Being the first to create a new company with no prior experience under your belt can be an intimidating venture. Nonetheless, the long-lasting impact behind the purpose for Navalayo Osembo’s revolutionary idea overshadowed any deterrent the challenge could throw her way.
The Kenyan native is the co-founder and CEO of Enda, Africa’s first running shoe company. Kenya is widely known for producing the world’s greatest runners and now, the shoe brand is putting on for its record-breaking talent. The pioneering company is helping to put the country further on the map and its success is a testament to what African talent can achieve.
“I think the biggest thing has been changing what people believe is possible. I talk to other entrepreneurs all the time who are following the path that we’ve created in dreaming that global brands can be born in Africa,” Osembo told AfroTech.
While Enda is putting a spotlight on Kenyan culture’s influence, it is also aiding in the economic development of local communities through creating jobs and reducing environmental impact. The brand’s mission for giving back caught the attention of Talanton, a private U.S.-based impact investment fund. The company led a $1.1 million Series A funding round for Enda, according to a press release. The funding is set to further take the brand’s slogan, “Run Kenyan,” worldwide.
Osembo spoke with us about the journey to creating Enda’s first running shoes, the brand’s impact in Kenya, and inspiring the dreams for more global brands in Africa.
Editorial note: Portions of this interview have been edited and condensed for clarity.
AfroTech: When did the idea to start Enda first come about?
Navalayo Osembo: I was at a startup pitch event in Nairobi talking about a sports startup idea I’d been working on. My co-founder, Weldon, was in the audience and approached me afterward since he agreed that Kenya should benefit more from its reputation of athletic excellence. We hit it off and met up for lunch a few days later.
Since running shoes are the most important gear, both financially and culturally — for running — that quickly became our focus. By the end of that conversation, we were sure that making Kenyan running shoes was something we had to do.
AT: On the brand’s website it mentions “Making great running shoes in a whole new way is hard.” What did the timeline look like of building out the vision for Enda?
Osembo: It took a while. In deciding to make running shoes, we both acknowledged we had no experience on how to do that. So, we started looking for people who did. We spent months networking and found product designers and production partners who, at least on paper, could make it happen.
It took us about a year to make our first shoe sample. And using those samples as a proof of concept, we ran a Kickstarter campaign to be able to bring them to production. It then took us another year to make those first shoes. So, it was about two years from an idea to the product reaching the market.
AT: What are a few standout observations that you’ve seen through the impact your brand is making in local communities?
Osembo: This is a good question! I think the biggest thing has been changing what people believe is possible. I talk to other entrepreneurs all the time who are following the path that we’ve created in dreaming that global brands can be born in Africa.
Certainly, we are still a small company. We have made a significant difference in the lives of a few people in our value chain. However, it seems clear to me that changing the way people see Kenya and Africa, including the way some of us see our own potential, will be one of the biggest changes we make in the long run.
AT: The brand represents Kenya to the fullest, from being made in the country to the flag colors in the Lapatet Collection. What does the team hope to instill within the Kenyan community through the brand?
Osembo: We hope to live true to the Kenyan values that made it possible for us to exist. The most important is harambee, which is why we print it on every shoe. This is the national motto of Kenya, and it means “we all pull together.” It is a rallying cry for unity to achieve things that no one person can accomplish on their own.
We think it is important to remember that none of us is an island. We are at our best and make the most progress when we come together to help each other.
AT: What is one thing that the team hopes that consumers from all backgrounds take away from the story and mission behind Enda?
Osembo: First, we want everyone to know that Kenya is a country full of immense talent, creativity and the ambition needed to make world class products and brands. I want people to see that the success of Kenyan athletes isn’t some accident of geography or genetics, but a culture of dreaming big, supporting each other, and working hard to make the impossible happen.
If I’m allowed a second thing, it would be for everyone to think about the humans involved in the products we use. So many brands talk about “sustainability” of their products, but don’t say a single word about the lives and livelihoods of the people making the products. Sustainability can’t just be the materials that go into a shoe, or a recycling program. It has to also mean that people who make the product live in a sustainable way. That they can support their families. I hope more consumers ask this of companies.
AT: Any additional information you would like to share about the brand, founders or customers?
Osembo: Every year, we survey our community to ask them what we’re doing well, what we should do better, and how we can best meet their needs. One challenge in all of this is we don’t hear from people who aren’t already in our community.
So, one thing I want to share is an invitation: Please get in touch with us. If you’re buying a pair of shoes, let us know why and then let us know what you think of them and how we can make them better for you.
If you aren’t buying a pair of our shoes but are intrigued enough by the brand to send us a message, please let us know about your shoe needs and how we can help in the future. Thank you in advance to everyone who shares some insight with us!