One of my favorite fair trade brands is Sseko Designs! Why?
1. Ribbon Sandals
I love these super fun, versatile sandals. They are great for most any occasion, match anything, and are amazing for travel. The bases take up minimal room in your suitcase, and you can add a handful of different ribbon colors, which also take up almost no space! Also, I should mention, these sandals are sooo comfy. Once I wore mine a few times, they softened up and kind of "molded" perfectly to my foot, and I wore them most of the summer. For these who think, "I don't want to tie my sandals every time I wear them," never fear! There are multiple tie styles that you can tie, slip on, and wear for weeks if you're not in the mood to change it up. While the ribbon sandals may not be the best reason to love Sseko, they were the unique product that stood out when I first discovered the brand back in early 2017.
2. Focus on Women's Education
One core part of Sseko's mission focuses on women's education in East Africa. They have a work study and scholarship program in Uganda, where there is a 9-month gap between high school and college. Graduates from the partner high school have the opportunity to work at Sseko's workshop during that time, receiving safe housing, fair wages (enough to save 50% or more toward their education!), mentoring, and, when their time is over, a bonus scholarship that matches what they've saved, so they are ready to jump into university! In a culture and economy where opportunities for women are extremely limited, these young women go on to receive an education and become leaders and difference-makers; they will not make sandals forever!
3. Impact First
Sseko started this amazing scholarship program in Uganda after they were well-established, making a reasonable profit, and had a solid customer base. Kidding. The first year, Sseko was 4 people making sandals under a mango tree. One of those four (ahem, Liz Bohannon, Sseko Designs co-founder and CEO) went back to the United States and sold sandals out of the TRUNK OF HER CAR so the other three, Mary, Mercy, and Rebecca, could go on to university later that year. Spoiler: They did, graduated, and have gone to make an impact in their own right in their communities and country. Since then, as Sseko Designs has grown and expanded, so has their impact. From gradually increasing the number of work and scholarship opportunities, to now being able to offer a position to every young woman graduating from their partner high school in Uganda, to just this year beginning to fund university scholarships for women in Ethiopia through a partnership with The Yellow Movement.
4. Fair Trade Practices and Producer-Customer Connection
Sseko Designs has 63 other employees in Uganda, who receive fair wages, health insurance, education opportunities, child care, and other benefits. In October 2018, Sseko Designs became a verified member of the Fair Trade Federation, which means an outside organization has confirmed that Sseko's business practices and values line up with fair trade principles. Besides the Uganda workshop, Sseko products are made by fair trade partners in several other countries, including Ethiopia, Kenya, and India. You can read more about these partners on the Sseko Designs website! Nearly every item includes a tag signed by one of the people who contributed to making it. If you choose a product made by the women at Sseko Uganda, you can even see her picture and read more about her! Through the Sseko Fellows program, people in the U.S. are equipped to share the Sseko story and mission, promoting the connections between those who make the products and those who purchase them.
5. Unique Products
Besides the ribbon sandals, Sseko Designs offers other versatile and gorgeous products including apparel, other sandal and shoe styles, leather and canvas bags, jewelry, and accessories. Many of them are also multi-way or reversible designs! Two of my favorites are the meaning-full Brave Jewelry line (I especially love my Brave Necklace-Long Chain) and the seasonless Multiway Shawl.
(Note: I am a Sseko Fellow, so I will earn a small commission on purchases made through links in this article. If the mission of Sseko Designs moves you and you want to be a part of it too, I’d love for you to join me! The Fellows are all about cooperation and collaboration over competition. If you'd like to learn more about the Sseko Fellows program or Sseko's mission, get in touch with me!)