Living in another continent, and armed with a dream, Navalayo Osembo-Ombati (pictured) started a sporting academy in Bungoma, Western Kenya. Her vision was to improve the lives of locals through sporting opportunities.
But the dream was shattered due to what Navalayo describes as a weak team and delegating too much. So she learnt her lessons and moved on, and every chance she got, she told people about the potential sports has to change the lives of Kenyans.
It was during one such speaking event where the trained accountant and lawyer met someone else who shared in her dream.
On that same day, two years ago, Navalayo and her now business partner, Weldon Kennedy, crafted what is now Enda, a Kenyan running shoe brand that has gone on to win international acclaim.
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Why sports when you aren’t a player?
I was not so much into sports while growing up. But I did grow up seeing soldiers, from a young age, waking up and running in the morning. It was fun running alongside them on the way to school. Seeing professional runners in the areas around Eldoret was also a familiar sight.
Growing up around sports made me appreciate the sector and I enjoy, to date, watching different sports, from basketball to tennis. That is where my interest in sports stemmed from. When we began I worked part-time on Enda for a long time as I was employed and living abroad.
I decided to move in full-time when I had sufficient savings to do so, and also when it was clear that the business needed my full attention if we were to grow.
How did you source the funding starting up?
Sourcing funds was difficult when we started as traditional financing institutions are set up for someone with security or a long-documented history of business. We had none.
Eventually, we settled on crowdfunding, which is like an online Harambee, and that’s how we got the money to move from prototype to production. Later we would get angel investors.
When was your first breakthrough moment for you and the business?
When Lupita Nyong’o wore our shoes at the AfroPunk festival in 2017 and later on the Complex Sneaker Show, together with Duke Winston, spoke about Enda and the importance of Kenyan running shoes. That boosted our confidence, morale and market.
Do Kenyan athletes wear Enda?
Our shoes are designed in conjunction with Kenyan athletes so yes, Kenyan athletes have not only embraced our products, but also provided great encouragement along the way. We conduct surveys among athletes to know what kind of running shoes they want. We also work with them for prototyping.
Enda was founded on the premise of Kenyan athletic greatness and without them, we would not have had a reason for existence. Kenyan runners inspire the world and it is through this inspiration that Enda has been able to sell to customers from around the world who want to share in Kenya’s running greatness.
What was the motivation behind Enda?
The motivation came from a desire to maximise social impact in Kenya through sports. I wanted to not only give the sports people a way to maximise their talents but to also give back to society by starting a product that had Kenyans’ participation in the production.
As a made-in-Kenya running shoe brand, Enda creates jobs, invests in local communities, and spurs economic development through exports. Those three things matter to me because they are essential to demonstrating our can-do attitude as Kenyans and Africans, that we can create high quality products that can compete internationally.
How big is the Enda team?
Enda is a global effort. We have the core team in Nairobi that oversees operations, a team in China that helps with sourcing of raw materials, a design team in the US that coordinates with a designer here in Kenya to bring the designs to life and a team in Kilifi that does the actual production.
What is the design process for the shoes?
The design process involves research and brainstorming. When we first started out, we ran a survey with Kenyan athletes at different categories to understand what constitutes the perfect running shoe for them. We initially thought we would get input for one perfect design but instead, the feedback was that there are different kinds of shoes for different types of runs, which formed the foundation of our design philosophy.
That’s why we started with a lightweight trainer for shorter and faster runs and later designed a daily trainer for longer runs. Once we get the technical parts right, we then focus on the cultural or historical elements that we would like the product to represent. At different points of the prototyping process, we test the shoes with our athletes, and use their feedback to make amendments until the point they, and the entire team, are happy with the results.
What has Enda’s biggest impact on the society been?
The decision to manufacture locally was a deliberate one because it allows for job creation, which is an important element when you consider unemployment levels and how young our population is. Every job that is created makes an impact to many lives.
We also donate two per cent of our revenues to community projects. So far, a kids’ basketball program that teaches life skills to at-risk-youth in Korogocho and an organization in Nandi that helps widows earn an income through livestock rearing have been recipients of our grants.
This year, we are giving individual athletes Covid-19 relief grants and it makes me happy to know that we are contributing positively to society. We also want to change the way the world sees Kenya, in that we are capable of producing high quality products that can compete globally.
What has been your biggest challenge?
I think technology, and generally the pace of business, requires a deep understanding of not just your customers, but the general business landscape in your industry and if you are not careful, it is easy to find yourself uncompetitive or left behind by consumers.
Adapting to changing technology has always been the biggest challenge.