Kenya has the best runners in the world. Isn’t it ironic, then, that a country with such a record didn’t have its own running shoe till now?
For years, Kenyan athletes have had to purchase running shoes from foreign brands because there was no local option. That has now changed, thanks to Navalayo Osembo-Ombati, founder and CEO of Enda Sportswear. Navalayo saw an opening, went in, and delivered. Kenya now has it’s first running shoe, it’s first sneaker.
Navalayo is an accountant and an advocate of the High Court of Kenya. She is also a mother of two and an entrepreneur. After travelling the world, she went back home to Bungoma, Kenya. She had seen how sports could transform lives, so she started a project that she envisioned would make a difference in her home town. The project was a sports academy.
Navalayo poured herself into her project. She gave everything she had to it. Unfortunately, it failed.
Though she was devastated, it ended up working out—just not in the way she had expected. “Starting a sports academy that doesn’t take off can be the foundation of taking you to a place where you meet like-minded people and end up on a totally different business path. This is a true story – it’s how I ended up starting Enda,” she says in an interview about lessons learned from failure.
In 2015, Navalayo met Weldon Kennedy “over a mutual interest in dramatically increasing the amount Kenya benefits from its well-earned reputation in running”. Together, they co-founded the company Enda Sportswear, “Enda” meaning go in Kiswahili. The first shoe rolled off of production two years later.
Navalayo and Weldon approached New York-based design studio Birdhaus to create a running shoe. Birdhaus has worked with Under Armour and Reebok. Navalayo and Weldon were very clear about wanting to work with Kenyan athletes; they wanted the running shoe to be “based on the advice, skills, and experiences of great Kenyan athletes”, they told CNN.
After 10-13 prototypes, the Enda Iten shoe was released. Iten is a small town in Rift Valley, Kenya, famous for being one of the world’s capitals of running. Many of Kenya’s elite runners come from and/or train in Iten – the high altitude gives them a lung capacity advantageous for long-distance running.
The Enda Iten features a light upper wide toe box and a 4mm “drop” which is the sole to floor spacing. According to Enda Sportswear, the 4mm drop can make a big difference in the way you run. The shoe comes in the colors of the Kenyan flag – red, black, and green sneakers with a white outsole – and has twelve grooves to represent the day the country gained independence, December 12, 1963. The company’s logo is based on a spear which is also found on the Kenyan flag.
The shoes were at first produced in China and later in Kenya. “We’re not quite yet at 100% made in Kenya for our current product lines but we are working hard to getting there. For now, we add sufficient value to qualify for the made in Kenya label as we work towards the 100%,” Navalayo explains.
The company has raised money through Kickstarter crowdfunding campaigns and they have had support from the UK, the U.S., Australia, Myanmar, and the Netherlands.
By March 2019, the Enda Iten had sold more than 4000 pairs worldwide.
The company currently has two running shoes: the Enda Iten and the Lapatet. “Lapatet” is Kalenjin for running. The Lapatet shoe was launched early this year. The company reportedly spent 18 months designing and testing the Lapatet with elite Kenyan athletes. 91 runners around the world backed the company in creating the Lapatet in a crowdfunding campaign. Enda Sportswear raised Sh1.2 million ($12,000) within 2 hours of the product launch.
Enda Sportswear has been well-received by Kenyan athletes and other people as well. Kenyan marathon runner Justin Lagat, who has been using the shoes for training, noted that they are very comfortable. He told CNN, “They feel comfortable in training and are light and durable. They also look stylish and are the kind of shoes that you can wear to any occasion without raising eye-brows. I used to hate wearing sports shoes to church, but it is not the same with Enda.”
Enda has been endorsed by Academy Award-winning Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o. “I was really impressed….It’s about time that we had a home-grown sneaker. So I like the innovation behind it, and decided to support it,” Lupita said in an interview with Complex Media.
Lupita wearing the Enda Iten shoe
Last month, Enda Sportswear signed its first deal with a rugby team and club players. The Stanbic Mwamba team will be wearing Enda Sportswear during the 2019/2020 season campaign. The men’s 7s team was provided with 25 pairs of the Enda Iten. Though rugby players compete in rugby boots, they spend 80% of general preparations, training, and drills in flats – running shoes.
Mwamba coach Jeff Onyango says that their speed development, acceleration, plyometrics and agility runs must be done in trainers. Training in boots leads to injuries of the lower extremities.
“It is crafted for a natural mid-foot strike and faster training runs. Great ground-feel and flexibility help build foot-strength and let you get the most from your workouts,” he said of the Enda Iten.
Navalayo has started numerous business ventures before which failed. She tried sugarcane farming, wedding consultancy, a children’s sports academy, and retailing clothes. In her own words, she “failed her way to success”.
“Success and failure are not linear. That is, you don’t fail, overcome, use the lessons learned to turn things around and become a success. It doesn’t always go that way. Success is part opportunity, part preparation,” she says.