Boss Ladies

Boss Ladies | Liz Forkin Bohannon

04.20.17

Photo c/o Woodnote Photography

Liz Forkin Bohannon is a journalist-gone-shoemaker and the founder of Sseko Designs, an ethical fashion brand that works to educate and empower women. By providing employment and educational opportunities, Sseko enables women to continue their education and become leaders in their country. She now splits her time between Uganda and Portland, Oregon, where she and her husband Ben run Sseko Designs.

Growing up I really wanted to be
A lawyer, an OBGYN, a journalist and an actress. As someone who didn’t grow up with an interest in either business or fashion, I never dreamed I’d run my own ethical fashion company, but here we are!

My most-used emojiis are
I use the cry face shamelessly. I have the world’s funniest friends!

I don’t know how I ever lived without
My Saturday morning hip hop workout! I go to this amazing dance studio with legit 90’s hip hop vibes and it’s the one time in my week where I can turn off my “work brain” and dance!

One thing people don’t know about me is
I taught my high school boyfriend to speak in an Irish accent.  For most of our junior year if we were together alone, you better believe we were speaking in Irish accents.

My real life hero is
Sister Rosemary, a friend in northern Uganda. She has risked her life to protect kids from the rebels in the Lord’s Resistance Army and gives her life to bettering her community. And she does it with humor and spunk — she dons Nikes under her nun habit and I love everything about her.

What I love about my work is
Getting to create community– in Uganda through our employment program and in the US through the Sseko Fellows program. I help bring together bright, brave and bold women from across the world. It blows my mind.

The hardest thing about my work is
It’s hard to feel torn in so many directions — from product to branding to creative direction to business development. I love that my work is varied but it can be quite overwhelming at times.

How I got started with my current career
I studied Journalism at the University of Missouri and became increasingly interested in how extreme poverty and conflict affects women across the globe. After college, I got a full-time job at a communications firm, but quit to move to Uganda and pursue my passion of understanding — in a first-hand, relational context — the realities facing women and girls.

I started out believing that the greatest impact I could make would be through journalism.  But I ended up creating a marketplace solution for a specific group of remarkable young women in Uganda.

The dumbest thing I did when I was starting out
I didn’t understand that our impact has to be laser focused. The need is overwhelming, and I wanted to respond to every request for help.  But I (painfully) learned that in order to succeed and create maximum impact, I needed to be okay with not being the solution for every woman in Uganda who was seeking a brighter future.

My typical day looks like
Wake up my delicious 8 month old son, Theo. Lay in bed, cuddling and nursing and listening to the Pray As You Go podcast together. Get ready and get Theo off to daycare.

I spend the first hour or two catching up on emails from East Africa and using Viber or WhatsApp to talk to all our partners across the world before they go to bed.

That usually wraps up around 10am and that’s when things cease to be normal! I meet with my team about everything from growing the Fellows program, to planning photo shoots, to doing sample revisions on a new product to meeting with investors to doing interviews to trying to think of the Next Big Thing.

Most days my husband and I walk to a local grocery store together to get lunch. It’s such a perk — getting to do what you love with the one you love most!

I used to think success meant
Getting somewhere quickly.

My current definition of success is
Being committed and faithful.

An example of when I had to push through my insecurities
Recently we made an incredibly risky decision to wind down our wholesale business to go direct to consumer. Everyone thought we were crazy (wholesale made up about 75% of our revenue!) but we believed it was the best thing for Sseko and it was the type of business we wanted to build. I struggled with doubt and wondered if I was being foolish and idealistic, but I’m so glad we followed our intuition and took the risk!

I know my work/life balance is out of sync when
When I consistently prioritize urgent over what’s important. There is part of me that loves to fight fires, but that’s not when I do my best work. I know I’m getting unhealthy when I get anxious and can’t seem to turn my brain off no matter what I’m doing.  I try to carve out an hour or two to make a plan for everything in front of me and prioritize what’s really important.

When is the last time you created something you were proud of?
Community is incredibly important to me.  I live on a bit of an urban commune that we affectionately call Rainbow Row! We share life, meals and chickens! We’re still in the midst of creating this life together and exploring what it looks like to live in true community in a society that favors individualism. But I feel so proud to know that my son will grow up surrounded by people who love him and are rooting for him to be the man he was created to be.

I wish I could tell my younger self
Try the things you know you won’t be good at, because there is beauty in the trying. I wanted to be the best at whatever I tried, which limited some self-discovery. My journey as adult has had many major fails, which has thankfully shattered every hope of being “the best” at anything — I couldn’t be more grateful for the freedom that comes with that realization!

The legacy I hope to leave is
My greatest hope is to simply be faithful to whatever story the Lord calls me into. I hope that by being brave and obedient, I might create a wake for others to do the same. And of course, I hope to make a little bit of magic and mischief along the way.

xo,
Liz

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