Mabel Suglo is a 25-year-old female entrepreneur from Ghana and founder of the Eco-Shoes Project, which is an initiative and business that manufactures shoes and accessories from discarded tyres and recycled materials.
Suglo employs disabled people who are often marginalized from society due to discrimination.
Suglo was inspired by her late grandmother to set up the enterprise. Her grandmother suffered discrimination because she had leprosy.
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“My grandmother actually used to wear bits of old car tyres for shoes because she had no toes and no shoes could fit her feet. So she just took a car tyre, cut it into short pieces and tied it with a rope and it worked well. Other farmers did the same too,” she told Answers Africa and that birth the idea of using car tyres for shoes.
She believes that reusing and recycling can turn waste into treasure hence her journey to become an eco-friendly fashion entrepreneur.
Her passion and empathy for people in her community who had physical disabilities led her to think of a way to create employment opportunities for them. Besides that, she wanted to create comfortable shoes for her grandmother from durable materials.
In an interview with BBC, Suglo narrated how she got her first three workers. She said: “While working on the streets of Kumasi, I saw people begging and I approached them and asked them if they would be willing to work to earn better than they are currently earning? And they said ‘yes why not’!”
Her grandmother was her first customer to have tested her pair of shoes made from car tyres. She then got two business partners to get her idea off the ground in 2013 whilst still a student at the University of Development Studies in the northern part of Ghana, pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Education.
In a bid to challenge local perceptions and stereotypes that disabled persons are a burden on society, together with her two friends, Ms Suglo began the Eco-Shoe business. They also partnered with a local school for disabled children.
“If you go to top companies, you wouldn’t see disabled persons employed and I am trying to bridge that gap. Even though on paper, persons with disabilities should be inclusive, I still feel they are left out,” she told the BBC.
She started with a capital of $100, and a total number of six workers – three co-founders and three employees, who are persons with limited abilities. In 2016 the number of workers rose to 13. At the time they made 400 shoes and sandals plus 200 bags and accessories in a month with a monthly turnover of $2500.
The business has since grown and the young founder said: “By empowering them this way, they are happy and I’m also happy”.
“I hope to do more projects that will involve persons with disability so that people get to know that there is really something good in this people if given the opportunity and chance.”
The business, which is known for turning old tyres and scraps of Africa fabric into stylish footwear and accessories located in Kumasi, the Ashanti region of Ghana, now employs five artisans, and manufactured over 1000 pair of shoes in 2014 alone.
With the aid of a small distribution network, Eco-shoes and accessories are sold to various retailers in four regions of Ghana.
She won $12,500 as the second runner up of the 2015 Anzisha Prize by the African Leadership Academy in South Africa and the MasterCard Foundation.
In 2017, Eco-Shoes made it as one of the finalists for the Ye! Awards where Suglo participated in the Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion (GPFI) forum hosted by the German Government in Berlin, Germany.
Suglo is not just selling shoes but selling eco-friendly shoes and at the same time creating employment for persons with disability and proving to the society that disability is not inability.