Friday, February 5, 2010

{world domination}


Julie got an email from a friend last night who lives in Brazil.

She was walking down a busy street in Rio, rocking her Ssekos.

A total stranger approached her and asked excitedly, "Are those Ssekos?!?!"

Said stranger had received a pair herself for Christmas. They stopped and chatted for about 15 minutes about Ssekos and compared notes on how they wear/tie them.

Really? Strangers in Rio, just chatting about Sseko.

Pretty fun.

Stranger in Rio, if you are reading this, make yourself known.


{innovation or bust}

{innovation or bust}

Julie and I were at the workshop yesterday getting ready to begin the official training for the Sseko 2010 class.

We were all sitting around, chit-chatting, waiting for the last girl, Betty (hold your horses, you will meet her soon) to arrive.

In the middle of our chatting, I looked over at Topesta (another one of our new young ladies), who was casually playing around with the way we fasten the anchors beneath the sandal.

“What are you doing over there, Topesta?”

She looked up timidly at me, and I realized that she looked a little nervous, perhaps afraid of a pending reprimand.

I took the sandal from her and exclaimed, “This is brilliant! This is employee innovation, here!”

I quickly realized that the phrase “Employee Innovation” was a bit lost on the crowd.

Now a little something about me, I sometimes get a little overly excited about those “teaching moments” in life. ( I pity my future children. 'Not again!')

“This right here, what you did, this is innovation. People invent things all the time. And that is great. But unless we continue to change, grow and refine those things and ideas they become antiquated and irrelevant. You took an idea and changed it. You might just have made it better.”

I went on to explain that they were not just here to make sandals. That they are co-creators of this product, this brand, this community.

So the idea was born. We then went on to discuss how to evaluate innovation. For this particular situation we broke the evaluation into five categories:

1.) Quality: How will this affect the strength and overall quality of our product?

2.) Comfort: How will this affect the comfort of our product?

3.) Time: How will this affect the amount of time it takes to make our product?

4.) Cost: How will this affect the cost of production?

5.) Aesthetics: How will this affect the design and aesthetics of our product?

We went around the room and each girl gave their opinion on each category. I’ll be honest, at first it was a little painful. There was so much timidity. But question by question, we watched as these young women slowly started to believe that we wanted to hear their opinion. That each of them had a voice. And that as a part of this team and community, they were expected to exercise that voice, to contribute, to become co-creators.

After evaluating, we decided that there was enough reason to continue to explore this option. The next step would be to create a proto-type. (Yes, prototype. Lesson numero two. Sometimes I tend to overindulge.)

So we made a sandal to see if all this conjecturing we had been doing was actually on the right track. Right there and then. And then we took it for a little test run. Literally. (Well, brisk walk.)

The excitement in the workshop was building.

Nex was an experiment in democracy. (Yeah, yeah. Lesson number three, so sue me.) We took a vote. Julie and I included, we all voted. We explained that in this community, although we each have different responsibilities, every voice has weight. So we voted.

And we decided unanimously that the idea was worth pursuing. We all did a little celebrating. And we officially gave Topesta The Innovator of the Day award.

{Now, if you feel inspired or warmed by that story, feel free to stop reading now. But for full disclosure purposes I will continue with Act II: The Morning After}

When Julie and I left the workshop that day, we instructed the girls to continue making the sandals with the new method.

When we arrived the next morning we noticed a little something that had slipped by us the day before. And that something was not a good something. There was a little glitch that was caused by the new method, and because of that, we had to toss about 30% of the sandals that had been made that afternoon.

And then we noticed that there were another 50 pairs of sandals that were works in progress, that would have to all be undone to avoid said glitch. Julie and I had a little conference and came to the conclusion that this was the only option. Until some other things changed in our production, we had to go back to the old way.

We dreaded telling the girls. Yesterday had been such a beautiful picture of growth and creativity.

But this is the nature of innovation.

You take a risk. Sometimes it works. And sometimes it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t that excitement and energy seems like a nostalgic memory from the past. And you feel like you are back at square one. At square one with a bunch of dud sandals and discouraged young women.

