by Rachel Johnson
We’re back with the second half of Liz Forkin Bohannon’s interview (you can catch up on part one here). You won’t want to miss her opinion on why Sseko sandals are unique; her musings about her relationships with the amazing Ugandan women that she works with; and her advice for young women who are interested in creating their own cause-marketed products.
Q: How are Sseko sandals different from other footwear on the market?
Well, they are the only sandals I know of that directly empower high potential young women in Uganda, for starters! The product itself is also really unique. The base of the sandal is made from genuine leather and has five anchor points. The fabric straps are interchangeable, which means you can style them in hundreds of ways and change your straps as often as you change your mood! They are super comfortable and totally versatile. And you should know that we have an open door policy at our workshop. If you’re ever in our neighborhood, feel free to pop by and meet the women who made your Ssekos!
Q: It is so meaningful that you employ Ugandan women, many of whom would struggle to find fair work if it weren’t for job opportunities with Sseko. How have these resilient and beautiful women impacted you?
In so many ways! I am so challenged and encouraged by their bravery, their resilience, and their generosity. I often have people tell me how brave I was for moving to Uganda on my own as a young woman. But the only thing I can think of when people say that is if they ever met some of our women in Uganda, they’d realized I have a fraction of the courage and determination as them. Take, for instance, from our current class of women, Beatrice. She has five brothers, all of whom were captured by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Instead of allowing her fear to rule her, she used it as motivation to continue her education and make a life for herself. She is so adventurous and courageous. Bravery must run in her family because all of her brothers also eventually escaped from the rebel group.
Another one of our women, Betty, moved to South Sudan (all by herself! at 16!) after she was unable to find a job in Uganda. She worked in a nursery school for a year so that she could save money and afford to graduate high school. Not your typical 17-year-old girl.
We also have women on our staff that work with us full time and are not continuing on to university. These are women that we hope are with our company for many years. Just a few weeks ago I was sitting down with one of our full-time seamstresses who has worked with Sseko for about 2 and half years now. She is an older woman and she was sharing with me how much her marriage has changed since she started working with us. She told me how much more her husband respects her because she contributes financially to their family. She makes decisions and has authority in a way she did not before. He is learning to trust her and she is finding her voice.
We always say, “Every sandal has a story.” And we mean it.
Q: I love the blog posts you write on Sseko’s website. You cover a range of topics, but, if you had to pick, what one thing inspires you most when crafting a new piece?
Stories! I love thinking about ways to connect lives, especially women in Uganda with women in the US, which might not otherwise intersect. I love focusing on the things that as women we have in common, instead of the things that set us a part from one another.
Q: Other than buying Sseko’s fabulous sandals, how can people get involved with your work?
Wear Ssekos. Tell your friends. Write a blog post about your new kicks or simply share about Sseko on your Facebook! Seriously, the only way we’ve been able to grow at the pace we have is because of our incredible fans sharing our story. When customers tell local stores about our product and they start selling Ssekos, they’re making a huge impact. We’ve got lots of ways to get involved, ranging from hosting Sseko parties to joining our team as an intern, employee, or retail partner.
Q: What advice do you have for young women who would like to create a cause-marketed product?
Know that you can’t solve every problem in the world. If you, try you’ll fail. But even worse, you’ll become discouraged and burned out. Focus on one thing that you’re absolutely die-hard passionate about. And then run towards it with all your might. And don’t forget to celebrate the small victories!
How does Liz’s story inspire you?