Today’s Notable Young Entrepreneur is Tal Dehtiar, whose fair trade apparel manufacturing company, Oliberté, is disproving many of the harmful misconceptions surrounding business in Africa while simultaneously helping our planet. We caught up with him to find out what inspires his work and why he strongly believes in the concept of ‘Trade Not Aid’…
Describe what you do in less than 140 characters. Go.
We manufacture shoes and bags in the world’s first fair trade certified shoe factory based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
What was the inspiration for your career route?
After graduating with an MBA from McMaster University, I started the non-profit MBAs Without Borders as a means of connecting talented individuals with special projects abroad that greatly needed their expertise. During my work with MWB, I saw how well-meaning efforts to provide aid to impoverished areas often undermined their own ability to succeed in the long-term. This inspired me to sell MWB and start Oliberté, which is based on the principle of ‘Trade Not Aid’.
What is the most memorable milestone in your career so far?
When Oliberté grew large enough to open our own factory, and becoming the world’s first fair trade certified shoe factory a year later.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years?
My goal is to continue expanding Oliberté to its maximum potential. We ultimately aim to inspire other enterprises in Africa by showing how successful the fair trade model can be.
Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
A bit cliché, but you must learn to persevere through obstacles, many of which will come early on. Looking back now, it was impossible to know things would work out, especially when breaking new ground. Take each challenge separately, and work through your problems step by step.
Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is it (or they) important to you?
Oliberté is a certified B-corp, and a participant in 1% for the planet, which means we are eternally focused on reducing our environmental impact throughout our operations. Climate change disproportionately affects at-risk populations around the world, which is in direct opposition to our stated goals.
What is one major challenge that you’ve had to overcome in your career? How did you overcome it?
Raising funds for a business centered in Africa can be quite a challenge for risk-averse investors, which required untold man hours on my part in the early days. As with any successful business, you are investing in the leader as much as the model, so it was important that I fully demonstrate my passion and commitment to this project, and to maintain that attitude even after things take off.
What does the word notable mean to you?
What stands out to me is someone who can go against traditional wisdom and make their dreams a reality. There are many people out there who succeeded via the non-standard route, those who took the bigger risks, and opened new paths for more to follow.
Where is your favourite place to wine/dine in your city and why?
Lately I cannot get enough sushi, but my go-to at the moment is the amazing Stoney’s Bread Company, located near our office, for their sandwiches.
What’s the most visited website on your Internet browser? The most played song on your phone?
I spend a lot of time on Youtube getting ideas for our inter-office pranks, and lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Sturgill Simpson.
Who’s one person you think everyone should be following on social media?
I’m a bit obsessed with Warren Buffet.
What’s your favourite country to visit and why? And what’s the next one you plan on travelling to?
I am back and forth to Ethiopia constantly for work and it is an amazing experience every time. I think everyone should visit a place like that to see the differences and similarities inherent in everything.
What gives you the greatest FOMO?
My unsuccessful attempt to raise funds on eBay to buy bankrupted a Canadian football team, the Ottawa Renegades
What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
Pranking the employees in our Oakville office.
What’s something you wish you didn’t spend so much money on? What’s something you wish you spent more on?
We’ve had some projects that didn’t turn out the way we hoped in the past and it’s hard to say if less money or more money could have helped. That’s all a part of building a business though.
And finally, what does success look like to you? Work, play, or otherwise…
Success is believing in yourself and the difference you make in those around you. Success is never reaching an end point, but pushing yourself to do better constantly and loving it.