“I decided to make school shoes for children because, as a parent and having bought countless pairs for my son, I’d seen the worst of school shoes,” says Nyambura Thuo, the founder of Funpatch, a brand that manufactures school shoes for children. Nyambura is 39 and mother to three; they’re 18, eight and five years old.
She continues, “For my first born son Alvin, I remember him in primary school dragging his shoes because the sole was so heavy and the top didn’t fit his foot properly, yet he had to wear them the whole day and play in them. We were also buying what we could find in our shops because there wasn’t much choice in brands. The ones imported from China but they were not durable. Hand-me-downs and mitumba were not a good idea because the foot of every child wears shoes differently.” Nyambura sips from her mug of hot chocolate. “School shoes are not cheap – a new pair costs between Sh1, 200 and Sh2, 000. Brands like Clarks make shoes that are of high quality and are light but they’re expensive, one pair costs about Sh4,000.”
Nyambura pauses reflectively. “I wanted to revolutionise the school shoe. I wanted to offer a pocket-friendly alternative to parents and the right features to the growing feet of children.”
Before getting into her shoe business fulltime in June 2016, Nyambura worked as a communications expert in the NGO world. “I graduated from Kenyatta University in 2001 with an undergraduate in food nutrition and diatetics,” she says. “Immediately after my graduation, I volunteered with AMREF for two years. I learned so much and grew as an individual in that time: I learned project development, organisational skills, HR, budgeting. In 2003, I was given a permanent position as an information officer in one of the projects – I was part of a pioneering team that used technology to disseminate information and knowledge to rural communities across Kenya. This project sparked my interest in communication.”
Nyambura continues, “In 2005, I started my Masters in development communication. I graduated in 2008 then left AMREF because I needed the change to conquer new horizons. I joined Action Africa in January 2009 to launch their communications department.” Nyambura catches her breath. “I was in that position for eight years before becoming the country projects manager; I supervised a team of 10 that worked in five countries across East Africa. It’s here that I developed a new interest in knowledge and information management. I wanted skills to back my interest so I applied up for a Masters in information management from a university in the UK, it’s distance learning programme. I’ll graduate this December then take a break before doing a PhD in the same. My ultimate plan is to become a lecturer.”
It was after she’d had her daughter in 2013 that Nyambura got the idea for business. She says, “I’d had difficulty finding quality baby products at the right price. For example, I couldn’t find a 3-in-1 potty locally. Knowing the plight of other mother’s like me is what inspired me to think of a business in the line of children. I didn’t want to merchandise clothes and toys, I wanted a unique and functional product that would give children a holistic development. “
Nyambura spent the next three years planning for her business: she put aside money in her savings, discussed with her husband the dynamics of three kids and one salary, and extensively researched product ideas. In January 2016, she zeroed in on manufacturing school shoes for children and collaborated with a professional to design it. She quit her job in June then made a trip to China that October to find a factory. “The manufacturer I settled on was a reputable company that also makes shoes for brands in Europe and the States. I was happy with their standards.”
Nyambura pulled from her savings and borrowed from her chama to raise the capital to manufacture the first batch of 1,100 pairs. The batch arrived in Kenya in March 2017, she’s selling them online.
Nyambura explains the features of her school shoes: “They have a Velcro strap for easy and quick wearing, not shoelaces. The inside of the shoe is made from a soft cloth lining; the lining makes the shoes breathable and comfortable to wear with socks. They have a rounded forefoot to make room for the child’s toes to move comfortably. For the sole, we used rubber because it can bend and won’t crack when the child is walking or playing. The shoes for bigger sizes have a ragged sole for slip resistance. As you can feel, the shoe itself is very light. The material is a mix of pure and manmade leather, making it waterproof and easy to clean.”
Nyambura adds, “Right now we’re only making shoes in one design and for girls only, in size 26 to 36. The small size costs Sh2,200 and the big size Sh2,275. We’ll start stocking shoes for boys in these same sizes from December, when I’m able to access more financing to manufacturer a bigger batch. We’ll also make shoes in other designs and in colour brown, to give parents variety.” About the hurdle of marketing, she says, “I’m looking to partner with a distributor to stock them across the country.”