Creatives Garage has undertaken the Shoejaa project, which focuses on designing and curating a shoe brand. The name "Shoejaa" is a combination of the words "shoe" and "shujaa," which means courageous or brave in Swahili. The name represents Kenya's patriotism and appreciation for its traditional heritage and the progress it has made.
Kenya possesses several advantages, such as being the fifth-largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa, having a well-educated labor force, advanced infrastructure, and a thriving financial services and information technology sector. However, the country faces challenges such as a trade imbalance, a weak currency, and limited value addition in certain industries.
The leather industry in Kenya has significant untapped potential. Despite Africa having a substantial livestock population, it only produces 4% of the world's leather. By processing and manufacturing leather into shoes, the value of Kenya's leather could increase twelvefold. Currently, only a small percentage of Kenya's leather exports are in the form of footwear, handbags, and other leather products.
Creatives Garage recognizes the creative industry as a means to address unemployment and contribute to Kenya's industrialization. The organization aims to build ecosystems that provide creatives in various art forms with access to markets, helping to position Kenya as an industrial hub.
To enhance the leather industry, a research study conducted by the Ministry of Industrialization and Enterprise Development recommends strategies such as promoting industry restructuring, increasing access to markets, and improving quality and standards throughout the value chain.
Kenya has cost advantages compared to other countries, and its preferential access to global markets makes it an attractive sourcing destination. However, the country's market share in the textile industry, particularly in the United States, is relatively low. There is an opportunity to expand Kenya's market share, enter new markets, and develop higher-value products, leading to increased GDP and job creation.
The imposition of an export tariff on raw hides and skins in 2009 has shifted the focus towards value addition in the leather industry. Creatives Garage recognizes the potential of ethical fashion and has positioned itself as an aggregator in the market. The Shoejaa shoe, Syokimau edition, was developed in collaboration with Leather Industries Kenya, supported by the Netherlands Embassy in Nairobi, PUM, and other partners.
Through workshops and engagement with shoe designers, Creatives Garage aimed to provide technical knowledge, familiarize designers with production processes, and introduce them to available materials and production capacity. The Shoejaa project aligns with the growing demand for ethical fashion and contributes to the development of Kenya's leather industry.
Overall, Creatives Garage's Shoejaa project seeks to leverage Kenya's potential in the leather industry, promote ethical fashion, and create economic opportunities for designers and the wider population.
Research Findings
After conducting a shoe design workshop to provide designers with technical knowledge and familiarize them with production processes, we proceeded with a digital campaign aimed at understanding Kenyans' shoe preferences. Through quantitative research, we gathered valuable insights. Here are the key findings:
Using the data from the research phase, we developed designs that reflect the market demands as well as have an authentic Kenyan feel to them. The materials that were preferred for these designs included leather, suede and soles made from used tyres. Our goal was to partner with the informal sector (Jua Kali artisans), we identified and commissioned artisans at the Kariakor market to make the shoes off the designs we created.
Thanks to the support of the Embassy of The Kingdom of The Netherlands in Nairobi, we were introduced to an organization called PUM. The organization matches businesses with experts from the Netherlands to advice on how to improve the business. Our need for this programme was to understand shoe making from a global perspective as we had envisioned that the Shoejaa Shoes would need to fit into best world practices to ensure quality production. Through this exchange, we were introduced to Theo Verbunt, who has been in the shoe industry for 40 years. This experience includes, shoe production and shoe trading that spans a global network. After a through walk through of the production capabilities of the partners we were working with (The artisans from the informal Sector and Leather Industries of Kenya), Theo gave us a quite candid view of how the sector is laid out from a practical perspective. His conclusions were:
 1. “The Kenyan shoe industry has practically come to a total halt. It’s not even sure but it could well be there are only 2 or 3 factories as still “standing”.
2. The imports of cheap footwear has grown to such an overwhelming volume from China and other South Asian countries for such low prices that the Kenyan footwear industry did not stand a chance anymore to even think about competing with these imports. The import duties –being very high- also did not protect the industry.
3. The same goes with the Kenyan suppliers of all kind of materials necessary to deliver to the shoe industry, s.a. leather, soles, insoles, laces, glue etc. hardly exist anymore.”
This view is further enforced when we noted that designers like Nyala and Danji shoes (Who are Kenyan) do their production outside Kenya. Nyala shoes are produced in Ethiopia while Danji shoes are produced in China
Based on the insights and information we gathered, we embarked on the development of Shoejaa shoes version 1.1. This involved a redesign of the shoes and a focus on the narrative that the shoe line aims to convey. We decided to center the Shoejaa shoes around Kenyan legends, drawing inspiration from the rich cultural heritage of the country.
Utilizing the knowledge we acquired from Theo and collaborating with the designers at Leather Industries, we worked closely with an artisan affiliated with Dan Shoes to create the prototype 1.1. This collaboration allowed us to leverage their expertise and craftsmanship in refining the design and bringing the Shoejaa shoes to life.
Legislation for production
Upon recognizing the need to streamline production and address the challenges we faced, we decided to explore the development of a policy paper that could be presented for legislation. To guide us through this process, we sought the expertise of our lawyer, who provided valuable insights.
Our lawyer explained that transforming an idea into a draft bill and ultimately passing it as legislation involves a complex and lengthy process. Here is a simplified illustration of the stages involved:
Policy Conceptualization: This is the initial stage where the idea for the policy is developed and refined. It includes conducting research, gathering data, and identifying the key objectives and desired outcomes of the policy.