But the thing is, innovation isn’t about the end.

The product. The system. The method.

It is about the process.

The process of humbling yourself to realize that everything can be made better.

The process of finding your voice.

The process of becoming a co-creator.

The process of realizing that to create is to risk.

But to not, is a far greater one.

{the time has come}

Well. The day has come. For any one who has talked to me in the past 2 months, there was probably a peculiar longing in my voice that likely could have been attributed to my excitement for our new Country Director to arrive in Uganda.

Well the funny longing voice is gone. Julie has arrived. Julie will be supervising and managing most of our Uganda side logistics. This includes everything from fancy meetings with Parliament members regarding export regulations (Monday) or trudging ankle-deep through the narrow, muddy paths of Owino market looking for tools to revamp our workshop (today.)

As I sit writing this, Julie is decorating our room with cool vintage record covers. Oh, how I appreciate a girl who puts some elbow grease into her aesthetic surroundings. Even if it is a kind of janky room in the middle of East Africa.

And she loves organization. Can you sense a trend in the type of people I tend to hire?? Like grandma always said...Hire your weakness!! (Note of disclousure: My grandmother never actually said those words, but I am sure someone's did.)

Oh. And she laughs at most my jokes. Pretty hard. Could this get any better??

Here are a few words from her to you. I'm sure you will be hearing much more. Enjoy!

Dear world wide web,

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Julie Beckstrom. I have brown hair and blue eyes. I love things like coffee, headscarves, traveling, the occasional reality tv show, etc. I hate things like tea, wet socks, boring things, and waking up early. I’m absolutely thrilled to be joining Sseko, living in Uganda, and working with the girls. I’m excited to combine my love for this place with the mission of Sseko. Plus, I get to work with some adorable shoes and even more adorable women. I’ve just started on this journey, but I get butterflies when I think of where it may take me, and I’d love to keep you posted on the way there! That’s all I have for now…I wouldn’t want to overwhelm you since we just met, but you can expect to hear more from me before long.

(**this picture was taken right before Julie hopped, scratch that, THREW HERSELF OFF, the world's tallest bungee jump. what can we say? the Sseko crew is full of risk takers***)

{girls day out}

Ok. I know I have told you all before about our rockstar Sseko girl called Mercy. Mercy was from our first class of Sseko ladies. Well, now she is in University. She studies engineering and just gets the biggest kick out of numbers and computer programing and all the stuff that gives me the heeby-jeebies.

Mercy is now our first Leadership Intern. For those of you that are not aware, we are working towards a vision to implement more career specific professional opportunities into the Sseko experience. In a few words, we envision that as Sseko grows we will have a "three-tiered" program.

The first "level", as you all know, is pretty simple.

Make sandals, go to college.


The second level is to continue our relationships with these young women throughout their time in University and use Sseko as a more career-specific leadership "training ground."

This is where Mercy comes in. Instead of making sandals for round two, Mercy is now working with Sseko in a leadership position. Essentially, we are training Mercy in all the basics of small business management. From shipping logistics to training employees to working with suppliers and communication via email...

**Wait what??? Mercy just got a gmail account. I love gmail. And now we can...wait for it...G CHAT!!! How great is this???? Please take a moment to rejoice with me. Just. So. Fun**

Mercy has just blown us away. She has been such a huge part of our operations here on the ground. It has been so fun to see her grow from a bright but timid new high school graduate, to a confident business-woman-in-training.

Which leads me to level number three. Once the girls have completed University, it is our hope to then bring them back to Sseko in a full time leadership capacity. Obviously, being that we are in year numero one, we are a little ways out...but I thought I'd splurge and give you a sneak peak.

ANYWAYS...back to the bat cave...

Today, I got to steal Mercy away to spend a little time with her before the new class of ladies arrives on Wednesday (what what!).

Oh Internet, it was so fun. We had a little ladies day out. I surprised Mercy and took her to get a pedicure as a way of thanking her for all her hard work. She was pretty ticklish--but a true champ for her first ever pedicure.

