Sseko Turns 6: Lessons We’ve Learned Building an Ethical Fashion Brand
At 22, Liz Bohannon left a comfortable job at a communications agency and moved halfway across the world to make a difference. The Sseko ribbon sandal was born out of her deep-rooted passion to help bright & brave young women pursue their dreams. (And admittedly, some degree of stubborn determination!) In the 6 years that have passed since Liz’s first journey, Sseko Designs has become an internationally-known ethical fashion brand that’s enabled 60 (!!) women to attend college to-date.
For Sseko, each birthday represents a pause, a moment of reflection, and a time to give thanks. (We’re still going? And people are excited about what we’re doing? And they don’t think we’re crazy for trying to change the long-established, “traditional” version of philanthropy?!). Every birthday gives us encouragement to keep going--and provides time to reflect on the lessons we’ve learned over the past year. This year, our sixth year, was a big one.
here are some of our stand-out moments
The Sharks didn't bite but we did get a deal on Good Morning America!
We also hung out with Ugandan President Musaveni, but unfortunately no cameras were allowed during his visit...I guess we get that.
Sseko is invited to the White House's U.S. Africa Leadership Summit! The best part? Our Procurement Manager Aggie was the STAR of the summit's introduction video as the embodiment of modern African woman. The video played in front of first lady Michelle Obama, NBD.
With a new class of 13 university-bound girls, we've now enabled 60 ladies to achieve their dreams in university!
We’re so fortunate at Sseko to work with a brilliant and dedicated team of individuals who continually challenge and inspire one another. We asked the team to share their favorite memories and lessons learned from our sixth year. Here’s what they had to say!
// Liz Forkin Bohannon, Co-Founder
“Something that I’ve really taken to heart this year is how important it is to take risks. So much of our success this year has come from (literally) just throwing our name out there! You can’t be afraid to do the crazy, out there things, because you never know--- next thing you know, you’re on national television pitching your story on Shark Tank! We were told that it was more likely that the entire Sseko team would be admitted to Harvard before we were accepted for Shark Tank. But hey, sometimes just putting yourself out there can result in unimaginable success.”
“Another one of my favorite memories this year was just taking time to hang out with our CLA girls at their home in Kampala. We were drinking sodas, munching on cookies, and talking about what these girls want their futures to look like. As we lounged around discussing marriage and bride price in Uganda (still a tradition!), I was moved by the challenges our girls’ face and their incredible perspective. We discussed questions like,. How do we honor our traditions but still move forward as modern African women? How can we recognize our culture, but still be who we want to be? These girls BLOW ME AWAY with their wisdom and insight. I can’t wait to see the places these bright young women will go!”
// Ben Bohannon, Co-Founder
“My biggest learning from this year is that fear is the greatest hindrance to our creativity. What will people think? Will my idea be successful? What does this say about me? There will be a constant voice telling us we aren't good enough, smart enough, or creative enough to make it. Crushing that voice will be the difference between people who act, and people who dream.”
// Holly Hulett, Marketing & Customer Care
“I’ve learned the importance of trusting your own voice. There is an intelligent and knowledgeable person inside of each of us that deserves to be heard. This year has been a surprising one, lots of twists and turns (in the best way) that I could have never planned for. That being said, it’s been the amazing crew at Sseko that has been the highlight of this year and the reason I love coming to work everyday. We show up, support each other, work hard, and beautiful things happen.”
// Baylee Brown, Visual Communications & Graphic Design
“One of the craziest moments from this past year, was when we all had to be in the office at 4AM for Good Morning America, and were deliriously sleepy trying to do customer service. Then, just our luck, the internet DIES, and in a mad rush we drive to Holly’s house while we’re madly live chatting customers on our phones!”
// Brent Boutwell, Director of Operations
“I’ve learned a few things this year, both in Uganda and in the US. Firstly ,I've learned to dream bigger. When you have audacious plans for good, people go out of there way to support you. Second, Ugandan women are STRONG. Aggie (our Procurement Manager) was answering emails from the labor & delivery room. She protested when we told her to rest saying that she was only in ‘light labor.’ (?!)”
// Bri Leever, Community Manager
“I still can’t believe I got myself into this one.. One of my wildest memories is from the time Carolyn and I worked at a music festival in over 100 degree weather for four days! (what?!)”
// Carolyn Cesario, Online Marketing Manager
“Sseko has some of the most dedicated and enthusiastic fans out there. It's been so fun to see them come together in the Brave Collective and make genuine and meaningful connections. I also kicked off my personal foot modeling career this year--my feet are now showing up all over the internet (on display ads!).”
// Dawn Bush, Operations Manager/Wholesale
"An important lesson I've learned this past year is to open my eyes. I have worked in this industry for a long time and it took coming to Sseko for me to see the full scope of how the majority of what we consume is produced. There is no doubt in my mind that innovators like Sseko will change the apparel manufacturing business on a large scale. It might take some time, but it can, will, and needs to be done. Dignity is the spark that gives way to a flame."
// Emily Grace Goodrich, Product Designer- Uganda
“Over the past year, I've been visiting each of the class of 2014 graduates in their new University homes. It's so incredible to see how they're pursuing big dreams and taking advantage of their educational opportunities. I went for one visit on a public holiday when our workshop was closed, so Aunt Jenifer was able to come along as a surprise. Seeing Stella and Hadijja reconnect with their mentor and excitedly show her around their school will probably stay with me forever.”
All of the lessons, memories, and accomplishments (and failures!) wouldn’t have been possible without our Sseko family. We are designers and accountants and marketers and seamstresses-- and each of us brings our best to the table in the hopes of building a brighter future. Our belief in a purpose much greater than ourselves is what makes Sseko strong.
It’s been 6 years since we’ve sold our first sandal, and against all odds, we’ve braved the current. We think that when you know, 100%, that you’re doing something GREAT, there’s nothing that can knock you down. Here’s to many more years of success, joy, failure, inspiration and everything in between!
xo, Team Sseko