Liz Forkin Bohannon
Location: Based in Uganda with offices in Portland, OR
Employees: 50 women in Uganda, and seven in Portland
Course: FastTrac NewVenture - Graduated 2000
Affiliate: UMKC Small Business and Technology Development Center
Build the concept. Sseko Designs is built on the conviction that good business can be a powerful force for positive social change. It designs, sources and markets sandals and other handcrafted items made and sometimes co-designed by Ugandan women who otherwise would face lives of poverty. The products then are sold by Sseko Fellows during home parties or by independent salespeople to socially conscious U.S. retail outlets.
Plan the strategy. Sseko Designs meets the needs of:
- Ugandan women who dream of dignified employment that will allow them to pay for college or launch viable businesses.
- Sseko Fellows, who are U.S. entrepreneurs interested in earning commission and gaining the knowledge and training to become social entrepreneurs.
- Socially conscious fashion fans in the U.S.
Handcrafted fashion items are tools the company uses to help create a brighter, more beautiful world.
Grow the revenue. Sseko has grown by engaging employees and consumers in authentic ways.
- Its Ugandan workshop identifies and hires high-potential women whose determination and talent improve the business every day.
- Its Fellows program hires energetic, socially conscious U.S. entrepreneurs — mostly women — to host trunk shows, and to use their online platforms to promote and sell Sseko, earn commission and gain social entrepreneurship experience.
- Its Sseko Brave Collective invites the Sseko consumer community to connect, share stories of bravery, and support Sseko women in Uganda with emails or notes of encouragement. Some participants even join a trip to Africa.
Bohannon spreads the Sseko message by speaking to community groups and was chosen to appear on a 2015 episode of “Shark Tank.” The sharks did not fund Sseko, but the publicity led to full funding from other investors. Sseko also won the JumpStart competition, through which interactive advertising agency Blue Collar gives an emerging company $100,000 in website redesign and digital marketing services.
Expand the market. Bohannon is sharpening the company’s marketing message to increase product demand so she can expand product-manufacturing capacity in Uganda, set an industry standard and become the country’s largest employer of women. In addition to Uganda, she now is launching product lines in Kenya and Ethiopia with the hope of using fashion to solve problems worldwide. She believes Sseko will grow if she focuses on the wellbeing of women.
Insight/Hindsight. “FastTrac helped me build a strong business foundation on which my dreams of empowering African women can grow. It gave me tools and encouragement that empower me to empower others, and introduced me to valuable tools and relationships that helped get our business off the ground.”