Big News: Kenya is About to Introduce the World to New Running Shoes
The Enda Iten, the debut design named after a small nondescript town in Kenya known for producing running champions.
In our shrinking world, phrases and idioms spread like wildfire, so if you’ve not heard the expression, “If the shoe fits, wear it,” you need to get out more!
This phrase has been attributed to everyone from Cinderella to fashionistas, so it’s appropriate to use “If the shoe fits, wear it” to profile a new shoe company that’s about to make a big splash on the international running shoe market.
Kenya’s first attempt at penetrating the crowded running shoe market is big news, and what a way to get the attention of runners who respect and admire Kenyan runners.
The company name is Enda Athletic (Enda is Swahili for “Go!”) and that’s just what you’ll do if you nab a pair of these shoes as soon as they become available.
One word of warning: First production runs won’t be huge, so if you crave getting in on the action early, you may wish to place your order now!
This shoe tells a story
What runner doesn’t imagine lightning fast runners when they hear the nation of Kenya mentioned?
It’s a fact: marathoners from Kenya make headlines every year thanks to their gazelle-like running styles and the number of titles they regularly collect, so it’s the most natural progression in the world for Kenyans to morph their pride in their country into an enterprise that so ideally supports this athletic claim to fame.
Fact is, Kenyans have been running long distances for around 60,000 years, so they know a thing or two about how to maximize speed and distance.
Can a Kenyan shoe turn you into a Kenyan runner?
Now, wouldn’t that be amazing! According to the Enda Athletic founders Navalayo (Nava) Osembo-Ombati and Weldon Kennedy, every child in Kenya is raised to be a runner.
As a result, a deep, strong culture of running pervades the nation in which children grow up in a society where their heroes are runners, not musicians, athletes and movie stars. Such a culture instils powerful aspirations in children that are reinforced when they run at school and find strong, enthusiastic communities of supportive people who inspire and encourage the pursuit of excellence.
Is it any wonder the time has come for an athletic shoe that embodies this nation’s passion for and commitment to running?
The Kenyans behind the shoes
When entrepreneurs Osembo-Ombati and Kennedy began to explore the idea of a Kenyan running shoe business in 2015, they quickly realized that starting from scratch would be no picnic, but they were undaunted.
The two waded through the implications of import and export challenges, a quality control system, design and manufacturing demands and, importantly, they required enough funding to turn this clever idea into reality. Serendipity pushed the two forward when the U.S. renewed the African Growth and Opportunities Act in 2015 that would allow duty-free imports to enter the U.S. for 10 years.
A sign from the gods? Perhaps, because in addition to launching this new enterprise, they knew that Kenya’s economy and labour force would both benefit greatly.
Overcoming the odds
It’s one thing to decide to produce athletic shoes in Kenya. It’s another to come up with the millions of dollars it takes to set up production. Kennedy and Osembo-Ombati knew a lack of equipment and the type of factory set-up required to produce shoes wasn’t available anywhere in Kenya, so they did what so many start-ups do these days: they outsourced shoe components in Asia, arranging with a running shoe production facility in China to make components and ship them to Kenya where the shoes are constructed and packaged for shipment around the world.
Internet sales will jumpstart the company's efforts, but the Enda Athletic crew believe the sky’s the limit for future retailing efforts once the brand is established.
First class engineering
The Enda Athletic start-up team worked with Jones and Vining, a firm with 80+ years of experience developing shoe lasts to make sure fit is precise.
These shoes are designed with a 4mm drop inspired by the gait of Kenyan runners who land on the balls of their feet. A wider toe box means no squashed toes, there’s 21mm of cushioning under the heel and 17mm under the forefoot, yet these lightweight shoes weigh only 7.9 ounces.
A full rubber outsole promises protection on pavement and a solid grip on trails, so if you encounter rugged terrain, your foot is going to compensate for the change automatically thanks to the outsole design.
Designed to pay tribute to Kenya
When you shop for shoes, you rarely find styles that pay tribute to the country in which they’re made, but Enda Iten is all about symbolism, color and pride. Shoe colors are drawn from the Kenyan flag, the company logo incorporates a powerful, iconic spear tip, there are 12 lines on the Enda Iten’s lateral sides to pay tribute to Kenya’s independence day on 12/12 and heels emulate Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, home to most of Kenya’s world-famous running stars.
If you check out the shoe’s sole, you’ll see the word “Harambee.” This is Kenya’s motto: “All pull together.” Repeating triangle motifs and geometric patterns, each representing Kenya’s vividly-patterned fabrics and beadwork, are embellished on the outsole, the heel strap and side mesh areas.
When can you get yours?
Like all maiden voyages, the Enda Iten team has built plenty of lead time into their start-up plans so literal and figurative bumps in the road could be ironed out before bringing these first shoes to market.
Currently fundraising efforts via Kickstarter are inching closer to the company’s goal with investors getting onboard every day.
From the get-go, the Enda Iten project was set to roll out in 2017, which is when shoes become available. On the other hand, become a Kickstarter investor and get a pair as a perk, in addition to heartfelt thanks from an ambitious new company on a mission to put Kenya on the world's athletic shoe map.
In a universe that's filled with many excellent running shoe brands, does the story behind this start-up make you more or less likely to order a pair for yourself?