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Fashionable justice

Ending educational inequality, one cute sandal at a time

By Lindsay Robinson | Echo

IMG_1299Remember the summer between senior year of high school and college? It was three months of limbo, where you said goodbye to friends and family before heading off to change the world.

For many women in East Africa, the transition period between high school and college is a bridge they will never cross. But ethical fashion brand Sseko Designs is providing the support they need to reach college and become leaders in their countries.

In Uganda, students are given a nine-month break after high school to save money for college. While this idea is great in theory, the reality is that many go home to environments that discourage women from furthering their education.

Sseko gives these women a chance to make money and a place to stay so they don’t have to go back into war-torn communities. It also offers a development curriculum that teaches the women personal finance and resume writing skills to prep them for college.

“The women at this specific leadership academy that Sseko works with are all from villages that are conflict zones or post-conflict zones,” Sseko representative and junior Nicole Arpin said. “When they go home, not only are there not many jobs available, but the jobs are taken by men.”

Arpin’s involvement with the company started when an online blog post about ethical consumerism sparked her curiosity. She began looking into ethical fashion brands and stumbled upon Sseko.

“My initial interest in the company was so I could encourage my friends to consume ethically, understanding that we need to eat and we need to wear clothes, but can we do that in a way that benefits communities and environments,” Arpin said.

When the group’s founder, Liz Bohannon, came to speak in chapel during Arpin’s sophomore year, she talked with her and told her how much the company’s mission inspired her. Not long after, she joined the company as a Sseko fellow at Taylor.

As a Sseko fellow, she promotes the brand on social media, gives out discounts and hosts trunk shows. A trunk show is a party where Arpin will set up a table of wares and tell the Sseko story. Party-goers get discounts, and the host gets a cut of the profits.

All of the company’s products are handmade by East African women with material from responsible, local sources. Every purchase supports the women behind the designs and the East African economy. Bohannon’s goal is to benefit women in a way that is dignifying and life-giving in every aspect of her company.

Sseko’s products are perfect for capsule collecting—a new trend combining minimalism with buying clothing that will last for a long time. For example, Sseko’s popular leather bags are more expensive than most, but are guaranteed to last for five years or more.

“They are beautiful products,” Arpin said.

While Arpin loves the products the company produces, it’s what’s happening behind the scenes that she is most passionate about.

Bohannon recently spoke at this year’s National Student Leadership Conference (NSLC) on the topics of design, gender reconciliation and women in vocation.

Sseko’s goal is to empower women in a male-dominated society that desperately needs women in leadership positions. The company website says that it believes every woman has the ability to escape the cycle of poverty.

Arpin encourages students to check out the stories of the Sseko women on the brand’s website and also to contact her with questions at

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