Your purpose won’t necessarily be clear, you must be willing to try different things till you figure what it is.
Personality of the week: Navalayo Osembo, CEO, Enda.
Navalayo Osembo, a sports enthusiast, is a Law and Accounting graduate.
Her desire to create Kenya’s first running shoe company stemmed from the belief that Kenyans should benefit from the multi billion-dollar running shoe industry due to their prominence in the sport.
Enda (meaning “Go” in Swahili) has gone above and beyond to create the right fit for athletes and also be a fashion statement.
She talks about how Enda has created job opportunities for people and why Kenya should push for export-oriented contract manufacturing as a means of bringing together the creativity of Kenyan youth and idle capacity in existing manufacturing facilities.
Kenyan athletes have put Kenya on the map with their winning streak in long distance running, breaking and setting new world records. Enda, a Kenyan based company, has also set a new record as the first African company to create high-performance running shoes.
We caught up with Navalayo Osembo, the CEO of Enda to get the story on how they created such awesomeness that has been acknowledged globally by the likes of Fast Company, BBC, CNN and gotten endorsed by Kenyan athletes and Lupita Nyongo.
Please give us a bit of background on who you are?
My name is Navalayo Osembo. I am the CEO of Enda, a company that capitalizes on the skills and experience of Kenyan athletes to make performance running shoes. We are the only ones doing it in Africa. I have a background degree in Law and I am also a CPA. I also have a Masters degree in International Development.
How was the idea of Enda birthed?
I was in the right place at the right time with the right people. I have always had a big interest in sports and was talking about Kenya’s untapped potential in sports. I had been asking myself why we have a great reputation in running but have not done much with it. My cofounder was in the audience and he perfectly understood what I was talking about. After initial discussions, we decided to make running shoes in Kenya.
Why was it important for you to use Enda to tell the Kenyan story?
There’s lots of negative stories out there about Kenya. For example, on terrorism, politics or corruption. That’s not to deny that they happen but there are other stories too of creativity, entrepreneurship and other positive things. To paraphrase Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Kenya is not a single story. I saw the opportunity to capitalize on the great reputation that we already have. I also felt that it was important to have an ethical brand that challenges the existing running footwear industry, and more so, a brand from Kenya, the home of running champions.
An athlete in Enda running shoes.
You happen to be a Lawyer and an Accountant. How do you choose which hat to wear? Has having diverse skills helped you be successful?
I don’t think knowledge works in silos. It just gives you information that when put together, helps you make better decisions.
Enda’s mission embodies the Harambee spirit and is keen on creating a social impact. What social impact project are you most proud of?
Definitely Hoops for Kids, a sports organization in Korogocho that teaches children life skills, such as leadership, negotiation, teamwork and hard work, through sports. These skills are important to all of us, as they teach resilience, and how to weather through life’s storms. As Enda, we also create social impact through job creation and also changing the way the world sees Kenya.
Lupita Nyong’o recently endorsed Enda while sneaker shopping with Complex. How did that feel?
It was really great and I’m eternally grateful for her support. One of the things I have learned from her is that we need to support each other. The global running market is huge and in as much as we are taking it head on with gusto, getting wind in our sails especially from Lupita was great.
What would you say is the biggest challenge for businesses like yours?
Capital. The running shoe industry is very much a marketing game and we went in knowing fully well that we have to be creative in overcoming this shortfall. The manufacturing industry also requires significant investments in assets. What worked for us was contract manufacturing which I highly advocate for. Looking at our generation, we don’t have super rich parents, we are just ordinary people from ordinary families. People have great ideas and don’t have capital but then we have factories that exist but they don’t have the capacity. We can tap into the culture of shared economies where idle capacity is rented out to local entrepreneurs that don’t have sufficient funds to start a factory but enough to rent out some capacity. Much like the kadogo economy but on a larger scale.
Between the two models of shoes that you have, i.e., the Lapatet and Iten, which one is your favorite model?
Both. They serve different purposes. The Iten is a lightweight trainer ideal for shorter runs and the Lapate a daily trainer that are great for longer runs. They both have their functions and if you are a runner, you need both.
While recently giving a talk on TEDx Parklands, you shared sentiments on how patriarchy has been the stumbling block for the growth of women-led business in Africa. How can women entrepreneurs get past this and how can the society support?
It’s simply just about freeing up women’s time to pursue things outside the domestic sphere, if they wish to do so. Society and culture places the burden of domestic chores on women. If a woman wants to succeed outside that sphere, then she needs a very reliable family and social network. IIn my opinion, the question on how to increase the number of women-led business, lies as much in giving women time as it is about resource access. People ask how I started Enda and when I think about it, I was able to do it because I have a lot of freedom to do what I want to do and I have a supportive family that forms a very strong support network. My wish would be that all women have that option.
I believe this is changing?
Change, I believe, can only be measured or felt most by the person who is on the receiving end of things. If that person says change has happened, then change has happened. But most of the women I speak to still say that I am “lucky” to have a family that allows me to take risks. Therefore, while gender equity has been long talked about and measures put in place to improve it, change is yet to be felt by those on the receiving end of things.
What or who do you attribute your success to?
I can’t attribute it to one thing or person because my journey involves a lot of people and experiences. It truly does take a village.
Being the first one to do this in Africa, what advice would you give to the people who think their ideas are crazy?
You won’t know until you try. A lot of people are afraid to try. You only live once, you wake up today and tomorrow is not guaranteed. People take time for granted. You have to know that this life ends but at the end of it all will you have achieved your purpose? Your purpose won’t necessarily be clear, you must be willing to try different things till you figure what it is.
Where can people buy Enda shoes?
On our website - Enda Sportswear. We also do pop ups, which we advertise on our social media pages, and do same day delivery in Nairobi. Outside Nairobi, as well as in the US, takes 2-3 days.