Navalayo Osembo

Navalayo Osembo, CEO and co-founder, Enda brand of shoes. 

| Pool

Globally known sportswear now seeks to find firm footing at home

Enda sportswear shoes have run a marathon across the entire world, collecting accolades and earning their founder, Navalayo Osembo, global recognition. But the shoe’s arrowhead brand has barely made a mark in Kenya.

Talk of Jesus and prophets not being honoured in their home towns! The shoe that retails at about Sh12,000 has not been a favourite among Kenyans.

However, this may be about to change as the company sets out plans to accelerate growth in its ambitious plans to become one of Africa’s leading consumer brands.

Ms Osembo is cooped up at its production factory in Umoja rubbers, Kilifi plotting how to develop the shoe specifically for the local market as part of the company’s new phase having come top three in the Jack Ma’s African Business Heroes finalists.

“What we are trying to do is figure out what we can create with local materials — local leather, local canvas, local rubber — to see what we can come up with that is a bit more price-friendly when you think about the Kenyan perspective,” Ms Osembo said.

She said research and development for a small business is not the “sexy” part of the business because the ROI takes years,  so no one wants to fund that.

Since starting the company five years ago together with her co-founder Weldon Kennedy, the funding model has only enabled her to concentrate on the top-tier market with a quality branded shoe for buyers with the patience to see her idea flourish into reality.

She said the initial capital came from crowdfunding where she sold the shoes in advance and the customers waited for its development even when she and her team failed to deliver.

“It is like a harambee (fundraising) but online, only that you sell the product in advance instead of charity. That is how we got customers in the United States because it is a very popular way of fundraising. That is how we got money to start and to fail and to start again, because crowdfunding is a very patient crowd,” she said.

The model came with other advantages for her very young company as it gave them time to develop the product since such campaigns take months to years to collect enough cash.

During the fundraising, it also allows marketing the product, and being popular abroad she was able to build quite a remarkable story around a shoe.

Being Kenyan,  the shoe idea sold off the shelf  due to association with athletics, Kenya’s history of runners, as well as its origins in Eldoret, the home of world class athletes.And she made a point to give each model a story that inspired their design.

Then the fact that the shoe was being manufactured in Kenya and is  top quality helped demonstrate the resilience of African businesses who dare to take on the world.

But it was not just a story; the story was about a shoe. It had to be real and kick the curb as hard as it resonated,  so the design was woven around how Kenyans run.

Ms Osembo said it rewards the mid-foot strike since it is designed to be bouncier around that area when you land, paying homage to the Kenyan style of running.

She said the shoe then became more than just a call to run. It was a way of educating runners who would at first wonder what a mid-foot strike was, and then get taken through the ways of running healthy.

“If you are running and landing on your heel it is very dangerous for your knees and hips, so you are thinking you are doing so much exercise but you are really doing a lot of damage and almost going to end up in surgery later in life,” she said.

When naming the shoe, Ms Osembo said she got it from cheering squads urging on runners to the finishing line resonating with the long hours she put in the business and the athletes who would proudly wear it across tracks.

“The name Enda ameans go. When you see guys cheering athletes when they are just about to cross the finishing line, that is the word you will hear. It will be like ‘enda enda mpite,’ ( Go and overtake).  So we figured that is the best name to give a company that is at least trying to work with athletes,” she said.

The story landed the businesses angel investors, individuals that were high net worth but were willing to invest in the potential for the Enda brand.

It is only now that the business has developed that she turned to venture capital which is more aggressive but helps the businesses scale up faster.

This suits her as she is a business founder on the run with eyes set on becoming one of the top 100 African brands and listing at the New York Stocks Exchange.

Ms Osembo said the training and mentorship she has received during the Jack Ma Africa Business Hero has prepared her for the next phase. It has helped her to focus on the business and what she wants and has helped her define her path.

She said the pitch practice was very intense that she now feels she knows the business more , just because she had to have so many things at my fingertips.

She also got to develop relationships with people across Africa, in Botswana, South Africa, and even at Ali-Baba, contacts she says will be crucial when she is sourcing for raw materials and markets abroad.

Most importantly, she got a chance to look at the industry and its potential, what all other companies have done and her biggest takeaway was thinking through what mark she wanted to leave behind.

She says her vision is Africa, having started in Kenya she is targeting an African supply chain to find people who can manufacture different things locally to make it an Africa brand “by look by  feel and by making”. So when you think Enda you automatically think Africa.

All these may feature in a book. She says she is writing an autobiography just because she does not want to forget when she is older, and  people ask her what exactly it felt like to live her dream.

Then again she is also writing a fiction novel which she says might never be published, it is just for herself because there is something when she writes it just takes her mind off, just like swimming.

“I learned how to swim this year. I had a big phobia for it but I said we are facing these demons this year and so I faced this demon and now I no longer sit on the edges looking at people enjoying themselves, it's such freedom, such freedom,” she said.