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Cool cause: Sseko sandals empower Ugandan women to attend college

October 12, 2010 |  7:01 am

Latesummerlifestyle Designer Liz Forkin isn't interested in promoting charity on behalf of impoverished Africans — she's looking to create industry in some of the continent's most destitute areas.

Already, the 24-year-old Missouri native has launched Sseko Designs, a shoe company based in Uganda that manufactures leather sandals with interchangeable fabric straps.

The stylish footwear is hand-made by a group of young local women who work to earn money to finance their university education.

"We believe in the power of business to help consumers change the world, one sandal at a time," Forkin said. "We believe it is time to start thinking about how to engage with Africa beyond charity. What if instead of giving second-hand clothes to a child in need, we gave their moms sustainable, fair-wage employment that allowed them to go to college, develop their careers and then provide for themselves and their own children? "

Forkin and her husband launched the company last year with an initial investment of $3,000 and "no big-name backers [or] rock star pull," she added. The duo now have two classes of women who are in college, "and we employ almost 20 women who are working their way towards more education and a brighter future. It's working. It isn't easy, but it's working."

And the sandals themselves are adorable. The simple leather base is always the same, but the straps — which can be tied in various configurations — come in an array of colors, patterns and materials. So, essentially, each sandal is a one-of-a-kind creation. Much like the company that launched it.

-- Emili Vesilind 

Photos: A pair of Sseko sandals. Credit: Sseko Designs