Since launching in 2009, Oliberté has made leaps and bounds not only in its manufacturing of footwear and bags in Africa, but also the styles and materials it introduces to the market.
This fall, Oliberté will add camel leather to the mix with the Highlander Collection. Named after Northern Ethiopia’s rugged mountain region, the five-piece collection of men’s boots, lace-ups and vulcanized footwear uses premium camel leather sourced from Ethiopia and is produced in Oliberté’s Fair Trade Certified footwear factory in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Camel leather is traditionally used for only belts and bags — items that don’t offer a lot of give and comfort, but Oliberté founder Tal Dehtiar said the brand has figured out a way to turn it into footwear while keeping its gritty qualities intact. “Camel leather is thicker, heavier and more durable than traditional leathers. The grain is totally different,” Dehtiar said, noting that the gives the collection is a strong, masculine feel.
“These are ‘men’s boots.’ Heavy duty for a guy’s guy — rough and tough and someone willing to pay for the craftsmanship,” he added. (The line retails for $170-$200, slightly higher than Oliberté’s original collection.)
The shoes are also making use of what is usually wasted leather, Dehtiar said. “No one is using camel. They are not used for meat, so at their end of their life why not use the leather for something and create income generating programs.”
Since opening its own factory three years ago, Oliberté has created more than 100 new jobs in Ababa. Its workers have formed a union to represent themselves and their rights, and Dehtiar expects the workforce to double soon. That growing pool of talent, as well as improved facilities, has been essential to the brand’s expansion into vulcanized footwear, women’s footwear and consequently, new retail doors.
Five years in and Dehtair says retail is still tough, but he said the company has made strides by clearly communicating its authentic and original story to consumers. “We don’t have the same budgets of the big companies. A lion’s share of the footwear market is dominated by six or seven brands, but we’ve been good at connecting with retailers and consumers that care the way we do.”
Its e-commerce business, which launched in 2014, has exceeded expectations, too. “The fact that we blew through our numbers is proof that there is a huge demand for the brand and our factory is improving,” Dehtair said. “In the early days, we were doing something that no one had done before and we thought before we get too creative, lets work within the perimeters that we know we can work in. But now, we can take our footwear to a new level.”