Unsung Hero: Dulma Clark, Managing Director, Soul of Africa

Dulma Clark's online footwear business has helped promote sustainable employment and training to scores of families in disadvantaged areas of Ethiopia.

Soul of Africa Dulma Clark

Dulma Clark may be part of the UK’s most prominent family of cobblers, but her entrepreneurial spirit comes with a difference.

Her online retail business, Soul of Africa, is a social enterprise that sells handcrafted shoes made in Ethiopia, providing local women and young people with skills and employment.

The business was first founded 2004 in South Africa by her father-in-law, Lance Clark – the sixth-generation shoemaker who is regarded as the head of the Clark family, the majority owner of global shoe retailer Clarks.

Lance generated over $2 million (£1.4 million) in wages while supporting 18,000 children during its 10 years of operation.

Unfortunately production in South Africa eventually ceased due to supply chain issues, but Dulma re-launched Soul of Africa in 2014, taking the helm of the business as managing director and registering it as a new company in the UK.

Soul of Africa aims to manufacture shoes sustainably by employing 540 people from disadvantaged parts of Ethiopia, who learn invaluable skills through the production of shoes made from all-natural materials.

“The overall aim is to promote employment and training,” Dulma told Retail Gazette.

“I wanted to show them it can be done in a sustainable way.”

Since re-launching, the online retailer has also partnered with charities to allow tribesmen in Namibia to commercialise their craft for making sandals, raising £90,000 to put the sandals into production.

But ultimately, Soul of Africa’s mission is to support education and entrepreneurship while tackling the stereotype of Africa being aid dependent.

Dulma’s hard work in making difference was recognised last year when she was chosen as a finalist in the Gaia Award category at last year’s Everywoman in Retail awards.

“It was unexpected,” Dulma recalled.

“But it was nice to be recognised.”

Soul of Africa currently trades online to 20 different countries, and high street chains Office and Schuh are now stockists of its sandals.

Dulma said the most rewarding aspect of her job was the difference her business has on local communities.

“For example, there was one girl who was the first in her family to go to university because of the support they had with working at Soul of Africa,” she said.

Dulma said she was now looking to work with designers to create community-focused designs and campaigns in the future.

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