A new running shoe brand called Enda is hoping to generate enough funds through a Kickstarter campaign to be able to manufacture shoes in Kenya and ship its first models later this year.
The company, founded by Kenyan Navalayo (Nava) Osembo-Ombati and American Weldon Kennedy, got started in 2015 as a social change enterprise organized on the premise of sharing Kenyan running culture with runners around the world while also creating sustainable jobs and social benefits for Kenyan people, according to the brand’s Kickstarter post.
The company founders want to allow Kenyan communities to benefit from the international success and renowned culture of Kenyan running by having a percentage of its profits go toward projects aimed at providing greater access to things like clean water, sanitation healthcare and education. (The name Enda means “Go!” in Swahili.)
“We wouldn’t get into this if we weren’t driven by social mission,” Kennedy said via Skype from Nairobi on May 25. “Obviously, we can’t accomplish the social mission without creating a world-class product and we wouldn’t be true to our brand if we weren’t creating a world-class product, so that has got to come first. If you want to communicate with runners and want to bring financial benefits to a place, then the running shoe it is. So that’s what we’ve set out to do.”
Enda’s first shoe model, the Iten, is named after the iconic distance running town in the Rift Valley. It’s designed to be cushioned enough for high-mileage half-marathon and marathon training and sleek and light enough for racing from 5K to the half marathon (and the marathon, too, for strong, nimble runners).
Like many lightweight shoes in this category, it has a midsole made from a high-abrasion EVA compound and a blown rubber outsole. The Iten also has a sculpted midsole that will wrap part of the rear of the foot for a secure, snug fit. It has been designed with a 4mm heel-toe offset (21mm in the heel, 17mm in the forefoot) and weighs about 7.9 oz. for a men’s size 9.0. Once they become available, the shoes should retail for $100 to $110, Kennedy says.
The big deal about this shoe, of course, is that it will be the first one produced from Kenya on a commercial basis. Initially, most of the components of the shoe will be sourced and made in factories in China, then shipped to Kenya for final assembly, Osembo-Ombati says. “But in the long term, we hope to make the whole process, from start to finish, in Kenya,” she says.
The brand is hoping to embrace its Kenyan roots in many other ways, too. It will produce its first shoes in red, green and black to match the colors of the Kenyan flag—the brand’s logo resembles the tip of a spear, which is a symbolic icon of Kenyan culture—and the word “Harambee” is printed on the bottom of the shoe as a nod to the country’s “all pull together” national motto. Their prototypes were wear-tested by Kenyan runners, who provided critical feedback in the development phase.
“For us, the goal is making sure people can benefit from what we’re creating,” Osembo-Ombati says. “So far the support has been overwhelming. We had a passion for this and you think you have a good idea, but once it has gotten out there we realize it’s not just our passion. There are people all over the world who are interested in this, but up until now maybe there just wasn’t a way to express it.”
Enda is hoping to raise $60,000 in seed money through its Kickstarter campaign to take it through from the development phase to the production phase of its first generation of shoes. As of May 27, about 48 hours into its campaign, it had raised about $45,000 from 380 backers.
“We set out to find a great group of people to help us get this started and when we approached them and said, ‘We want to make Kenyan running shoes,’ they said ‘that’s absolutely mad, but I’ll be happy to help,'” said Kennedy, 32, who grew up in New Mexico. “We’re now at a point where we’ve got a [prototype] shoe and a plan and we just need to put the money to it.”
Osembo-Ombati, 31, hails from a village near Eldoret, another one of Kenya’s top distance running towns. A graduate of the London School of Economics, she is trained as both an accountant and a lawyer and has worked in the U.S., UK, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Kenya.
Kennedy, who grew up in New Mexico, is a social-change campaigner who has worked on a range of early stage social change start-ups. He built the student and international member programs at The ONE Campaign and most recently led Change.org’s growth in Europe as the organization’s regional managing director. An avid runner and running shoe obsessive, Kennedy’s half marathon PR is 1:37:39.
Kennedy says he and Osembo-Ombati are fully aware of the challenges of entering an already crowded running shoe market, but they believe they’ll be offering something unique and different. He points to the success of relatively new brands like Newton, Hoka and Altra—which each came to market with an entirely new running shoe design—and also says Enda’s social mission will have a distinctive appeal.
Enda will take a portion of profits from every shoe sold and have its customers choose which projects that money will go toward.
“I think we have a unique opportunity to connect with people,” he says. “The ethical running game is a big thing. The experience of using running to accomplish social good is how a lot of people get into running. I think there is an opportunity in having products that speak to accomplishing social good in the running space. What we want to be able to do is connect this community of runners who will be running in Enda products to this amazing scene in Kenya and help people both see and participate in a way you just don’t get to do normally.”
Osembo-Ombati and Kennedy met at a social enterprise pitch banquet and later discussed ideas when the concept of making Kenyan running shoes came up.
Kennedy admits that there are numerous challenges to producing shoes in Kenya—not the least of which there are only limited industries and raw materials to support what they’re doing. They will try to source whatever materials they can in Kenya, but for starters that might just mean shoe laces and packaging.
However, he says the brand will benefit from the ability to ship shoes to the U.S. duty-free, thanks to the U.S. Congress renewing the African Growth and Opportunities Act a year ago.
Interested Kickstarter backers can pledge as few as $7 to as much as $6,000. If someone donates $6,000 to the effort, Enda will treat them to a two-week running vacation in Kenya.
“We were optimistic we could make running shoes because we knew we would have authenticity,” Osembo-Ombati says. “We don’t have the marketing budget of the big companies. We are small, but I think from a running perspective, our brand is really strong. It’s a niche market, but we are authentic.”