Connect with us

Arts

Heart And Sole

Published

on

The Adams Pavilion, a dusty shopping center selling aromatic oils, kitschy cushions and costumes in the noisy Sar Bet area of Addis Ababa, is hardly the setting for a flagship shop selling high-value branded shoes to 16 stores around the world, from Singapore to Switzerland to Silicon Valley.

Yet, that is where it all started – from a single outlet in Ethiopia.

Above the din of traffic outside, the diminutive Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, in jeans, a white T-shirt and blue blazer, her hair coiffed into a careless bun, is retelling the genesis of her hugely successful business, soleRebels, 10 years ago.

To her customers across the world – ranging from techies in San Jose to gym nuts in Taiwan – she has broken every popular perception of Ethiopia. Instead of handouts going into the country, here was handcrafted footwear – with soles made of recycled tires – going out of it to stores across the globe.

We are sipping espressos – from the local Starbucks-inspired café below her shop – and Alemu mentions that her humble middle class background taught her to be industrious. Her mother helped as a cook in the kitchen of a local hospital, while her father worked hard as an electrician in the same hospital to raise his daughter and two sons.

“Growing up, I saw people trying to make it every day at the hospital. Leprosy patients getting treatment would also work. What I learnt from them is their dedication, how they worked hard and loved life and their culture,” says Alemu.

At home, she had the same rights as her brothers; her parents saw her as no different.

“In college, I wanted to create something authentic at the same time global, supporting the local community. But 10 years ago in Addis Ababa, it was almost impossible to do something like that because of the infrastructure.”

Alemu got married, and at the age of 25, quit her “boring” accountant job in a private company wanting to turn entrepreneur. She had nothing going for her except hope. She wanted to create a brand out of Africa, tapping into the local culture and talent.

“I had to put together a plan and be really brave.” But why shoes?

“I was looking at what people did widely in Ethiopia, and that was scarves, dresses and robes. I wanted to be innovative, and start from scratch.”

Recycled tire didn’t cost anything, and it was not an alien concept. Ethiopia’s rebels had famously fought off the invading forces in ‘barabasso’ sandals made of old tires.

Alemu took this idea and self-financed ($5,000) her dream, starting with five workers in a workshop on her grandmother’s land in the village of Zenabwork.

It took her two years to get it right. Initially, the prototypes weighed six kilos a pair.

“The shoes were really heavy, as I didn’t know how to cut the tire. They looked really funny. I kept trying and trying to develop the perfect product.”

She knew she had to come up with an artisanal product using local fibers she could sell globally moving up the Africa value chain.

“In my factory, in Yeshideble, we don’t have any machinery. You will find a lot of people sewing. It’s like music. We have a unique way of working with communities, where we have a culture of spinning and making our own clothes at home. These women, when they are old, are not so productive, so we give them jobs. We have 120 women who spin for us, they don’t need to go out, we collect [the goods] from them every week…These are mothers, grandmothers…they have their coffee and spin for soleRebels.” They are also paid more than the industry standard.

She is now building a $20-million state-of-the-art factory, to be completed by the end of the year.

“We currently do 200 pairs of shoes a day, when the big factory opens, we will do 2,500 a day.”

Alemu has standalone stores in Barcelona, Vienna, Zurich, Athens, and is set to open her first shop in Canada. She has 12 stores across Taiwan. Her label is certified by the World Fair Trade Organization.

Her colorful shoes retail from $65 onwards. Earlier this year, Alemu diversified her business to include bespoke leather jackets (available online at about $60), dresses and bags.

Alemu is also launching in September a new coffee brand, Garden Of Coffee, “hand-roasted by traditional Ethiopian coffee artisans”.

Is the mother of three a billionaire yet? There is slight hesitation, and then a smile.

“Let’s see…The company’s growing but we are always looking at investing our monies somewhere.”

And then she says in one breathless sentence: “It doesn’t matter how much I have. What I want is to create a platform for everybody and they can come and work. And it’s something I love to do. I see it, I invented it, it grew up with me, it’s inside me, it’s my baby.”

Ten years ago, nobody talked about entrepreneurs, says Alemu.

“I was not looked at as an entrepreneur, only as a businesswoman.”

Times have changed. Alemu was recently awarded a PhD (Hons) in commerce from Ethiopia’s Jimma University.

