Edem Jimbo: US- based Kenyan creator makes waves with his footwear and music


US based Kenyan designer and music producer Edem Jimbo modelling his Tombo brand of footwear.  PHOTO | BILL ODIDI | NMG

“I was born in Kenya, spent my childhood in Kenya and Botswana, went to school in Iowa, I live in Dallas and have networks around the world. I am a global citizen,” says footwear designer Edem Jimbo.” I love all genres of African music, and I use music to connect people to African culture,” he says during an interview via Zoom from his home in the US.

The 42-year-old, Kenyan creator of the Tombo footwear brand is also the Creative Director for the annual African Muzik Magazine Awards Music Awards (Afrimma).

“African music has exploded in the last 10 years, likewise African clothing designs, the tops, the dresses, but the footwear is missing. So, I was like, “what if I make this shoe but tie it with what I love, which is music.”

Jimbo’s art is also connected to his love of basketball, and the game’s association with the sneaker culture. His first experiment was painting over an old pair of Nike sneakers and then he painted the image of dancers in an African village on Vans shoes. When he posted the pictures online, many people responded by saying how “cool” the shoes looked.

Standing at 6’3, other basketball players called him Tombo, by shortening the name of the legendary Congolese-American NBA player Dikembe Mutombo.

“One time, I was called by my official name and everyone said “No, you are not Edem, you are Tombo. The Tombo brand is about embracing your personality and culture,” he explains.

Edem Kodjo Jimbo was born in Kisumu in 1981, and because his father was a government doctor who served in different parts of the country, he spent his childhood in Kapsabet, Kitui, Homa Bay, and Nairobi.

At the age of 8, he saw a friend’s sketch of an OTC bus (the popular long distance bus service of the 70s and 80s) and that inspired him to do his first drawing, but he never felt that his artwork was good enough.

In 1996 at the age of 16, the family moved to Botswana after his father got a job in the southern Africa country. Jimbo and his friends in Botswana formed a rap group and though that was short-lived, his interest in art and music was later revived in the US.


President of Botswana Mokgweetsi Masisi (left) receives a pair of Tombo footwear from the designer Edem Jimbo (left) and Nigerian entrepreneur John Olajide (centre) in Dallas, Texas in 2023. PHOTO | BILL ODIDI | NMG

“I was like, “since I love music, let me find people who are good at it and work with them”,” he recalls.

His dad had wanted him to study law in South Africa but he followed his dream and received a scholarship to study Art at Drake University, Iowa, in 2004. He was not disheartened by missing a basketball scholarship because he had a chance to pursue his passion in art.

A friend in Dallas sent him the song Salaam by Kenyan artist Makadem and he was hooked. When searching for the first Kenyan artist to collaborate with, then it had to be someone creating music that is authentic, and not just what is trending.

“I was like, “this guy, Makadem, he’s got an original style, he plays the nyatiti, why not collaborate.””

That resulted in Ban Piendi in 2021, a fusion of the nyatiti with electronic groove, that tells the story of Awuor, a girl who pursues her passion to be a dancer even though her parents want her to be a doctor. “I tell the artists the gist of a story and then I stay away and allow them to create the music on their own,” says Tombo.

Last year, he worked on My Tombos with two artists from Botswana, singer Alefa Amos and DJ Bino.

Jimbo is excited about musical projects for 2024, including a new song by South African singer Thembi Mona set for release this month, a fusion of amapiano and dancehall and an upcoming album by Ugandan Grammy Award nominee Eddie Kenzo.

“The Tombo tagline is ‘Look Like You’ so if music is a vehicle for communicating who you are, then fashion is another element of it and footwear is an important part because the last thing you wear when you dress up is your shoes, so why not have that as the stamp of your identity.”

The Tombo shoes are designed as slip-ons to allow the artist the space that would have been taken up by laces. There are two styles, the Weekend Waka with the painting depicting the girl who defies all the odds to become a dancer and the Ziggz designed to allow for different national colours.

The colours of Botswana and Uganda are complete, while the Kenyan model will be unveiled during the official launch of the footwear in the country later in the year. Jimbo is also connecting with artists around Africa to produce an album of 54 songs, representing each country. “I want to see all the African music genres and shoe brands rise up,” he concludes.

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