It was years of travel, the desire to help improve the sub-Saharan African economy, and a little entrepreneurial spirit that led Tal Dehtiar to the creation of Oliberté.
Launched in 2009, Oliberté is a global sustainable lifestyle brand supporting workers’ rights in Ethiopia. “I truly believe that the real way to change a community is through commerce versus aid,” says Tal, “and at Oliberté, we deliver premium leather products through responsible business practices and fair labour.”
All of their footwear products are manufactured in Oliberté’s very own factory in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which is also the first Fair Trade Certified factory in the world. Currently employing 110 factory workers, Tal expresses that his main focus is on job creation. All of his employees are paid a fair wage and also receive a number of benefits, including weekly doctor visits.
Having such a passion and interest in the economies of the world’s developing countries, while also being an MBA graduate from McMaster University, it only came naturally for Tal to start a business of his own. “I’d like to think I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart,” he says. “My parents founded a furniture company in Ontario which still runs today, and it’s there that I was introduced to the opportunities and challenges of entrepreneurism. It has always excited me to be a business owner.”
Prior to launching Oliberté, Tal put entrepreneurship to the test and founded his very first organization MBAs Without Borders in 2004. “[It’s] an international charity that has engaged hundreds of business professionals from around the world to volunteer and help build small businesses in over 25 developing countries” like Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Columbia, and Haiti.
The inspiration for his second project, Oliberté, also came from his several years of travel and learning about developing countries and economies. During his travels, Tal met a local man selling shoes in a Liberian market. “I was intrigued and inquired about the success of his business,” he explains. “He responded ‘how do I compete with free?’ and went on to tell me that due to the rise of charities offering free consumer products to locals who, in turn, became reliant on them, there was no longer a need for his product in the local economy.”
That created a spark in Tal’s mind, and was the inspiration for Oliberté’s primary purpose: focus on creating stable jobs, not charity.
But with starting any business came its challenges. Early on, Tal explains that he faced several issues with the quality and ease of manufacturing their footwear. Also, “the sneaker had a western feel and it just wasn’t hitting right so we decided to switch gears and produce casual, yet timeless, leather footwear utilizing the rich resources of local tanneries in Ethiopia, really embracing the African culture.” With that said, Oliberté will be reintroducing sneakers this coming spring 2015.
Today, Tal explains that his days are always different, like it would be for any other growing business. “There are a lot of day-to-day challenges, but luckily I oversee a great team that handles everything from operations to marketing, logistics, and customer service.”
The competition in the sub-Saharan African market is one of the biggest challenges he’s faced because of the plethora of cause-driven products. “Some companies are making fantastic products that are making a real difference, while others aren’t as honest and transparent with consumers,” Tal explains. “We stand out because our brand is authentic; we’re making original, hand crafted products that are Fair Trade Certified in Ethiopia.”
For the future of Oliberté, Tal hopes to employ more than 1,000 workers in their factory within the next five to 10 years, while also continuing to maintain a reputable model for responsible manufacturing overseas.
Tal’s advice for young entrepreneurs: “Have patience and perseverance. Those are the two qualities I have that have contributed to my success. Good things come to those who wait and to those who keep trying even when you have every reason to fail!”