In recent years, the “buy-one, give one” model of business has gained substantial traction among young entrepreneurs looking for a business model that makes a cool, high-demand product while contributing to the global good.
With ink still wet on his MBA diploma, the ambitious 24-year-old set out into the world to apply his skills and ambition to the international business community. However, before long, he discovered that most of the opportunities he was offered benefited big corporations and did little to effect social change in the developing nations in which they operated.
He saw how the $1 trillion that developed countries have given African countries since 1960 have proven ineffective, as were many of the international aid strategies supposed to help emerging economies. In fact, many African nations are worse off now then they were 50 years ago.
Drawing from his experience in international business that he gained as founder of MBA Without Borders, (an international charity that matches business professionals with volunteer opportunities at small businesses in developing countries) Tal founded the high-end shoe company Oliberté in 2009. The difference here is that Oliberté uses a business model centered around a new kind of corporate social responsibility (CSR).
Rather than social responsibility being a business “add-on” for the sake of feel-good marketing, Oliberté has “baked in” its formula for effective social change that directly addresses the root cause of poverty.
“Oliberté isn’t about charity, but rather about creating stable jobs,” he says. “The last thing I want is for someone to buy our shoes out of pity. Rather, they should buy them because they’re stylish and well-made. By prioritizing job creation and integrating local cultures and skillsets into our manufacturing process, we’ve developed a unique product: handcrafted leather footwear made using traditional African methods.”
To that end, Oliberté partnered with Fair Trade USA — a nonprofit organization striving to bring better working conditions to the fashion industry — to evaluate its manufacturing facility in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The audit examined 255 different standards, including employee access to good wages, maternity leave policies, safe working conditions, strict anti-child-labor regulations, equal-opportunity employment, the right to form a workers’ union, weekly doctor visits, employee handbooks, equipment safety checks and environmental stewardship. After the process was complete, Oliberté was deemed maker of the world’s first Fair Trade Certified footwear.
“We are using business and fashion to empower people in Ethiopia and across Africa and demonstrate the potential of the materials, craftsmanship and knowledge already in place,” says Tal. “Instead of continuing to inundate Africa with aid that hasn’t improved the standard of living, we are showing that Africa is ripe for economic investment.”
Tal expects the fast-growing footwear brand to support growth of an industry that could create upwards of a million new jobs across Sub-Saharan Africa by 2025.
Top sellers from Oliberté’s new line of Fair Trade Certified shoes and boots is the Adibo, a rugged, causal chukka-style shoe for men that features the traditional “African stitch-down” method of construction for $140. As with all of Oliberté’s products, the hand-picked leathers are all sourced from naturally raised livestock from Mauritius, Kenya, Tanzania, the Congo, and Liberia. The mid-sole is made from natural crepe rubber, rather than synthetic, petroleum-based products, that is also sourced from Sub-Saharan countries.
A new style for women that was introduced this fall is the Hana, a three-hole lace-up casual outdoor shoe with a soft suede upper that is available in several colors. It also employs the natural crepe rubber mid-sole and sells for $135.
Oliberté’s model proves that amazing things can occur when a brand devotes itself to the betterment of the communities that produce their products. The hope is that more brands will commit to following in their footsteps.