Vivobarefoot’s Soul of Africa social enterprise initiative has long worked to provide income and employment for Ethiopian artisans. Now, the footwear brand is debuting a collection of handmade shoes crafted in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.
Known for its minimalist footwear, Vivobarefoot has already released two shoes from the trio, with plans to release the third next week.
Co-founder Galahad Clark said Ethiopia is on its way to becoming one of the world’s main industrial manufacturing centers for textiles and footwear. It is important to London-born Vivobarefoot to take a community-focused approach to footwear production in the region, he added, and one that’s rooted in transparency.
“We decided to open up a new manufacturing hub but with a different approach to what you see at the other factories in the region,” Clark told Sourcing Journal. “We focused on creating a transparent and sustainable supply chain and factory, sourcing as many materials as we can locally.”
Eight-year-old Vivobarefoot hopes the factory production line, set up in conjunction with Pittards—among Africa’s most reputable tanneries—can play an important role in supporting “human-centered development,” he added.
Clark’s father, Lancelot Clark of the Clark Shoes empire, initially created The Soul of Africa initiative, which is responsible for hand-crafting 50,000 pairs of Vivobarefoot footwear at quadruple the average wage. That translates to $2 million in wages for local Rift Valley artisans. The social enterprise employs more than 100 individuals, but claims to “sustain” roughly 400 throughout the entire supply chain.
Beyond benefiting the artisan community, Soul of Africa has provided 18,000 children in South Africa with educational opportunities.
The collection’s two leather shoes are exclusively crafted with Pittards Wild Hide Leather, a material sourced from small Ethiopian farmers, in a factory powered with hydro and solar energy.
Pittards has a unique relationship with the community, Clark said, and has been trading with Ethiopia for more than a century.
“Leather here is a 100 percent by-product of the local economy,” Clark said. “So far, Pittards have created jobs for 1,500 people here in Ethiopia, and they are determined to sustain and grow the operations.”
Pittards is also committed to the well-being of its employees and local communities, Clark added, providing clean water to nearby areas while supporting local schools.
The Summer 2020 Soul of Africa Collection itself is comprised of three styles: the Addis, the Ababa and the Ababa Akaso. The Addis is a minimal lace-up style with a “footprint sole” based on the Laetoli human prints found in Tanzania that archaeologists say are more than 3.6 million years old.
The slip-on Ababa silhouette features Vivobarefoot’s signature Barefoot Technology that is said to be key to modern foot health, while the Ababa Akaso is the “widest, simplest vegan shoe” in the collection with a canvas upper created by Akaso, a Belgian label that works with Ethiopia’s traditional Kara painters to create contemporary designs.
Throughout the summer, Vivobarefoot will work with Kara communities to share stories of the Addis Ababa community, including a youth skateboarding group, a social enterprise dance group and a youth circus class—all supported by proceeds from the made-in-Ethiopia footwear collection.
Viviobarefoot will continue to look at producing similar collections for upcoming seasons, Clarks said.
“We have now built the basis for a sustainable shoemaking process and there are still areas for further enhancement and innovation by making iconic shoes out of Ethiopia that won’t compromise our social and environmental mission and ethics,” he said.