“The government believes in entrepreneurs, and I am really happy we get noticed at the end of the day,” she says.

 

Her guiding philosophy

“One of the things helping me is not to see myself as a woman. When I see myself as a woman, I always fail. We don’t have the confidence, we always say yes, we don’t say no – that’s going to take you down. Whenever I deal with people in offices, I am a business person. I have a goal and no one can stop me. All I think about is my business and my customers.”

If the last decade was this eventful, where does she see herself in the next 10 years?

“I will probably have 500 stores around the world,” says Alemu, ever the optimist set to ensure that with every step, her country moves forward too.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Comments

Arts

Forbes Africa’s Best Photographs In 2019

Published

on

[Compiled by Motlabana Monnakgotla, Gypseenia Lion and Karen Mwendera]

Image 1:

Kabelo Mpofu, an entrepreneur, took over his mother’s shop in Meadowlands, in the South African township of Soweto. He is hopeful of making the family business a success despite big retail stores opening up in the townships and swallowing up the corner groceries.

Image 2:

Africa is the youngest continent in the world. Every year, South Africa observes June as Youth Month, honoring the anniversary of the Soweto Uprising on June 16. In this image, the country’s sprawling township of Soweto comes alive with youth dancing in the winter weather to local and international music at the Soweto International Jazz Festival, an annual confluence of history, art and culture.

Image 3:

Women hold up placards against gender-based violence during a ‘Shutdown Sandton’ campaign; this after a spate of brutal rape and killings in South Africa.

Image 4:

Car dealerships were among the businesses set alight in Johannesburg’s Jules Street, during the spate of xenophobia attacks in South Africa in August this year. The spark that fueled the raging fire began in Pretoria, the country’s capital, when a taxi driver was shot dead by a foreign national who was selling drugs to a youngster in the central business district.

Image 5:

Sibusiso Dlamini, the co-founder of Soweto Ink, works on one of his regular clients at his tattoo parlor founded in 2014 with his long-time friend, Ndumiso Ramate. In 2019, Soweto Ink held the fourth annual tattoo convention, and for the first time in partnership with BET Africa, to break tattoo taboos in Africa.

Image 6:

Mmusi Maimane, the former leader of South Africa’s opposition party, Democratic Alliance, is about to cast his vote in front of local and international media houses who had wrestled to get the perfect shot in his hometown in Dobsonville, Soweto, during the elections in South Africa in 2019.

Image 7:

The brother of South African journalist, Shiraaz Mohamed, begs for government intervention after Mohamed was kidnapped in Syria on January 2017 by a group of armed men. The group demanded more than $500,000 for his freedom.

Image 8:

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa with his body guards at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa, where the three-day South Africa Investment Conference was held in November.

Image 9:

In a world that’s embracing new technology, inspiration is being found in bug behavior. The hard-bodied dung beetle is now key to robotics research, in Africa too. Astounded by this discovery early this year is Marcus Byrne, a researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg who has been studying dung beetles for over 20 years. He holds up a metallic replica of a dung beetle in his hand in his office at the university.

Image 10: 

Mzimhlophe Hostel, a hostel among many others in Soweto, erupted with service delivery protests prior to the elections in South Africa. In the same vicinity, an informal settlement was also allegedly set on fire. Brothers Mduduzi (32) and Kwenzi Gwala (22), pictured, had arrived in Johannesburg looking for employment. They sold African beer, but their shack was set alight while they were still at church. They lost all their stock and possessions.

Image 11: 

A thrift market in the heart of Johannesburg’s central business district, not too far from a busy taxi rank, known for its pavement robberies. Despite the crimes, thousands of small entrepreneurs trade in this raucous market every day.

Image 12:

ANC, DA and EFF supporters dancing and chanting outside the Hitekani Primary School in Chiawelo, Soweto, South Africa, as they await South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to cast his vote in his former primary school. 

Image 13:

Tenants in the discarded Vannin Court in Johannesburg look on from their balconies as jubilation erupts on the ground floor.

Image 14:

Vestine Nyiravesabimana makes money weaving intricate baskets made of grass to feed her nine children in Kigali, Rwanda.

Continue Reading

Arts

Can Diddy’s Ciroc Recipe Work On Alkaline Water?

