Liz Forkin Bohannon is the founder and CEO of Sseko Designs. Sseko Designs is an ethical fashion brand that works to educate and empower women. By providing employment and educational opportunities, Sseko enables women to continue their education and become leaders in their country.
She lives in Portland, Oregon where she runs Sseko and raises her toddler son, Theo, with her husband and company co-founder Ben.
What motivated and inspired you to start your own business?
I moved to Uganda after university because I wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to write and report on issues facing people living in extreme poverty and conflict zones. The only trouble was…I couldn’t find anyone to hire me to do just that! So, instead, I moved to Uganda on my own to learn first hand about the realities facing women and girls across the globe.
So, I suppose, Sseko was inspired by rejection! HA! No, although that is what lead me to Uganda, Sseko was inspired by 25 of Uganda’s brightest, most courageous women. These women quickly became my community and after meeting them and learning about not only where they’d come from, but their dreams and vision for the future, I was inspired to create Sseko.
Tell us about your business.
Sseko is an ethical fashion brand that makes premium leather goods, apparel and footwear. We hire high potential women in Uganda to make sandals, to enable them to earn money through dignified employment that will go directly towards their college educations.
Are you currently running any promos/contests/giveaways that you would like our readers to know about?
If you host a qualifying Sseko Trunk show, you’ll earn product credit and a free Pink Swirl Duster. Better yet, if you become a Fellow in April, you’ll receive a free Brush Stroke Multiway shawl and we guarantee that in your first year as a Fellow you’ll earn an income, make an impact and find community or we’ll refund your starter kit! (Will include corresponding photos!)
The Sseko story has been featured in dozens of publications including: Vogue Magazine, Redbook Magazine, O Magazine, Inc, Fortune and others. Sseko has appeared on national broadcasts including ABC’s Shark Tank and Good Morning America.
Among other notable honors, I was recently named a top three Transformation Leader by John Maxwell, Forbes listed me as a top 20 public speaker in the U.S. and Bloomberg Businessweek named me as top social entrepreneur to watch.
Where is your business based?
Portland, OR and Kampala, Uganda.
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
I designed a pair of strappy sandals and hired three young women: Mary, Mercy and Rebecca. I taught them how to make the sandals and I made them a promise: “If you make these sandals for next 9 months, I promise you’ll go to university in the Fall.” Luckily, they said YES. They started making the sandals and I moved back home to the U.S. and started selling sandals out of the back of my car.
And it worked! Today, we’re the largest non-agricultural exporter in Uganda and we’ve enabled 100 women to continue on to college and pursue their dreams. All by making and selling beautiful sandals, leather handbags and jewelry. (Seriously, take a look! Our products are on point. From Vogue Magazine to Good Morning America, people love our style as much as our mission!)
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
Word of mouth through The Sseko Fellows Program!
What if, to become impact entrepreneurs, you didn’t have to have to invent a product or take out a second mortgage to fund your business?
What if you could start, grow, and scale your own impact enterprise and do it alongside of a sisterhood of like-minded women who will support you along the way?
That’s what we’re doing with the Sseko Fellows! (Become a Fellow now!)
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
The greatest challenge is just the sheer amount of things we have going on at any given time. From product design to quality control to HR to long-term strategy, trying to prioritize is a constant challenge.
How did you overcome these challenges?
Focusing on the few things that matter the most and hiring people who are WAY smarter than I am!
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
I feel so inspired by our team. Our team in Uganda, here in the U.S. and especially by the Sseko Fellows who are a team of impact entrepreneurs who are building the Sseko brand alongside of us in their own communities.
When I need a dose of inspiration, I hop on our private social network and soak up inspiration, encouragement and bravery of this women in this community! It’s truly a remarkable sisterhood of dreamers and doers who are co-creating alongside me every day!
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
- Our impact is authentic and baked into the core of our brand. Sseko Fellows can travel to Uganda, meet the team and sit under THE mango tree where it all started.
- We are uncompromising and obsessed with making stunning, quality goods that will sell themselves.
- We are the only company in the world where you can create a pair of completely custom sandals.
What is the best advice you have received recently?
Stay focused! Not sexy but so true.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
We’re ALL FAKING IT. Your “Imposter Syndrome” doesn’t make you special. We all feel it. So realize that it’s a boring, lame, common psyche thing and get to the work of creating something amazing!
What are your favorite business tools/resources and why?
- Asana for keeping our team on track and organized.
- ZOOM for daily calls with Sseko Fellows.
- Online grocery shopping and pickup so I can spend less time wandering around the grocery store with a toddler and more time working or being present with my family!
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness is essential for all leaders!
What are you currently learning about for your business or looking for help with?
We want to invite everyone to help us spread the word about Sseko through The Sseko Fellows Program!
What social media outlets do you use? List them below.