Exclusive interview with social entrepreneur Liz Forkin Bohannon.
Liz Bohannon the founder of Sseko Designs. Sseko Designs is a ethical fashion brand based in Uganda.
1. Prior to running Sseko, you left a secure corporate job and traveled to Uganda, what inspired you to make such a bold move?
I was very passionate about issues facing women and girls living in extreme poverty and conflict, however, I realized that I did not have a single relationship that reflected this passion of mine. I decided to move to East Africa to close this gap and learn, first hand, about issues facing my sisters around the globe.
2. How did the idea for Sseko design come about?
What Sseko has become is somewhat of an accidental result of blind determination. While living in Uganda, I met a group of incredibly talented and ambitious young women who needed economic opportunity in order to continue on to university and pursue their dreams. I knew I was in a certain place in a certain time and that the story of these women would become a part of my story. I didn’t really care too much about how that would take shape. Almost everything about Sseko was born from necessity. We needed to generate income. We had to do something that 18 year old girls could be a part of for a season and then move on to pursue their goals. We had to create something out of the limited materials available in the East African region. After several other ideas (including a chicken farm!) I was reminded of a pair of funky, strappy sandals I had made a few years earlier. I spent a few weeks scouring the country for the materials we needed and trying to learn everything I could about making footwear. I hired three young women and several weeks later, under a mango tree, a sandal company in East Africa was born!
3. You mentioned that the first successful Sseko item you developed were sandals with interchangeable straps, how did you manage to effectively launch it in the market place?
We launched the product with an entirely grassroots, word of mouth approach. We encouraged every customer to connect directly with the brand and the mission and then tell their friends! We did a lot of outreach to bloggers and influencers to help share our story! We also invited passionate customers to host sandal parties and invite women into their homes and help us share the Sseko story that way! By encouraging and empowering our best customers to become an important part of our mission, we were about to successfully launch a new product into the marketplace.
4. You are considered a role model for your tenacity. Before setting up Sseko, you attempted several businesses which failed, please mention some of the ventures that did not go to plan?
My first attempt was to start a charity, but then I realized that was not the best solution to the problem. Then I started a chicken farm! Then finally, I moved on to sandals. But even still, we’re constantly testing, failing and learning. It’s part of the entrepreneurial journey!
5. What advise would you give to young aspiring entrepreneurs?
Fake it till you make it! I find myself in so many situations where I have no idea what to do or how to do it. I find that if I can fake confidence in myself and my decisions, even when I feel terrified or overwhelmed, it isn’t long before that confidence becomes a reality.
The Sseko story
Official website – http://ssekodesigns.com