Published

on

By

The first time Sean “Diddy” Combs took a sip of Aquahydrate alkaline water—given to him by pal Mark Wahlberg at a Las Vegas boxing match in the early 2010s—he found it to be an ideal antidote for evenings spent consuming adult beverages.

“I went out that night and had a Vegas night, and I woke up and had a Vegas morning,” Diddy told me in 2015. “I drank two of the [Aquahydrate] bottles and it was, like, the best tasting water that I’ve tasted. And it really, honestly helped me recover.”

Diddy became the face of the company alongside Wahlberg shortly thereafter, and the pair invested $20 million in Aquahydrate over the years while billionaire Ron Burkle’s Yucaipa added another $27 million.

READ MORE | Hip-Hop’s Next Billionaires: Richest Rappers 2019

They aren’t the only ones with lofty ambitions for the brand: last week the Alkaline Water Co., the publicly-traded purveyor of competitor Alkaline88, bought Aquahydrate in an all-stock deal that valued the latter at about $50 million.

For Diddy, who ranks No. 4 on our recently-released list of hip-hop’s top earners and boasts a net worth of $740 million, alkaline water holdings are just a drop in his financial bucket. His Diageo-backed Ciroc vodka—and its myriad flavors, from Red Berry to Summer Watermelon—is responsible for the lion’s share of his wealth. But it’s clear he thinks alkaline water, flavored variants included, could swell his portfolio. So do his new partners.

Diddy
CRAIG BARRITT AND ALEXANDER TAMARGO/GETTY IMAGES. DESIGN: NICK DESANTIS/FORBES

“You put both these brands under one public company, it makes a ton of sense,” says Aaron Keay, Alkaline’s chairman, of the Aquahydrate deal. “We see synergies on distribution, we see cost-savings on cost of goods. On production, on logistics, on staffing. … And we don’t see both brands actually then competing for the same target market.”

In the past, flavored water has enriched investors including some of Diddy’s hip-hop world comrades. A little over a decade ago, 50 Cent famously took Vitaminwater equity in lieu of stock as payment for his endorsement—and walked away with some $100 million when Coca-Cola bought its parent company for $4.1 billion in 2007.

A ten-figure valuation for an alkaline water company seems an outlandish target even for the notoriously bombastic Diddy. But Keay notes Alkaline clocked $33 million in revenues over the past fiscal year and had been expecting $48 million in 2020; now, with Aquahydrate on board, he projects closer to $60-$65 million. That compares favorably to Core Water, which was doing some $80 million as of last year before getting acquired.

“For two or three years, Core Water was just another clear water,” says Keay. “Then they added about a half dozen flavors. Sales doubled. They got bought for $500 million. I mean, for us, $500 million would be a big number off of where our market cap is right now.”

Diddy appears to be an ideal ally in achieving that goal. With Ciroc, once a middling vodka in Diageo’s roster, he was able to articulate importance of the brand’s defining trait: it was made from grapes, not grains (never mind that this might technically disqualify it from being considered a vodka). His contention, according to Stephen Rust, Diageo’s president of new business and reserve brands, is that grapes are simply sexier than potatoes.

“One of his favorite things [to say] is, ‘If you can have a vodka that comes from a history of winemaking, why would you do that versus the history of coming from potatoes?’” Rust explained in an interview for my book, 3 Kings: Diddy, Dr. Dre, Jay-Z, And Hip-Hop’s Multibillion-Dollar Rise. “That’s Sean.”

With alkaline water, Diddy has demonstrated a similar knack for sizing up a product and extracting an elemental notion that passes muster with consumers (if not necessarily scientists). If “you’re full of acid,” Diddy once explained to me, you need to “get your body leveled out.”

Vodka and water, of course, are two very different products, and the same tactics won’t necessarily translate from one business to another. Flavored water itself seems to have been over-carbonated of late, as the recent struggles of brands like La Croix show; Alkaline’s shares have slumped this year as well.

Perhaps that’s why Alkaline is looking beyond its flagship bottled water business. Future plans call for a move towards cans in a nod to environmentally-conscious customers, as well as expansion into the nascent CBD-infused beverage space. Keay figures Diddy and Wahlberg, along with fellow celebrity investor Jillian Michaels, should provide a boost across the board.

