96. Tal Dehtiar

Founder of Oliberte Footwear, How To Build A Global Fashion Business

What:


Shoes manufactured in Ethiopia


How do you bring innovation to a category like footwear?

"I was working in nonprofits when I heard about Toms Shoes [which gives away a pair of shoes in developing nations with each one purchased]. I'm not a fan of giving things away. If we want to help Africa, we have to create manufacturing jobs—and I don't mean cheap labor. Through the local production of Oliberte shoes, we can create 1 million jobs in Africa by 2025."

What goes into communicating your brand's essence?

"We mention Africa in our marketing, but the last thing I want someone to do is buy our shoes because they feel bad. We're not about charity; we're about creating stable jobs. If the product didn't sell itself, it wouldn't matter where it was coming from."

How do you create a product that appeals to a global shopper?

"There's something really exciting about the word Africa. It evokes an emotion in everyone. We launched with a Western-looking sneaker and it just didn't hit the right mark. But when we started embracing the African culture and romance with a distinct, rugged design that showcases craftsmanship, it really took off."

Click here to see head-to-head responses to these questions from Dehtiar, plus Havaianas president Carla Schmitzberger, and Ed Et Al Shoemakers founder Edwin Neo, Nos. 97 and 98 on our Most Creative People list.

Timeline

  • 1992

    Enters the world of business at the age of 12 as a newspaper salesman

  • 1998

    Travels to Belize to build tree nurseries and fruit farms and discovers a fascination with the developing world

  • 2000

    Gets knocked out of his first and only amateur boxing match

  • 2004

    Dehtiar receives his MBA from McMaster University and forms the nonprofit MBAs Without Borders

  • 2006

    Makes an unsuccessful attempt to raise funds on eBay to buy bankrupted Canadian football team, the Ottawa Renegades

  • 2008

    Gets married

  • 2009

    Sells the trademarks and rights of MBAs Without Borders to CDC Development Solutions and starts Oliberte

  • 2011

    Is named Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst and Young

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