We must embrace own products to grow manufacturing

Local manufacturing has been included in the ambitious Big Four Agenda and it is a sure ticket to sustainable growth. Increasing the amount of locally produced goods, as well as the ease with which manufacturers can operate here, is key to Kenya’s economic fortunes.

The Big Four aims to grow manufacturing to 15 per cent of GDP by 2022. Right now, the figure is growing at less than 10 per cent. Our country’s manufacturing sector is responsible for the employment of about 303,000 Kenyans and accounts for 11.4 per cent of the economy’s formal employment. However, when the informal sector is included, it might actually be more. 

In Nairobi, it is easy to forget about the importance of manufacturing and locally made goods since the capital is not home to many factories. But in counties outside the capital, production factories serve local communities as a major source of employment and income. International investors in Kenya have a similar attitude. Many are clamouring to invest in Kenyan start-ups.

And it’s easy to see why - we have one of the most fertile hi-tech communities in Africa, with new innovations emerging all the time. It is sometimes hard to keep track of the latest Kenyan-developed app or software. And we should be proud of that, but also remember to pay attention to the young entrepreneurs putting Kenyan manufacturing on the map.

Since most clothing these days is made in Asian countries like Indonesia, Vietnam and Bangladesh while electronics and other goods typically come from China, Kenya is not the first country that comes to mind when you think of where your t-shirt or your running shoes were made.

While the world might have gotten used to that status quo over the past few decades, we have become far too complacent with buying foreign made goods that send jobs abroad, and bear heavy environmental costs to have them shipped all over the world.

And that is something Kenyan-based shoe manufacturer Enda is trying to change. It was founded by two partners in 2016, Kenyan Navalayo Osembo and British-American Weldon Kennedy. Their vision is to become the Nike of Africa, and it is a possibility. Why are we so used to buying products from and following the fashions of far off countries when we are a hub of innovation and commercialisation ourselves?

Optimistically, Enda is going to be the first of many clothing merchandise manufacturers to take off in Kenya and sell their wares all over the continent. We are already known for our amazing runners. Why aren’t they decked out in gear that is patriotic not just in the colours and what’s written on their chests, but on the label inside?

When Enda first began to approach investors a few years ago, the founding duo faced a few hurdles in securing financing. People were reluctant to invest in a shoe company since they believed that Asia already had everything figured out.

In its first round, Enda raised just enough to develop a shoe prototype. After that, they decided to be creative and turned to Kickstarter instead. Kickstarter is a crowdsourced investment platform that allows people who believe in a product to invest small amounts, whatever they can afford.

This raised $140,000, which was enough to make molds and start producing shoes. The second round through Kickstarter in March 2019 raised enough to develop a second shoe model, and by then Enda had really taken off. They began to participate in trade shows in Germany and develop international brand recognition.

Now that Enda has become a trusted brand, they were able to raise another $350,000 in November from five investors. It was led by the Kenya-based investment company Mizizi Capital as well as Umoja Rubber products, which is one of the continent’s largest shoe manufacturers. This sets a positive example for other Kenyan business people - we must have faith in our own abilities before looking abroad.

-The writer is KenInvest Authority chairman

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