Policy Formulation: In this stage, the policy is drafted, taking into account various considerations such as legal implications, stakeholder input, and feasibility. The policy document outlines the proposed measures and strategies to achieve the desired goals.
Consultation and Review: The draft policy is shared with relevant stakeholders, including government agencies, industry experts, and the public. Their input and feedback are sought to refine and improve the policy. This stage may involve workshops, public hearings, and expert consultations.
Policy Approval: After incorporating the necessary revisions, the policy is reviewed by relevant government bodies or ministries responsible for the specific sector. The policy may undergo further revisions based on their feedback before being approved.
Drafting the Bill: Once the policy is approved, it is translated into a formal legal document called a draft bill. The draft bill outlines the proposed law, its provisions, and the mechanisms for implementation. Legal experts and policymakers work on the technical details of the bill.
Legislative Process: The draft bill is presented to the legislative body, such as Parliament or Congress, for debate and consideration. It goes through multiple readings, discussions, and committee reviews. Amendments may be proposed and incorporated into the bill.
Voting and Enactment: The final version of the bill is subjected to a vote in the legislative body. If it receives majority support, it is passed as an enacted law. The law is then signed by relevant authorities, such as the President or Prime Minister, and becomes legally binding.
While understanding the process was valuable, we realized that due to resource constraints, pursuing the legislative route at that time was not feasible for us. Nonetheless, we remained committed to finding alternative ways to address the challenges in the industry and streamline our production process.

After realizing that our initial production partner was incapable of delivering our shoe designs, we encountered various challenges in finding a suitable manufacturer. The factory in Thika, which we had initially partnered with, had limited production capacity and could only manufacture the upper part of a shoe, primarily focusing on working boot uppers. They were unable to produce the desired soles for our Shoejaa Shoe line.
We also discovered that the artisans at Kariakor market, who had helped us create the first prototype (1.0), lacked the expertise to translate our designs into the type of shoe we envisioned. Their craftsmanship did not meet our quality standards, and we doubted their ability to mass-produce the shoes. As a result, we sought out another local shoe maker named Dan, who operated from a stall in a market in Nairobi's Eastlands area. Although Dan demonstrated good craftsmanship and could manufacture the updated designs, the production process was time-consuming, taking two months just to obtain the samples. Continuing to work with Dan to produce even small quantities would result in lengthy production times.
Faced with these constraints, we explored alternative production options. We initially attempted to establish partnerships with production plants in Ethiopia but faced difficulties due to unresponsiveness. We then turned to India, following insights from Theo about production capabilities in the country. However, we discovered that production costs in India were expensive, making it economically impractical considering the market demand for a cost-effective shoe. Consequently, we shifted our focus to sourcing production from China.
Our efforts in China proved successful, as we found numerous factories capable of producing the designs of our Shujaa Shoe line with the desired materials for the uppers and soles. However, these factories required a minimum order of 1000 pairs to produce the samples. Fortunately, we eventually connected with a manufacturer in China who was willing to work with us and produce the shoes. Their requirement was a minimum order of 100 pairs to produce the samples.
Working with this manufacturer, we were able to finalize the production of the shoes for the market. The uppers are made of high-quality cow leather, ensuring durability and aesthetic appeal. The inner soles consist of memory foam, providing an ergonomic fit, moisture-wicking properties, and comfort. The outsoles are made of direct injection rubber, offering durability and functionality.
In summary, despite encountering challenges and exploring various options, we successfully found a manufacturing partner in China who could produce the high-quality and aesthetically pleasing Shoejaa shoes that meet the demands of the market.
Based on our research and project experiences, we have drawn the following conclusions:
1. Revival of Kenyan industries: Despite the slowdown in production in Kenya, there is a positive shift towards revitalizing industries in the country. The Kenyan government's establishment of a leather industrial park, which will house tanneries and shoe production plants, is a significant step towards stimulating growth in the sector. Our partners, Leather Industries of Kenya, have already committed to relocating to the park once it becomes operational. This development indicates that the capacity for mass production of shoes in Kenya is on the horizon, providing opportunities for the future expansion of Shujaa shoes.
2. Machinery investment: During our visit to India, we encountered an equipment manufacturer with a machine capable of producing 50 pairs of plastic shoes per hour. This highlighted the trend of global markets adopting advanced manufacturing technologies. To compete with imported shoes and tap into the global market, it is crucial for local designers and manufacturers in Kenya to invest in modern machinery. By acquiring such equipment, we can enhance production efficiency and meet the evolving demands of the industry.
3. Partnership with the informal sector: Our observations revealed that the informal sector lacks expertise in shoe manufacturing. However, we identified an opportunity to collaborate with a select group of artisans from the informal sector to transfer the knowledge and skills we have gained throughout this project. By establishing partnerships with these artisans, even before the establishment of the leather industrial park, we can share our insights and support their development. This collaboration would foster skill enhancement and prepare them for future opportunities in the industry.
In summary, we foresee promising prospects for the Kenyan shoe industry, particularly with the forthcoming leather industrial park. To fully capitalize on these opportunities, it is crucial to invest in modern machinery for improved production capabilities. Additionally, partnering with artisans from the informal sector can contribute to their skill development and pave the way for a stronger, more competitive local industry.
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