Kenyan athletic shoe maker enjoys pandemic boost

In the Kenyan coastal town of Kilifi, new pairs of running shoe are coming off the assembly line.

Though the global health crisis has been devastating for many businesses, the co-founder of Enda Sportswear says it has allowed her business to take great strides.

"The industry like, it just went up, up."

Navalayo Osembo-Ombati is a trained lawyer and accountant, who started out five years ago with a dream of leveraging athletic shoes off the legend of the country's runners.

She's now trying to build on a bump in sales over the past year.

"Running was the only thing allowed by most governments, it was the only other thing people could do by themselves in the open because gyms were closed."

But Enda, which was built on $120,000 raised from crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, is an exception.

A World Bank report in November warned that the pandemic has pushed two million more Kenyans into poverty.

Osembo-Ombati says manufacturing can create much needed jobs.

But she's frustrated at how difficult it is to secure capital in Kenya, citing legal requirements such as physical security.

"In addition to contract manufacturing, we have to really make crowdfunding popular in Kenya at least, or in Africa, because that way it allows, it removes all those gatekeepers, all those challenges you face on a day-to-day, it just basically means your idea stands for itself."

To free up funds, Enda teamed up with Umoja Rubber - a company that's been making shoes for the Kenyan market since the 1970s.

It produces the running shoes, allowing Enda to redirect capital that would have been needed for facilities and machinery.

Today Enda's shoes are heading to domestic and international clients.

And Osembo-Ombati has a dream of taking Enda Sportswear to the top three of global sports shoe companies in the next five years.

In business, just like in athletics, she says - a podium finish matters.

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