With two social justice organizations already under his belt, Tal Dehtiar is slowly but surely building a middle class empire — what every country needs for a healthy economy. His second endeavor, Oliberté, provides the jobs and opportunities to get Africans there.
“Fashion commerce is an annual grind — each year, each day you have to continue to sell and market to make sure what you build will sustain.”
Tal Dehtiar was born ready to work. At just 12, he began shilling newspapers. At 16, he built tree nurseries in Belize. By the time he received his MBA in 2004, he’d already planted the seeds for MBAs Without Borders, which pairs experienced MBA graduates with opportunities in emerging markets. In 2009, Tal left that nonprofit and launched Oliberté, a shoe and bag manufacturer based in Africa.
From the beginning, Tal knew he didn’t want to simply give something away for free. He believes that the key to economic stability lies in a strong middle class, and to build that, you need to create jobs. Tal says, “Our goal would be to see a thriving middle class in Africa resulted by a focus in manufacturing — but you can’t just create and say ta-da — footwear.” Indeed, Tal is careful to consider every aspect of the business. Oliberté’s partner factories demonstrate fair and equitable practices for men and women, exceeding local labor standards. The leather tanning process meets the minimum environmental protocols and the hides are sourced from animals that have led a long, free range life. They use crepe rubber instead of toxic man-made alternatives, and offer three-way shipping, so shoes that cannot be donated or reused are accepted for recycling.
Most importantly, though, the shoes are beautifully designed. Tal realizes that, at the end of the day, what consumers buy comes down to how it looks — no matter how much good the company can do. In the face of daunting challenges Tal is often asked, “Why bother?,” but he believes these considerations make a difference and feels rewarded nonetheless. He states, “each time we hear someone wearing a pair of shoes made in Africa for the first time or seeing our ability to train more people — that’s what keeps us going.” The work doesn’t solely benefit the employees however. Of Oliberté, Tal says, “I love business, I love what I do and I don’t think I could ever retire — this is my thing and I’m loving the journey.”