From the very beginning, Oliberté has looked for the path less travelled. Where other brands find their success through more conventional practices, we sought an environment with unique challenges to shape an unparalleled product. We eventually landed on Ethiopia, where our factory is now based, in the capital city Addis Ababa.

Our inspiration for creating the World’s first Fair Trade Certified footwear factory came from the experience of our founder Tal Dehtiar, whose previous venture MBAs Without Borders offered an in-depth perspective on certain realities in the social enterprise space, particular in the developing world. Through his experiences travelling throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America, he saw first-hand the well-meaning but often ineffective results of charity in a community.  

These experiences were the basis for one of the central tenets of our business, which many now refer to as “Trade not Aid”. Our belief is that a constant stream of financial or material support damages local economies and nurtures dependence, making long term improvement difficult or even impossible. Our goal is to give talented local peoples an outlet to create a desirable product with locally sourced materials, which in turns stimulates the local economy. While an outright halt to aid could be disastrous, we believe that a model like ours in partnership with certain types of traditional aid allows a population to slowly reduce reliance off outside support while simultaneously encouraging foreign and domestic investment within a town, state, country and continent.

Our goal is to give talented local peoples an outlet to create a desirable product with locally sourced materials, which in turns stimulates the local economy.

That leads us to another major goal of Oliberté, which is to demonstrate to fellow brands and the consumer that it is fully possible to create a quality, affordable product while providing fair wages and giving back to the community and the environment. Our Fair Trade Certified™ designation means each worker earns a true living wage, and benefits from a profit-sharing community premium fund that they are in control of with every payment. Our designation also ensures that certain environmental standards are met in the manufacturing process, which we build upon with our B-corporation certification (an independent ethical business auditor) along with participation in the One Per Cent For The Planet initiative (one per cent off all sales are donated to environmental protection).

Virgin Unite, sustainability, social entrepreneurship, Oliberté

The fashion industry has caught a lot of heat in the past few years as the true cost of cheap and disposable clothing (and footwear) has become apparent to the average consumer. The current throwaway culture surrounding inexpensive clothing encourages cutting costs and environmental standards to bring the cheapest and fastest products to market. These short-cuts often come at the cost of the supply chain worker, and put further strain on the environment as the disposed clothing or shoes end up in landfills. To resist this negative trend, we require top notch construction standards for our products, along with offering a lifetime warranty, to encourage the consumer to view their Oliberté’s as a heritage piece that will outlast the fashion season and become a staple in their wardrobe.

It’s been almost eight years since Oliberté was born, and in that time we’ve grown from a handful of people working on a few models in rented space to our own sprawling factory with over 130 skilled craftspeople and a range of collaborations and special collections. As the first, and still only, Fair Trade Certified™ shoe factory, there was so much to learn to keep things running without any examples to turn to so times were tough. Despite the difficult odds faced by all new businesses, things kept moving forward, spurred on by the tireless work of all our employees, and the amazing support of the loyal customers we picked up along the way. As we move forward, our hope is that we continue to empower our workers, encourage other brands to lead, all while making our customers proud of every impactful step they take in the world.

Virgin Unite, sustainability, social entrepreneurship, Oliberté

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