out, providing women with routes into education, allowing them to achieve their dreams and help their families escape the cycle of poverty.
So, is this a business that understands how and why people need help and the best way to give it? Well, they do recognise that pride, stigma and confidence play an important role in women’s lives. As a result Sseko Designs have attempted to understand the people it develops relationships with and provides a longer term solution to an enduring set of problems. Here is one example of how it works;
The Hipslider Bag Collection
‘Sseko Designs provides employment during the 9 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. 50% of their salary each month goes into a savings account that is not accessible until tuition is due. This ensures that their income goes towards education. This also protects the women in our program from the social pressure they often feel from their families to give away the money the are earning which can perpetuate the cycle of poverty. At the end of each term, Sseko Designs grants university scholarships that match up to 100% of the savings each woman has made during her 9 month session with Sseko’ from SsekoDesigns.com
- Ethical production
- Sustainable and resource mindful
- People first
- Beauty and aesthetics
- Doing things right
Not bad for a footwear company whose profits go back into women’s development and their social and economic welfare.
2012 a Good Year
Why is Sseko Designs a beautiful business? There are a number of reasons; this is a business which recognises that change is possible. Even in the most difficult, entrenched and rigid circumstances there is hope that change can occur and that businesses can inspire change. Sseko Designs recognise the importance and equity of each and every member of society and encourages them to flourish. It is a people business, recycling profits and utilising consumption for good. Sseko Designs provide employment which in turn provides skills which in turn empower. The principles of beautiful business find a home here. No problem.
For more information on Sseko Designs, their work and their product range, see SsekoDesigns.com or watch their video at vimeo.com