Meet Navalayo Osembo, Founder of Enda, Africa’s First Professional Running Shoes Company

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‘Enda’s inspiration comes from questioning why Kenya, with all her renowned reputation in running, does not make running shoes. It is about us as Kenyans moving from a mindset of consumption and being recipients of small tokens to being the manufacturers or the big players in an industry valued over $4 billion.’ – Navalayo

Navalayo Osembo is the CEO of Enda, a running footwear and apparel brand and production company that is building on and contributing to Kenya’s reputation as the global leader in distance running. Navalayo describes herself as having a curious mind, being a loyal friend and having a deep love for reading and seeking knowledge.  Back in 2015, she had an idea to create locally made running shoes but actual production started in 2017. She describes the initial process as being long and tedious.

Enda brings together world-class shoe designers, developers and Kenyan athletes to create performance running shoes that capture the skills and experience of Kenyan athletes. Navalayo is also a cohort of the Creative DNA, a program under the British Council’s East African Arts. This programme supports young and upcoming entrepreneurs financially, helping them develop skills, knowledge and networks in Kenya as well as in the UK.

 How would you describe yourself?

My name is Navalayo Osembo and I am the co-founder and CEO of Enda, the first company in Kenya and Africa to make professional running shoes. I would describe myself as a curious person who always questions things, an avid reader, a fierce and loyal friend, and someone committed to doing good in this world while I am on it.

What is your identity as an artist/creative?

My identity as a creative is rooted in trying to find a way to make life better for people, be it through my company or my personal initiatives. Looking at history, Kenya and Africa have so much potential, but generation after generation, we squander that potential with the hope that the next generation will be the redeemers. I think about this a lot and hence why I want my work to be part of something that builds communities and expands opportunities for others. That is why Enda is built on increasing Kenya’s share of the global running footwear and apparel industry and why at Enda, we give 2% of our revenues to community projects.

What is the inspiration behind Enda?

Enda’s inspiration comes from questioning why Kenya, with all her renowned reputation in running, does not make running shoes. It is about us as Kenyans moving from a mindset of consumption and being recipients of small tokens to being the manufacturers or the big players in an industry valued over $4 billion dollars. We also draw inspiration from Kenyan athletes, the culture of Kenyan running and the African tradition of transmitting history and stories orally from one generation to the next. We tell stories through subtle design cues in our product that pay ode to Kenya and running history. We hope that through these inspirations, the story of Kenya and Kenyan running can be told in a way that reflects our pride in our culture.

As a young female CEO, what challenges do you face every day in your work?

I like to think of myself simply as a CEO rather than a female CEO. At the end of the day, a CEO’s job is to steer the company to success, overcoming challenges such as creating a product that the market wants, ensuring the product is in stock at all times, raising funds for the growth of the business, finding new markets and ensuring that all stakeholders are catered to. It is not an easy job but then again if it was, everyone would be doing it. I do look forward to the challenges because by overcoming them, we achieve our goals as a team, which is important when thinking about the ultimate vision of Kenya becoming the source of the world’s best running shoes.

How did you come to be part of Creative DNA/ EAA?

I have always kept close contact with the Metta community and when the Creative DNA/EAA program was launched, I heard about it from the team at Metta. I was interested because it had a fashion element to it and while we started off as a running shoe, fashion was something that still felt daunting and I wanted to be part of a community that would help us figure out that part of the business.

What impact has the support from EAA had on your creative journey?

Support has been varied, from classes with local and international experts on fashion and the mechanics of running a business, to being part of a wonderful cohort of fashion entrepreneurs that have really improved my knowledge on the fashion business. We also received financial support that we are currently using to launch our maiden capsule collection that is focused on the lifestyle of a runner.

What opportunities have you gotten from being a cohort of the programme?

I have been part of digital conversations surrounding the London Fashion Week and benefited from press coverage on my brand and the programme. Most importantly, I have gotten the opportunity to partner with an upcoming designer from the cohort and very much looking forward to launching the collection that we are working on.

What are the challenges that you face in business?

 1. Working capital financing – this is challenging for a capital-intensive business like ours since at any one time, cash is tied up in stocks. We’re looking at different options for affordable working capital financing and hope to find one soon.

  1. Logistics – moving goods is expensive, whether its within Africa and outside it. Services are unreliable, non-tariff barriers are in abundance and all that adds up to the cost of doing business. We’re waiting to see how much the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will change that, at least for trade with other African countries. Different tax regimes, especially customs, can be expensive for customers too and prevents a smooth customer experience when both we or the customer are not sure of what to expect from the tax authorities in their countries.
  1. Digital marketing – as an online direct-to-consumer brand, figuring out digital marketing is an important element for our success. There’s no silver bullet and we are always continuously learning to see what works as we are determined to be a top 3 global running shoe brand in the near future.

How important it is for you to incorporate your heritage and traditions to your art?

Incorporating Kenyan history and running culture into our products is critical to our identity and success as a brand. From the way we name our products to the designs we incorporate; everything is steeped in heritage and tradition. For example, our debut lightweight trainer is called Iten, after the town in Rift Valley that is also known as the home of champions. Our daily trainers are called Lapatet, which means ‘run’ in Kalenjin. Both our shoes feature designs that represent the Rift Valley, as well as designs that include the Kitenge and Kikoi fabrics and the word ‘Harambee’ is imprinted on the sole of every sole we produce. These are just a few examples of how much heritage and traditions are key to our brand.

What makes you and your product stand out from the rest?

Enda is the only running shoe company based out of Africa and we are proud to be making our shoes in Kenya, the home of running champions.

What are your aspirations? Where do you want to be in the next 5years?

In the next 3 years, I want Enda to be one of the top three running shoe brands in the world. That, of course, means creating more jobs in Kenya and making more investments in the running community.

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