Portland, Oregon — The footwear company Sseko Designs is a regular on countless fashion blogs, and its signature flip-flops were even featured on a list of Martha Stewart’s favorite products.
However, the company defines itself not by fashion, but by a social cause: providing jobs for Ugandan women who need funds for college tuition.
After graduating high school, Ugandans who plan to attend university face a nine month gap period. This gap is in place to allow applicants time to earn money for tuition. For Ugandan women, especially those from rural areas, jobs are difficult to find while scholarship opportunities are scarce.
Sseko Designs decided to give these women the opportunity to attend college by offering them jobs. The company manufactures all of its products in Uganda and is headed by a team of 50 Ugandan women who work to earn tuition money.
In addition, the company places half of an employee’s salary each month into a scholarship fund that only becomes accessible when tuition is due. This is done to ensure that employees will attend university while avoiding the pressure of funneling their funds to family.
When the nine month period passes, Sseko takes the employee’s saved funds and matches it. So, if a woman saved $500 working for Sseko, she leaves with a tuition scholarship worth $1,000.
So far, 47 women have ‘graduated’ from Sseko and gone on to attend university.
The Woman Behind Sseko
Liz Forkin hated her flip-flops. So, she decided to upgrade her shoe wear.
“[I wanted] flip-flops that wouldn’t flop all the time,” Forkin said.
She bought a cheap pair of rubber flip-flops for $1.50 and attached four string loops to the footpad, stringing through them a rainbow ribbon. Forkin started wearing them, her ribbon modification offering her both the ankle support she so long desired and consistent raves from fashion-forward friends.
Forkin thought this ‘skill’ would never come in handy.
After graduating from the University of Missouri with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism, Forkin landed a job with the global communications company Fleishman-Hillard. However, she was unhappy in the corporate world and departed to Uganda to discover where her time was meant to be spent.
Forkin exercised her journalistic chops as a volunteer for Cornerstone Leadership Academy, a school that educated gifted but poor Ugandans from rural backgrounds. At 22, she wrote and reported for the school’s newsletter and began to see an issue that required greater attention.
After considerable research and shoemaking practice, Sseko Designs was born.
– Shehrose Mian