I am counting down the days until Julie, our new Country Director arrives. It will be fun to have a third partner in crime. The three amigos we will be. (Hopefully. I have never ACTUALLY met Julie, but we will be sharing a bed. And mosquito net.)

{my favorites, so far}

ok. truth be told, one of the reasons Uganda has stolen my heart, is because, gosh, i just laugh a lot here. here are some of my favorite quotes so far:

1.) Upon seeing me for the first time, my friends in the Cornerstone office exclaim, "Eh!!! Leeez! You are so bright!!" At first, I allow myself to believe they are referring to my generally cheery disposition. Perhaps the unmistakable glow of a newlywed? Alas, they continue, "You are so white! Have you put a white powder on your skin?" Mind you, last time I saw them I said goodbye with 4 months worth of African sun on my face. This time, I arrive after just having left my zero degree, snow ridden home.

2.)While looking at our wedding pictures: "So, Leez, is it a custom in your country to wear no make up and do nothing fancy to yourself except for a white dress for the wedding? Your hair here, it looks the same as now." Awesome.

3.) I love Ugandan advertising. Here is my favorite so far. This was a slogan from company that sells cables (like cords/wires). Mind you, this is their slogan, it appears on everything: "We still don't have every kind of cable, but we might have the cable you want."

Hope you enjoyed. If you like, you come visit. You are most welcome.

{lesson learned}

Hi from Uganda!! For those of you who are not already aware, I am currently in Uganda--getting ready to hire our next round of Sseko girls! Yay!! I am anxioulsy awaiting their arrival on the 17th. People, I just can't wait to meet these girls. But in the meantime I am preparing for their arrival doing less exciting, more businessey things.

Today was my first day on the ground. Although it has been over a year since I was last here, everything is wrapped in this wonderful, comfortable sense of familiarity. The friends, the smells, the sights and sounds. It feels like I just left yesterday. I anticipating feeling this way. For some reason, there is just such an odd sense of comfort I have in this place. But in that, I am trying to make a concerted effort to see things new. I don't want to assume I understand. There is so much to learn from these people, from this place. I want to use this time to continue to grow, to be challenged.

Well. In the spirt of learning and openness, I learned a big lesson today. A nice little cultural lesson that after all my days in Uganda I have NEVER heard. I was roaming the massive fabric markets looking for our next season of Sseko straps--(hot dog, did I find some good ones!) when I come upon a lady eating fried chicken.

Here is a little something about me that Rick Steves would not approve of. I love street food. And anyone that knows anything about traveling will probably advice you that it is just not the wisest thing to eat street food (food cooked..well, on the side of the street). Especially meat. Maybe it is my iron stomach. Maybe it is my longing to be immersed in the culture. I don't know exactly what it is, but I love me some street food. So, my natural question to the lady behind the counter, chomping on chicken is,"Where did you get that chicken?" She smiled and pointed to a grocery bag full of fried chicken.

"For 800 (shillings), I give you a piece of my chicken." Well, that is a no brainer. I never resist an opportunity to stimulate the local economy! Sure!

Internet, this was some of the best friend chicken I've ever had.

But I digress.

Continue scene:

Me, wandering through the massive fabric markets, fried chicken in hand.

And I was REPRIMANDED, not once, but TWICE by two seperate gaggles of women. I mean, full on, drop-jaw, finger-wagging, tisk-tisk, gasp-inducing reprimand.

Not for eating less than kosher street meat...

But for eating and walking. At the same time.

Because today I learned that a "proper lady" NEVER eats and walks. Men? Ok. But never a 'true lady.'

(Did I mention that I just bought greasy fried chicken, in a grocery bag from a stranger?)

I resisted to tell them that few people in my life would put any stock in the chances of me becoming a "proper lady" someday, even minus my eat-walking offense. But nonetheless, I quite appreciated the lesson.

Who knew?

Ann Landers would be proud.

