Varsheeni Raghupathy started making sandals inspired by the equator two years.
When she was working with youth in rural areas in Kenya to help them get jobs, she realised that no one was making sandals.
She raised money for the shoes workshop through a Kickstarter Campaign which had a goal of Sh1 million but ended up making over Sh2.1million.
She used the money to buy machines for the workshop located in Nairobi’s Industrial Area and train workers.
“I work with a designer called Deva who used to work with an Italian company designing footwear. He trains people on making sandals that can compete with Italian products,” says Varsheeni, adding that she aims to put Kenya on the map for manufacturing leather footwear.
Her inspiration came from Kenyan brands such as Adele Dejak and Kiko Romeo, which use African fabric to create contemporary designs. While there were designers specialising in bags, jewellery and clothing, none stood out when it came to footwear, she says. “Everyone was doing the same Maasai stuff. We wanted to do something different but take inspiration from using age-old fabrics. We, for instance, use mud cloth sourced from West Africa and even have customers in Nigeria who want to come with their own fabric, get the sandals made here, then they take them home,” she says.
While firms that deal in leather have a lot of waste during the cutting, at Ikwetta’s workshop, all the waste makes additional goods like cardholders and tassels.
Varsheeni says, for instance, there is a bag being made entirely out of scraps in the workshop. She sources her leather from the same producers that sell to Zara, Pull & Bear, among others.
Ikwetta sandals range from Sh3,000 to Sh4,500 while wedges go for between Sh3,800 to Sh8,000. Initially, only producing women’s sandals, many of their new products have been added because customers asked for them. Now they have hand-painted bags, men’s sandals, seasonal children sandals and baby moccasins.
“We also export our products and sell them from Sh12,000 onwards, but in Kenya we want to keep them affordable,” says Varsheeni who also does white label manufacturing for various brands around the world, including America’s Bartique Bags.