I met Megan during the Love on a Hanger Spring Market in April, as the local brand ambassador of Sseko Designs, a Uganda-based fashion brand which “uses fashion to create community and opportunity for women across the globe”. While I was strolling through the gorgeous, high-quality and hand-made items on her stand, I invited Megan to share a few words about Sseko.
My name is Megan Sweeney. I am from the city of St. Louis in the middle of the United States. I currently live in Baar, Switzerland with my husband, Matthew and our three children. I spend my life taking care of my people and looking for ways to help people in vulnerable communities. I think caring for the least of these is at the heart of my Christian beliefs.
Sseko Designs was founded with the purpose of providing employment for bright young women during the 9-month gap between high school and university, to enable them to earn and save enough money to pay for college tuition. Without this financial support, most of these women would not be able to afford accessing college education.
Sseko now also employs women who have aged out of the education system and have no other form of income generation. The brand also partners with a local not-for-profit organization in Uganda that works with young women who have recently come out of the commercial sex industry. Providing stable, dignifying and fair wage employment is a key component to keeping women from entering back into prostitution. Sseko believes that every woman has the capacity to end the cycle of poverty and that it can be done in a way that is fair, dignifying, honouring and life-giving.
I became aware of Sseko through some of their products. I first loved what I purchased and then learned more about the story. I know the names, faces and stories of many of the girls who are currently in the 9-month program, earning money for university and the veteran women working in Uganda. I am partnered with an employee named Cissy and we write each other periodically. The company really values and puts an emphasis on the relationship between the women making the products and the women selling the products.
I care about this company for so many reasons. Primarily, Sseko has found a way to sustainably create business opportunities for local communities in Uganda. Want to see women’s rights grow? Send more women to university so that they can be change makers in Uganda! Want to see women’s dignity restored after being victims of sexual trafficking? Provide them with respectable, well-paid jobs! The company is there to stay. It is fully invested in the community and making an impact.
If I had to give you a concrete example, the sandals are for instance all hand-sewn in Uganda and all the components are sourced from East Africa. Sseko does have an internet presence, but its main business model is selling through trunk shows in people’s homes in the US, where the Sseko story can be shared, women can try on the sandals and purses,etc. I’ve had to adjust the model a bit to make it work over here in Switzerland, and it’s been a learning curve; but I think it’s going pretty well. I really see any sale as a success because I know it provides work for the women back in Uganda.
The university-bound women are required by Sseko to put away 50% of their earnings during their 9-month employment, though they can save up to 80%. The company then matches 100% whatever they’ve saved. Sseko will always keep its part of the commitment to match savings. It is my job, as a Sseko Fellow, to help share the girls’ story and sell the Sseko items.
I have just come into a place in my life where I really value the story behind what I am purchasing, and I wish I had gotten to this place sooner. So much good can be done by considering the story. I am trying to do a better job at not just buying what is in front of me, but instead seeking out companies who are making a difference by providing meaningful and respectable work to the communities.
Giving a stronger visibility to Sseko is still a work in progress for me as I am figuring out how to make it work in Switzerland, but I consider it a success so far because I know the impact of what I am selling. My advice to other entrepreneurs and younger generations is to figure out what you are passionate about and then run with it; people will be drawn to whatever you are doing if your heart is fully behind it.
Pics/ Sskeko Designs