Sseko Designs: The Dreamers and the Do-ers
Advocacy, community, fashion, empowerment.
You will find these phrases strewn throughout the Dressember Campaign, and rightly so. These words can also be used to describe Sseko Designs, a social-enterprise sandals, accessories, and handbags business that helps women in East Africa pursue their dreams of education. It all started back in 2008, when founder Liz Bohannon traveled to Uganda and was moved to action by the stories of her new friends. These young women Liz met were bright, recent high school graduates, who had dreams of becoming doctors, business owners, leaders, and more. Unfortunately, due to exploitation, poverty, and gender inequality present in the country, it seemed unlikely that they would find a way to make these dreams become a reality. It was this experience that inspired Liz to get involved, and in 2010, Sseko Designs was founded.
Something often talked about by Sseko staff is the idea of knowing your ‘why’. Why do you want to advocate? What about your story draws you to become involved in a company or cause? For Liz, the young women who befriended her were enough of a ‘why’ for her to start a business where university-bound girls can now work to earn an income and receive scholarships to make their way through college. In addition, women from all walks of life are also employed by Sseko to train the university-bound team and earn an income to provide for their families and pursue their own dreams.
Nearly a decade old, Sseko has expanded their impact to reach women in the states, as well as in East Africa. Through the Sseko Fellows Program, women in the US have an opportunity to earn an income and pursue their own dreams through telling the stories of the Sseko women in Uganda and selling the gorgeous products the Sseko Team works to create. As a part of the Sseko Fellows community since 2016, I have come to realize that my ‘why’ is just as important as Liz’s was when Sseko was just getting started.
Sseko products are high quality and absolutely gorgeous. Seriously, some days I still wear my original Ssekos that I bought FIVE years ago when I was a sophomore in high school. And I mean it when I say they are gorgeous. Have a look for yourself and try not to want to buy everything here. (Or do, we’re totally cool with that too).
Though I love the products, and that they were created ethically, my ‘why’ goes even deeper. I realized my ‘why’ this past summer when my Sseko sandals carried me across the globe to the Philippines. Three years ago, on my first trip to the Philippines, I met Elisa, a young girl in the rural village we were working at. A seemingly small act to me at the time, I reached out and befriended her. Fast forward three years later and we have a growing friendship. Our families are connected because my parents are helping sponsor her education. This teenage girl is now a leader in her church, she will be the first child in her family to graduate high school, and she has ambitions of going to college and ministering to others for the rest of her life. Because two teenage girls from different cultures reached out to one another, we both became empowered to live better stories.
This past summer, I had the privilege of going back to the same town in the Philippines I visited before, to reconnect with friends like Elisa. I felt super blessed to get to connect more with her family and visit her high school. One of the coolest moments for me was gifting Elisa with a pair of Sseko Ribbon Sandals. My Filipino sister who will now go on to finish high school is wearing sandals that will help other girls in Uganda go on to college. Maybe someday she will go on the be the kind of woman who is empowering others, and that is really the ‘why’ behind Sseko after all.
Many of the ‘why’s’ for Sseko are also the ‘why’s’ for Dressember advocates.
“Both the Sseko Fellows and Dressember advocates are boldly and bravely sharing stories with their communities (both their own and those of their sisters!),” says Bri Leever at Sseko Designs, “While Dressember advocates share about human trafficking, our Sseko Fellows share the story of their Sole Sister in Uganda and connect their community to the beautiful hand-crafted products our women proudly create.”
While Sseko Fellows don’t directly share about human trafficking, a lot of what Sseko does supports the Dressember vision of putting an end to human trafficking and exploitation. In my recent interview with Bri, she had some great insights on this.
“Sseko's mission is to make the world a little brighter for our sisters in East Africa and right here at home. This aligns perfectly with Dressember's vision to put an end to human trafficking. Human trafficking is an issue that spans the continents. In Uganda, Sseko is proud to work with a non-profit organization on the ground to provide dignified employment for women coming out of vulnerable situations like human trafficking. In the U.S., every Sseko Fellow is matched with one woman in Uganda to rally behind her and earn her an additional bonus scholarship at the end of the year. Like Dressember, Sseko operates as a bridge between seemingly separate worlds. We connect stories and create space for everyone to stand up in a grander movement.”
If you enjoy the advocacy you get to take part in as a Dressember advocate, chances are you would rock the Sseko Fellow gig. If nothing else, your passions would at least fit right into what Sseko is all about. If you are interested in joining the Sseko Fellow community, I invite you to read more about it here and spend some time thinking about your ‘why’. Right now, Sseko is looking for Dreamers and Doers to join the team! Your voice is powerful and needed.
Other than the expanding Fellows program, Sseko also has some exciting things to look forward to, one of those things being the launch of some VERY PRETTY items for the holiday season (have a look!). Us Dressember advocates would serve ourselves well to keep our eyes peeled for these ethical accessories that could complement our looks this Dressember. Maybe you will rock a silky Kaftan, tassel necklace, or scarf. Until then, keep dreaming and doing.
About the Author
Reagan Swier enjoys fashion, food, travel, writing, and more. She believes that all of those passions (and your passions too!) can be used to advocate for social justice and create a better world for future generations. Currently, she is a Junior at a small university in Oregon, where she helps lead her school’s IJM (International Justice Mission) chapter. She enjoys the creative scene of the Portland area, which inspires her writing and feeds her passion for social entrepreneurship. However, she is currently studying abroad in Thailand, learning all about topics close to the heart of Dressember.