Kenyan Development expert Navalayo Osembo-Ombati is Co-Founder and CEO, Enda. Enda is the first manufacturer of professional running shoes in Africa and hopes to one day become the top running shoe brand in the world.
Driven by her love for sports and the drive to impact her community, Navalayo gave up a job at the United Nations in New York and delved full time into the shoemaking business, today she is co founder Africa’s first running shoes.
With eyes set on building Kenya’s rich sporting heritage as well as creating livelihood opportunities for local communities, before teaming up with her co partner, Navalayo Osembo started a sports academy in Bungoma, Western Kenya aimed at providing sports proteges from disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity of professional training with their education also put into consideration. But along the line she saw the larger picture, in order to best maximize social impact in Kenya through sports, she would team up with her co-founder to create “Enda”. Although the idea first came to mind in 2015, actual production kicked off 2017. Today Enda, a made-in-Kenya running shoe brand is well noted for having created jobs as well as aids economic development through exports.
Enda brings together world-class shoe designers, developers and Kenyan athletes to create performance running shoes that capture the skills and experience of Kenyan athletes.
Navalayo, a trained Lawyer, Accountant and International Development is super passionate about small businesses and their potential to transform Africa’s economy.
‘Enda’s inspiration comes from questioning why Kenya, with all her renowned reputation in running, does not make running shoes. It is about us as Kenyans moving from a mindset of consumption and being recipients of small tokens to being the manufacturers or the big players in an industry valued over $4 billion.’
‘We also draw inspiration from Kenyan athletes, the culture of Kenyan running and the African tradition of transmitting history and stories orally from one generation to the next. We tell stories through subtle design cues in our product that pay ode to Kenya and running history. We hope that through these inspirations, the story of Kenya and Kenyan running can be told in a way that reflects our pride in our culture.’
On Enda And What Makes It Different:
“Enda” means “Go!” in Swahili, the local language here in Kenya, which is also spoken widely in East Africa. We work with Kenyan athletes to design running shoes and sell them to runners around the world. Most running shoe companies are based in the United States or Europe. Enda is unique; it’s the only company of its kind in Africa. We are not simply testing or marketing technical running shoes made by others, we are actually making our own shoes.
Our debut product, a lightweight trainer called the Iten is available in green, red and black, the colors of the Kenyan flag. They have been designed in close collaboration with Kenyan athletes and sports professionals. The Iten is the ideal shoe for shorter and faster runs and is named after a little village on the western edge of Kenya’s Rift Valley where Kenyan marathon champions come from.
At present, most of our shoes are sold overseas as they are too expensive for the local market. About 90 percent of our sales are in the United States, 8 percent in Europe, where we still have supply chain challenges, and the rest in Kenya. We hope to launch a more affordable model here in Kenya soon.
On Why She Chose To Manufacture Running Shoes In Kenya:
I had a strong desire to return to Kenya after spending significant time studying and working abroad. I have always been interested in sports and wanted to do something that had a positive social impact and was scalable. I decided to focus on something that takes advantage of Kenya’s sporting culture. Running was the logical conclusion. I soon discovered that there is a big market for running shoes and that no one in Kenya had manufactured a running shoe before! That’s quite something given our running heritage. So, I decided to go for it.
By making the shoes in Kenya we’re supporting local communities. Manufacturing is one of the best ways to get people out of poverty. By making our shoes here, we are not only supporting those who work with us to make them, we are also supporting various subsectors that supply us with raw materials. It would have been much easier to outsource all of the manufacturing processes to China, but we made a conscious decision to build up our manufacturing capability in Kenya.
On Materials Used In Production:
The idea is that, progressively, our shoes will be 100 percent Kenyan-made. Right now, we’re at around 52 percent. My aim is to create an enterprise that not only supports top athletes, but also generates opportunities and benefits for the broader community. That’s why we donate 2 percent of our revenue to community projects.
Through the evolving work of the Enda Foundation, we are currently supporting a project in the slums, which protects people at risk, and a community center for children with autism. We see these community projects as an integral part of the business.
Where Basic Materials To Make The Shoes Are Sourced From:
Not all the basic materials we need are readily available here in Kenya. We currently import some parts from China and supplement those with materials that are available locally as we progressively build the local supply chain. That said, we still lack expertise, for example, in mixing and handling the chemicals used, which can be dangerous. But we are making good progress. We have already increased local production, thanks to a local factory that has invested in the machinery for part of the manufacturing process, and a team from a partner in China that comes to Kenya to train the staff. Our aim is to train and improve the skills of our staff so we can produce a high-quality product using a range of materials.
“My aim is to create an enterprise that not only supports top athletes, but also generates opportunities and benefits for the broader community.” – She says.
Navalayo Osembo is also a cohort of the Creative DNA, a program under the British Council’s East African Arts.