{the newest addition!--not a baby}

Dear Internet,

Please meet Cameron. Cameron has officially joined the Sseko team as our Lead Ambassador. For those of you who are unfamiliar, a Sseko Ambassador is essentially a rep and spokesperson for Sseko. Ambassadors put on sales events on their campuses and in their communities and generally spread the Sseko love to the people around them. We invited Cameron on board to take ownership over this program and help us organize and mobilize this network of Ambassadors across the world. Cameron lives in Texas, but I often wish that I could call her up and have her come hang out with me at my home/office/dining room table and help me organize my brain. The girl's got some passion and shoot--she follows through with precision and speed--which is something I am sure we could all do a little better. I am so pumped about building our team with stellar people like Miss Cameron Crake. It is a little taste of the community that we are passionate about creating, not just in Uganda, but right here in the ol' U.S of A. You should christen her new Sseko email account and give her a warm hello at :)

Here is a little something Cam wants you to know about her. It is always kind of awkward when someone asks you to write about yourself. She is champ.

Cameron is a self-professed economics nerd. She got her start in development work with HOPE International, a microfinance organization. Cameron is incredibly passionate about redeeming business- using it to make the world a more beautiful place. It is Sseko’s unique business model that impacts both the lives of these girls in Uganda and the consumer that initially drew Cameron to the company. She was an Ambassador this past fall and is beyond excited to get more involved with Sseko and the Ambassador program.

{deep breath: we're back}

Hi Friends! Lest you thought we had long forgotten all of our e-friends and family--we are back in the blogopshere!

(Pause for long, but appropriate reunion hug)

Like many of you, we are still trying to catch our breath from the whirlwind of the holidays--a whirlwind that we did not quite expect.

To give you a little insight into the world of Sseko, we were gearing up for what we assumed would be a long, quiet winter. Obviously, we sell a rather seasonal product. It seemed a safe assumption that as the temperature dropped, so would our sales. Which is not inherently good, but would at least give us a few months to catch our breath and do all the things one needs to do to keep a company running and sustainable.

November rolled around and our assumptions were true. {Chirp Chirp} Things were quiet. I settled in for long hours at the local coffee shop to do some retrospective organizing, planning, and preparing for what the new year would bring.

But our season of quiet hibernation and thoughtful planning was pleasantly, but surprisingly interrupted. To kick off the holiday season of giving and getting, Martha Stewart placed us in her 2009 Holiday Gift Giving Guide, naming Ssekos as one of the hottest gifts of the season.

What? Really? I mean we think Ssekos are the bomb diggity. But Martha Stewart does too?

Goodbye quiet winter. Hello, back-ordering and sold out-ness and late night sandal packing parties with my trooper-sandal-packing-guru husband.

Our business model is unique one for a lot of reasons. One of these reasons is our "employee cycle." As of right now for about 4 months out of the year, we don't make any sandals. We bring these young ladies on to our team, pour into them, learn from them and love each other and then about 8 months later we wave goodbye and watch as they begin to embark on the adventure of University. And that quiet season in Uganda happens to coincide with our "quiet winter" here in the states. We have spent many an evening over our little yellow kitchen table talking about this "unique" part of our business plan. Is this realistic? Can we really make this work when for 1/3 or the year we are not making our selling anything? Is this sustainable? WE HAVE TO MOVE CLOSER TO THE EQUATOR!! (Ok, that might have been me in a short moment of drama...)

Well...our first winter proved that it turns out, people buy sandals in the winter--even here in the very non-equatorial Midwest.


Now, I, like many of you probably reading this right now, often find myself overwhelmed by the commercialization of the holiday season. And you know what? That is all I am going to say about that, because I promise you can find someone else who more eloquently articulates that somehow we as a society turned a story of hope for the hopeless and radical love into a season of consumption and stress and debt and "stuff."

But Internet, I wish you could have a peak into my inbox this holiday season. Because for Christmas this year, I got a lot of gifts. And most of those gifts came in the form of emails from people around the world so excited to give Ssekos to the ones they loved. Notes with stories about why these sandals will mean so much to her. And how passionate she is about Africa...and social justice...and education...and clean water...and microfinance and... how great and exciting it is to give her something that encourages and acknowledges that love and passion in her! And how they were just bursting to give this gift that is so much more than a pair of sandals. And... well the love goes on...

