Oliberté shoes are stylish, functional and fair-trade certified

fair trade shoes
© Oliberté Spring 2014

The name combines the "O" from "O Canada" with the French word for liberty. Oliberté is a shoe and accessory maker that's bringing a new level of transparency to the apparel world. The company's factory in Ethiopia is the first shoe maker to be third-party certified by the organization Fair Trade USA.

The company was started by Tal Dehtiar, a Canadian entrepreneur with a background in non-profit work. Dehtiar felt that there was a gap in conventional aid, and set about trying to create a company that could provide living wages in a developing economy and more transparency for consumers.

"I don't want to say that aid is not needed," Dehtiar told TreeHugger. For healthcare, education and disaster relief, Dehtiar thinks traditional aid is vital. But when it comes to developing a country's economy, he feels that commerce is a better solution, but it needs to be done ethically and responsibly. "It's the best tool in our chest to get people out of poverty."

In addition to treating workers fairly, Oliberté also strives to not exploit the environment. The shoes and bags are made from locally sourced leather, purchased from farmers who raise free-range cattle that typically live six to eight years. The company works with a tannery that is careful not to pollute and recycles its chrome. "Chrome can be a dangerous thing, but it's an important chemical in the process of making colors really strong on leather," explained Dehtiar.

Dehtiar points out that Oliberté leaves the little marks and scratches on their leather, instead of covering over the imperfections as most companies do. "Our view is that instead of erasing the natural life of the animal, let's celebrate that," he said.

"We don't claim to be an environmentally leading company, but we're definitely an environmentally conscious company," said Dehtiar. Although not all of the components are sourced from Ethiopia, the natural rubber used from the soles is also local. They work to make the factory zero-waste, recycling and reusing anything that's left over from leather scraps to glue cans.

The shoes aren't designed to be Cradle to Cradle, but the company will take them back for recycling. "At the end of the life of your shoes, if you haven't found a place that can use them or a friend that wants them, we will take back all the shoes," said Dehtiar. "We have partners that recycle all the materials and we figure out ways that our shoes don't end up in the garbage."

For some shoppers, the most environmentally-friendly shoes will be the ones that are made locally. However for Dehtiar, creating jobs was a driving factor for his company, and the company currently designs their products for export.

"We will probably sell locally in the future," said Dehtiar. "There are Ethiopian factories that are doing a great job and we don't want to take anything away from their business, but we are looking at other options in other parts of Africa."

The shoes themselves tend to have simple styles with a rustic touch, like moccasins, loafers and boots. Much of the detailing is handcrafted, and the shoes and bags are made to be durable.

Oliberté shoes are stylish, functional and fair-trade certified
Oliberté's factory in Ethiopia is the first shoe company to be certified by Fair Trade USA.

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