Sseko (say-ko) was founded in 2009 by a young woman named Liz. After graduating from college with a degree in journalism, she felt that she wanted to see the world before writing about it. So she went to Uganda. Through spending time with the women she met along her way, Liz developed a passion for helping these women finish, or even get to college.
After a few false starts, she developed Sseko. It’s a brand which focuses on empowering young women in East Africa, and providing these women with an opportunity to work and save to pay their own way. They employ young women in Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia to make their products -a mix of leather goods, including sandals (Their flagship product, interchangeable ribbon sandals that can be customized for any occasion.), boots, handbags, and more! After working with Sseko for one year after finishing high school, the women have earned enough money to go to college! This symbiotic partnership empowers young women in Africa, and supplies women across the globe with beautiful and functional footwear. Sseko also runs a program called the”Sseko Fellows” which partners women in the USA ‘one-to-one with a woman on our team in Uganda, and her sales directly contribute to earning an additional scholarship for her Sole Sister.’ (Sseko Designs, 2016)
If you’ll allow me a moment atop my soapbox…
What’s incredible about Sseko is that they walk the fine line between empowerment and charity, and they do it well. There’s often a perception that people in developing countries need ‘our help’ as white upper middle-class citizens of developed nations. This almost always comes in the form of faceless money given to charitable campaigns.Those campaigns are worthwhile to an extent, and in most cases are certainly better than selfishly hoarding most of the world’s resources for a select few of the world’s population. This is a great moment to point out that I haven’t studied global development and am in no way qualified to give any more than my personal, relatively uninformed opinion. But that opinion is that more than wads of cash, people in developing nations need support and opportunity. (I also don’t think that everyone should live the way that we in the West do, but that’s another story). Sseko does, in my opinion, an amazing job walking that line, and overall manages to simply provide opportunity and support, rather than stripping these young women of agency and forcing them to conform to Western standards of success.
From a design standpoint, Sseko’s shoes are very simple, with clean lines and a lot of opportunity to customize the look, especially in their main product, the Ribbon Sandal. These come in a kit of sorts with a flat sandal bed and three ribbons of your choice which can be tied in any number of ways around the foot. There’s many videos on their website showing options for tying, and there’s hundreds of ribbons available, with more added every season. The simplicity and elegance of the product itself allows the company’s ethos and social focus to really shine, allowing customers the opportunity to directly impact the lives of the makers.
If you’re interested in checking out some of Sseko’s awesome products (they do bags, boots and other leather goods, too), here’s some links you might want to check out.
Their website: https://ssekodesigns.com/
Their pinterest page: https://au.pinterest.com/ssekodesigns/
And my pinterest page compiling some of my favourites from their collections: https://au.pinterest.com/elisabethalice9/favourite-designers-sseko/