Amidst the commercials and the glitter and the jingles and the crowds, I witnessed a small army of people excited about this new way of giving. A giving that goes beyond the "stuff" and into the world and the lives of those who make our stuff. A giving that acknowledges when we give, we give not only things, but also the story behind it. A giving that gives a little something to everyone in the giving chain--be that an opportunity, dignity, a hope or a challenge to give better.

Thanks for being a part of this new way of giving.



{strike a pose}

Alright, if you haven't already, you need to make your way over to our wedding page. Not planning on getting hitched? Doesn't matter. Unless you are a beauty-hater you are going to love the new images of our Sseko wedding sandals. The photographer for this shoot was Ashlie Fulmer from Bradenton, Florida. (So if you ARE getting married in Florida, you need to call her! or visit Ashlie is so talented and SO GRACIOUSLY volunteered to do this awesome shoot for Sseko.

I've actually never even met Ashlie, but she sent me an email asking how she could contribute and when I said "Well, actually…(crossing my fingers and holding my breath)" she agreed and went absolutely ABOVE AND BEYOND.

Ashlie got some local florists to donate flowers for the shoot and rounded up some BEAUTIFUL ladies and did a wedding shoot. It was a full day of hard work, and I just couldn't be more thankful! I'll be posting more of the images from their day of modeling in the gallery section…(some I can't post yet because they are of a REAL, LIFE, bride to be and we can't let her man see her all did up before the big day...)

oh, and you can also see them…

in the December issue of KC Wedding Magazine! Woo!

Three cheers for Ashlie and the lovely ladies here.

It's people like Ashlie (and probably you if you are faithful reader of this blog) that just make me down right giddy about the Sseko movement. I love dreaming about the lives of the women in Uganda. But gosh, it is also so fun to be a part of a growing community right here at home that are loving women across the globe.

just. plain. neat.

{ update time!}

Since every Sseko supporter has played an enormous role in getting these incredible young women off to college, here is a little sneak peak and update about Rebecca's new life at University. If you have any questions you'd like to know, shoot me an email ( and we will get Rebecca on the line.

What university are you attending?

Uganda Christian University in Mukono

What courses are you taking and why?

I am taking my course in Social work and social administration because it will give me the opportunity to work with people whom I would also wish to interact in my life.

What is your favorite part about being in college?

The lectures and the meals.

What has been the biggest challenge you have experienced so far in university?

Having to adjust to the new environment and making new friends.

Looking back, what is the most valuable thing you learned being part of the Sseko team?

I learnt the value of team work, which when applied, production increases. I also learnt how to love and care for others. For example, the Sseko founders have showed us love and care in the same way sharing love among the three of us has been a great factor in our success.

If you could say one thing to the people who support Sseko and wear the beautiful sandals YOU made, what would it be?

I would say thank you for the support through buying the shoes and request them to enourage others to buy, which will help us and other women who will join Sseko in the future.

{sseko my eggo}

How do you tie your Ssekos??

There is a new Internet treat for all you Sseko lovers out there. Visit Ssekos YouTube Channel ( and learn some new ways to tie your Ssekos! This is only the beginning--stay tuned for more.

But hopefully, these really high quality, well produced videos will spark your creativity and Sseko-magination! Enjoy :) If you come up with an awesome new way to wear your Ssekos, let us know so we can tell the world!!

Happy Tieing!

{business will change the world}

The path that lead me to Sseko was a long and windy (windy as in twisty, not blustery. although, at times, the word blustery would have been appropriate) one. Along the way I made some pit stops, mistakes, and friends. One of these friends is named James. James is dreaming about the way business will change the world. Friends like James are among those who gave me a little extra umphh that I needed to take the plunge. Nothing like a "Well if he can change the world..." to kick me into action.

