Sseko Designs is more than just another online retail shop. It provides financial opportunities for women in Uganda. Sseko started with creating and selling “funky strappy sandals” made by three young women in Uganda, and now it has blossomed into the opportunity for more than 100 women to earn money for higher education. The company now has countless lifestyle fashion products, all aimed at the mission of ending poverty in Eastern Uganda while creating a more equitable society. In addition to that, Sseko has created a unique Direct Sales program that connects women right here in the U.S. with women in Uganda while they earn an income selling Sseko.
Military Moms Blog owner, Christy Curtis, had the opportunity to sit down with Sseko’s founder, Liz, and talk with her about her inspiration and vision for the business. Learn how this female entrepreneur helps give back.
When did you first come up with the idea for Sseko?
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 and I theirs. Almost everything about Sseko was born from necessity. We needed to generate income and had to do something that 18-year old girls could be a part of for a season of their lives and then move on to pursue their goals and become leaders of their country. 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!
We love your products. What is the inspiration and how do you come up with the designs?
Every season, the inspiration is different! Our current SS18 Collection was inspired by my own personal journal of “Yes, and …,” learning to be OK with not fitting into a perfectly neat box, and instead, embracing the complexities and nuances that make each of us unique. From an aesthetic standpoint for this current collection, I was inspired by a trip to Morocco with my husband. Many of the colors, prints and shapes used in the collection are reminiscent of that beautiful, magical and adventurous place!
Was there a pivotal moment in your life that changed your view of the world?
Sitting at my desk at my corporate job, I came across The Girl Effect video and started to cry. There was no new “information” in that video, so why was I so affected by this? I realized that in my idealistic “BIG DREAMS” to help billions of girls across the globe, I lost the importance of ONE GIRL. I asked myself if giving my life to make an impact in the life of just a single girl was enough and then answered myself, emphatically, YES. And that completely changed my trajectory and mindset.
Years later, thousands of women and girls have been influenced by this journey, but I truly believe it’s only because I believed in the absolute and utter worthiness and importance of ONE girl.
Tell us more about the Sseko Fellows Program.
A few years ago, my email inbox started to fill with women right here in the U.S. who wanted to build lives of purpose and passion and were so inspired by the idea of becoming a social entrepreneur but were just not quite sure of the first steps. We started dreaming about how we could use the retail side of our business to create opportunity for women who wanted to create an impact, find community, and earn an income. And by being a Sseko Fellows you can do just that! The Sseko Fellows are a vibrant community of bright, brave, and bold social entrepreneurs who are using their gifts and passions to create impact across the world and in their own backyards.
Every Sseko Fellow here in the United States is matched with a Sseko Sister in Uganda creating a true partnership and direct connection with your impact. We are truly creating a global sisterhood! And it’s working! In addition to employing hundreds of artisans in developing economies, we’ve enabled over 100 women in Uganda to attend University and become leaders in their communities through an entirely self-sustaining financial model.
When I decided to shift my focus to making an impact for a single girl living in extreme poverty, I decided to move to Uganda. Honestly, it wasn’t super complicated. I was familiar (by NO means an expert; just more familiar than I was with any other place!) with some of the conflict and issues facing women and girls in Uganda, so I headed over to kayak.com, bought a one way ticket and then figured everything else out from there!
So many beautiful dreams die in the planning phase. I am such a big advocate of JUMP! Then learn how to swim!
What has been the most surprising part about owning a business?
The emotional and psychological boot camp! You have to absolutely be on your game when it comes to staying grounded in your true worth and identity and not be taken with the inevitable waves that accompany the journey. There is an immense amount of pressure, stress and expectation that can feel so heavy and daunting if you’re not intentional about staying rooted and grounded. I have done SO much self-work, and I still have SO MUCH TO DO. There is nothing more revealing and exposing of your deepest insecurities and issues than setting a Big Hairy Audacious Goal and then convincing other people around you to join you on the journey! But OH MY, is it worth the work. I feel so incredibly blessed to get to do the thing I know deep down I was created to do!
Do you have any tips for balancing work and kids/family?
Focus and priorities! Everyone talks about it like it’s this elusive impossible thing, but it’s just not rocket science.
First off, don’t be stupid. You don’t get to have it all. I don’t care who you are. Mom or not, we all have the same amount of hours in a day, and we all have to make choices to build a life that is ON PURPOSE.
Don’t live under a cloud of a million “wishes” that suck your energy and gratitude. Take the time to sit down and write out your life manifesto. Include your priorities and the things that are important to YOU, not the things you think you *should* want to be doing. Then, when you have your TOP priorities, orient your life, decision making, time and resources around those few things and LET EVERYTHING ELSE GO. It’s scary at first, but once you learn that the world will not fall apart when you let go of the things that just don’t matter, you experience an immense amount of freedom to use your specific gifts and skills to build the life YOU were created for!
Which of your products are you most excited about right now?
I am THRILLED about Sseko Custom. This is a new initiative where customers get to truly design a one of a kind sandal. From the style to the leather color to beading and even monogramming! In addition to playing designer for a day, your one of a kind creation will come with a hand-written letter from the woman who made it! It’s an amazing experience from start to finish. If you’re interested, let us know and we will connect you with a certified Sseko Stylist who will walk you through the process and get you started on your Designer for A Day journey!