SSEKO DESIGNS // INTERVIEW

While in Kampala I was fortunate to be introduced to Sseko Designs.  Sseko Designs is a great little social entrepreneurship company that makes ladies sandals with a passion for helping young women in Uganda.  I was able to go and visit the ladies and see the sandals being made.  Cameron, one of the awesome ladies who works there was kind enough to answer some questions for me about their company so I could share with you guys.  Be sure to check out their site as well as the video towards the bottom.

1. SO WHAT IS SSEKO DESIGNS ABOUT?
The heart of Sseko is to empower young women in Uganda to receive a university education so they can make an even greater impact on the world around them. We do this by providing them with a job that allows them to earn enough money to pay for their university tuition. We teach these girls to make sandals, but they will not make sandals forever. They will go on to become writers, teachers, business owners, and social workers who will contribute to the rebuilding of Uganda.

2. WHERE DOES THE NAME COME FROM & WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
The name Sseko Designs comes from the Lugandan word for laughter: enseko.

3. HOW DO YOU SELECT THE GIRLS YOU HIRE?
We hire our girls from Cornerstone Leadership Academy (CLA). The two main things we look for are work ethic and need. We want to hire girls who are ready to work hard to earn their money for tuition, and also girls who wouldn’t have the chance to attend university otherwise.

4. WHAT IS CORNERSTONE LEADERSHIP ACADEMY?
Cornerstone Leadership Academy (CLA) is an advanced level secondary school that focuses on developing its students academically and instilling leadership abilities in them based on Jesus’ teachings. CLA specifically selects students with strong potential from poor backgrounds.

5. IS SSEKO A NON-PROFIT OR FOR-PROFIT?
We like to call Sseko Designs a “not-just-for-profit” company. Instead of following a traditional non-profit or charity model that depends on donations, we created a business model based on the needs of these women. In doing this we have also created a product and a brand; we would love to see our work in Uganda encourage other companies to invest in Africa. The general public does not seem to think of Africa as a good place to invest or manufacture goods, but we believe Africa can essentially be re-branded into a place where businesses thrive and quality products are made.

Personally, I love that Sseko is a for-profit company. I had become disillusioned with the business world in general, as I saw company corruption and a “get-to-the-top-at-all-costs” mentality, but Sseko gives me hope… Business is a powerful tool, and I love that Sseko takes something that can be used in such a harmful way and makes it into something beautiful and restorative.

6. SO ARE YOU GUYS A FAIR TRADE COMPANY?
We aren’t actually a registered fair trade company (yet), but we operate on a lot of the same principals. The biggest thing we have in common is that we provide our employees with a livable, sustainable wage. Workers all over the world are exploited every day making our stuff…. These girls we employ are earning enough to not only meet their basic needs, but also to save for their college tuition. We care deeply about our employees, and we wish other companies would follow suit. And I hope that by explaining so clearly to our customers where our sandals are coming from that we will be able to plant a simple thought in our customer’s head: “Where does my other stuff come from?” And if they ask that question, I hope they look into it and then ask the follow-up question: “How are the people making my stuff being treated?” If more and more people start asking these questions and genuinely seeking the answers, we will start to see a lot less oppression of the workers in this world.

7. IS A LOT OF THE MONEY PER SHOES ABLE TO GO BACK TO GIRLS TUITION/SALARY?
The way we are structured is so that no matter how many sandals are sold, the girls get the same wage; their income is not dependent on our sales, which we think is a much better structure for them since it allows them to know exactly how much they can earn. We don’t give back a percentage of sales, but we do reinvest the profits in the company. This allows us to not only pay the girls a fair wage and provide scholarship money, but also to take steps to build the company so it can grow and employ even more girls.

8. WHERE CAN YOU PURCHASE THESE SANDALS?
To buy a pair of Ssekos, you can shop online at www.ssekodesigns.com

9. TELL ME MORE ABOUT THIS ROAD TRIP GOING ON IN THE STATES CURRENTLY?
Right now the founders of the company, Ben and Liz Bohannon, are taking a road trip around the US to promote Sseko. They are doing house parties, meeting with retailers, and spreading the Sseko-love across the country. Here’s a quick video about Sseko and the road trip:

Sseko Road Trip! from liz bohannon on Vimeo.

10. ARE THERE WAYS PEOPLE CAN BECOME INVOLVED WITH SSEKO?
Yes, definitely! Obviously by buying sandals, but if you want further involvement, the first way is by participating in the road trip. Contact Liz (liz@ssekodesigns.com) if you’re interested in helping out when they make their way to your area. You can also host a house party. And if you want to get really involved, you can apply to become a Sseko Ambassador.

11. LASTLY, WHAT IS SSEKO’S HOPE FOR THE FUTURE OF THE COMPANY & IT’S EMPLOYEES?
We would love to be able to grow so we can provide employment for every girl who graduates from CLA, and then start offering our program to more girls in the community. We would love to see these girls go on to brighten the future of Uganda. We would love to see other companies catching our vision and providing employment for girls like ours who just want an opportunity. We are a company that is bursting full of hopes and dreams.

You can find out more on Sseko Designs here:
Website: http://ssekodesigns.com
Twitter: http://twitter.com/ssekodesigns

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Alicia Ressmann - I love Ssekos! We wanted to go by there when we were in Uganda, but shame rafting ate up most of our time. Beautifully done.

The A List #1 | AlexM Photography | Wedding Photographer for Tyler, Longview, Palestine, & East Texas - […] Sseko Designs:  My friend Lane Davis had the chance of interviewing these folks when was in Africa a few weeks back.  They are doing some amazing work and I know you […]

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