The ENZI Footwear is the creation of four friends brought together for the love of sneakers with a passion to change the perception of Africa. Azi Mengistu is the Operations Manager stationed in Addis Ababa, Christian Ward is the “globe trotting salesman, Jawad Braye is the designer and Sam Imende manages the business side of things, stationed in Nairobi.
The brand is based on a stronger sneaker culture. For those who grew up with addidas/converse who are now a bit more mature and still want to identity with the sneaker culture on a premium level will be drawn to Enzi footwear.
“Our collection of footwear and apparel combines high quality materials sourced in East Africa with a commitment to expert design, craftsmanship and responsible labor practices.”
ENZI Footwear started conceptually when three of them returned to Nairobi and spoke of doing something that would reflect the cool parts of the Kenyan culture that they knew and not the stereotypes found abroad. Later it developed into a shoe brand where one of them, Jawad, began designing the shoe. Jawad went to the London School of Fashion and ended up in the prestigious Cordwainers College in London. Since then, Jawad has been creating designs for different footwear brands.
With Jawad’s strong portfolio and his experience, he is currently working with a footwear development agency in Paris. The benefit of working in a few small companies is that Jawad has a strong design background but also a good developer background which he has directly applied to Enzi Footwear. “He knows the structure and capacity of production because he has had to make a shoe from scratch” says Sam Imende.
Seeing as though they grew up here, they initially looked for potential production in Kenya. One of the partners, Azi, moved to Ethiopia and saw an emerging leather industry with complementary footwear and other finished goods. Jawad went down there for a couple of months, looking at the factories and one thing that blew him away was the quality of the leather. He had been working with different materials but Sam recalls him saying that Ethiopia had some of the best leather he had come across. They were able to produce a prototype and experiment in one of the factories. This was the beginning of Enzi Footwear.
During this time, Sam Imende was in business school when the prototype had been produced. “So I kind of jumped on a more entrepreneurial track.” He moved back to Nairobi 2 years ago to help with business development and marketing sales. They launched their first line of footwear, the Meneliks, in London in 2012 in Camden Town. Sam Imende stated “it was a cool launch and gave us exposure. This led us to be in a couple of stores in London and later in Hong Kong through one of the partners based there in 2012.”
In describing the fashion industry in Kenya, Sam Imende states “it is very exciting and very young with a range of different styles and quality. You find a lot of people trying to get by on their own. Yes there are fashion shows and craft fairs, but for those who don’t have deep pockets- a lot of the people are still in the trenches.”
“One of the things you learn over time is a patient- long-term approach.”
He further explained that competition is real and stems not only from mitumba but foreign brands coming into the country most particularly from South Africa. Sam then explained the different target markets out there in the following manner: the low cost price sensitive fashion conscious consumers; the high end (zen garden high tea) expat oriented community and the middle class (that everyone is banking on) who still choose to buy things abroad. “If you are using African inspired items, there is the danger of people saying that I can get my tailor to do the same for me.”
Discussing the sneaker culture in Kenya, Sam explains from his experience that more people in Kenya have a smart shoes culture rather than premium sneakers. “When they think premium, they think dressy. But there are those who are getting it. It’s good to see Clarks and Zara coming into the country, which shows growth for a company like Enzi.”
With regard to local appreciation and support of local brands in Kenya, Sam remarks that it takes time to develop a loyal customer base that supports you. He does however explain that, as a means to change the status quo in the fashion industry, people are looking to collaborate and promote a culture of wearing brands from Kenya.
“Granted that I have been in the country for two years but after visiting the same trade shows, fashion events and speaking to the same industry people talking about the same issues; I think the interest is there but it is undervalued and under supported.”
The vision of Enzi Footwear is to “to change the perception of Africa and develop its manufacturing capacity through the production of high quality and well designed footwear.” They are doing just that. With stores carrying their footwear collections in London and Hong Kong, Enzi Footwear is slowly but surely showing the world that Africa is capable of producing high quality luxury leather sneakers.
“Its so cool when we have a shoe in Tokyo and people are shocked when they are told its made in East Africa. Something changes in them” says Sam Imende. Enzi Footwear is proving able to change people’s perception on fashion in Africa as a unique identity and a reflection of culture. The celebrities wearing their shoes range from Bono and Geldof who received a pair as Christmas presents bought by the One Foundation Director when he was in Kenya as well as the Nigerian R&B duo, P- Square.
Enzi Footwear is presently working on a new collection including new styles of footwear and V-Neck T-shirts. Take a look and see why we love them, and the world is adopting them. Photos courtesy of Enzi Footwear.