(**Note that the emphasis on he was to illustrate that he is in fact a he, and I am a she. A rather competitive she that likes to keep up with the he's. Not to intonate that if James can do it anyone can, because if fact, James is rather talented. End note.**)

This is the most recent edition of "Business Will Change the World" from James. To read the original, and more great and provoking thoughts go

Business is the most powerful force shaping the world. I don't often use superlatives like 'biggest,' 'best,' or 'most powerful,' because they are usually wrong. But today I'll make three assertions, and they will all be superlative. Although these can't be definitively proven, there is evidence by the freighter-load to back them up, and it's headed your way.

1 - Business is the most powerful force shaping the world.
2 - Business is the most powerful force shaping your life.
3 - Your business decisions are the most impactful part of your life.

Assertion # 1: Business is the most powerful force shaping the world.

Perhaps the biggest change in human culture since the advent of agriculture is happening right now - billions of people are moving from rural lands to cities, following the promise of prosperity offered by business. In Africa and Asia 1 Million people per week are showing up in cities, looking for a future. As people move off the farms and grazing lands that used to sustain them, they become consumers. Business's influence in the world grows with every new family that arrives on the outskirts of a city.

Some of business's other accomplishments: The percentage of the world population living in extreme poverty has dropped by half since the early 80s. The average person's income in the world today is 50x more than it was in the late 1700s, at the kickoff of the Industrial (i.e. Business) Revolution, and that's adjusted for inflation. Today there are over 1 billion cars on the roads. There are over 1 billion computers running Microsoft Windows. There are over 1 billion people using the Internet.

Maybe bigger, we're changing the composition of earth's atmosphere, and the huge majority of that change comes from business - even the gases attributed to cattle are largely from industrial (i.e. business) farms. With me now? Let's move on.

Assertion # 2: Business is the most powerful force shaping your life.

Look around you right now. How many of the things that you see were made by a business? Business is why your world looks the way it does - all the stores and restaurants and cafes and furniture and gadgets and styles and movies - all business. The paycheck that covers your rent and bills comes from business, even if you work for a non-profit or the government. Business is where they get their money.

Even more fundamentally, since business so profoundly shapes our world, our choices must often conform to the mold that business has built around us. Many of our biggest decisions: our professions, hometowns, whether to buy or rent, when to marry and retire, are deeply affected by business.

Assertion # 3: Your business decisions are the most impactful part of your life.

What you buy and how you use it, where you work, and what you invest in - your business decisions - have a greater impact on the world than any other part of your life. The things you buy touch people around the world - miners and smelters and farmers and fabricators and stitchers and assembly line workers and cargo ship deck hands and retail managers and janitors. Your purchases fund the entire supply chain. Your work and investments support businesses that do similarly, on a larger scale than you personally.

Almost all of the resources that you use - oil, minerals, trees, electricity - are connected to these decisions, along with almost all the greenhouse gas emissions that you're responsible for.

Let's recap. Business is the most powerful force shaping our world, and shaping your life. And your part in business is the most impactful thing that you do. Business will change the world and you will support it, whether it does what you like or not. My questions for you are: Can you shape business as it shapes the world? If so, how, and why don't we? Discussions of these questions coming next.

{even better than a new pencil case}

Dear Internet,

Please take as much delight in these photos as I did. These are a snippit of the new life and adventure that Rebecca is embarking on! Although we will so miss working with Rebecca on a day-to-day basis we could not be happier to see her settling in to her new life at University!! (If you own a pair of Ssekos, those awesome straps were sewn by Miss Rebecca. The girl has a knack for sewing straight lines on a manual sewing machine. It is WAY harder than it looks with the pedal and all. Trust me, I tried.)

Rebecca is just stellar. I first met her at the girl's school when she was doing a performance of spoken word piece that she had memorized. People, it was captivating. She has such a sage passion and articulates it so beautifully that you can't help but be a little awed.

I am so confident that with a university education backing her, Rebecca will be a powerful force of leadership and change for her country. If you are wearing your Ssekos right now, please take a minute to thank yourself for being a part of Rebecca's life and education.

Now, enjoy a few "snaps" of Rebecca at school!