“Once the FDA makes a ruling about how CBD is going to be distributed through those chains and channels, those guys are going to want trusted brands, brands that they know already have a consumer following,” says Keay. “And that was another big reason why it made sense to bring [Diddy, Wahlberg and Michaels] in, because it’s only going to help.”

Zack O’Malley Greenburg; Forbes

Continue Reading

Arts

The Highest-Paid Actors 2019: Dwayne Johnson, Bradley Cooper And Chris Hemsworth

Published

on

By

A bankable leading man is still one of Hollywood’s surest bets, even if your name isn’t Leonardo DiCaprio. While the lucrative twenty-twenty deal ($20 million upfront and 20% of gross profit) doled out to the likes of Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise may be more or less gone, Hollywood still has its big-money brands, those actors who can promise an audience so big that they command not only an eight-figure salary to show up on set but also a decent chunk of a film’s nebulous “pool”—or the money left over after some but not all of the bills are paid. 

Dwayne Johnson, also known as the Rock, tops the Forbes list of the world’s ten highest-paid actors, collecting $89.4 million between June 1, 2018, and June 1, 2019.

READ MORE | Marvel Money: How Six Avengers Made $340 Million Last Year

“It has to be audience first. What does the audience want, and what is the best scenario that we can create that will send them home happy?” Johnson told Forbes in 2018.

It seems he makes the audience happy. Johnson has landed a pay formula as close to the famed twenty-twenty deal of yore as any star can get these days. He’ll collect an upfront salary of up to $23.5 million—his highest quote yet—for the forthcoming Jumanji: The Next Level.

He also commands up to 15% of the pool from high-grossing franchise movies, including Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which had a worldwide box office of $962.1 million. And he is paid $700,000 per episode for HBO’s Ballers and seven figures in royalties for his line of clothing, shoes and headphones with Under Armour.

READ MORE | ‘Black Panther’: All The Box Office Records It Broke (And Almost Broke) In Its $235M Debut

While Johnson’s deal is the biggest in the business right now, he’s not the only one with a lucrative deal. Robert Downey Jr. gets $20 million upfront and nearly 8% of the pool for his role as Iron Man, and that amounted to about $55 million for his work in Avengers: Endgame, which grossed $2.796 billion at the box office. 

That gross was so big that it secured spots on this year’s top-earner list for Chris Hemsworth, Bradley Cooper and Paul Rudd, in addition to Downey; together, they earned $284 million, with most of that coming from the franchise. 

“Celebrities such as Downey and (Scarlett) Johansson currently have extreme leverage to demand enormous compensation packages from studios investing hundreds of millions of dollars in making tent-pole films, such as The Avengers series,” entertainment lawyer David Chidekel of Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae told Forbes. 

READ MORE | Worldwide Box Office, The Best It’s Ever Been

Cooper is the rare actor who can thank a bet on himself for his 2019 ranking. The actor earned only about 10% of his $57 million payday for voicing Rocket Raccoon in Avengers. 

Seventy percent came from A Star Is Born, the smaller musical drama that he directed, produced, cowrote and starred in with Lady Gaga. The movie was a passion project for Cooper, and he forfeited any upfront salary to go into the film and Gaga’s salary. It paid off—the movie, which had a production budget of only $36 million, grossed $435 million worldwide, leaving Cooper with an estimated $40 million. 

The full list is below. Earnings estimates are based on data from Nielsen, ComScore, Box Office Mojo and IMDB, as well as interviews with industry insiders. All figures are pretax; fees for agents, managers and lawyers (generally 10%, 15% and 5%, respectively) are not deducted.

The World’s Highest-Paid Actors Of 2019

10. Will Smith

Earnings: $35 million

9. Paul Rudd

Earnings: $41 million

8. Chris Evans

Earnings: $43.5 million

6. Adam Sandler (tie)

Earnings: $57 million

6. Bradley Cooper (tie)

Earnings: $57 million

5. Jackie Chan

Earnings: $58 million

4. Akshay Kumar

Earnings: $65 million

3. Robert Downey Jr.

Earnings: $66 million

2. Chris Hemsworth

Earnings: $76.4 million

1. Dwayne Johnson

-Madeline Berg; Forbes

Continue Reading

Trending