One of our favorite eco-fashion trends is transforming garments, and Sseko's sandals are a great example. Their first model features colorful ribbons that can be interchanged, re-tied and worn many different ways, giving the wearer a lot of style mileage for just one pair of shoes.
The backstory behind this company is even more interesting than the shoes. The company provides employment to college-bound girls in Uganda, during the nine-month gap between the end of high school and university. This gap offers students the opportunity to make money to cover their college costs, but in East Africa there are often few opportunities for young women.
Founder Liz Bohannon said that Sseko was started in Uganda to provide young women with temporary employment to fund their college aspirations, and matches money they save. Since the company started four years ago, 36 women have gone on to college and the first class of three have all graduated. Sseko alumni stay in close touch with the company, and Bohannon hopes that one day some of the women may return to run the company. There are also a handful of women employed by Sseko on a long-term basis.
Bohannon said that making the "stuff side" of things sustainable is really a secondary mission, after their social goals. "We try to be really conscious about designing things with classic design," said Bohannon. She said the company endorses a "lean closet mentality," by creating interchangeable details that can dress the shoes up or down. The sandals are also great for travel, since they pack flat and extra accessories take up little space.
Bohannon said they source about 98 percent of their materials from East Africa, to further help the local economy. The cottons are organic and the leather is purchased from subsistence farmers, not factory farmers.
In addition to sandals, Sseko also makes handbags and scarves. This summer, they're launching an even more sophisticated style of sandal, a travel-inspired T-strap with pretty interchangeable accents.
The summer collection will be available online starting March 12.