Danson Manjewa is an interior designer who has big contracts and clients to his name. Some are the Boma Hotel in Eldoret and Nairobi and the FCB Mihrab on Lenana Road.
The 33-year-old has however taken his designing skills to the next level as the brains behind DanjeShoes, a brand of casual men’s shoes that hit the market in December.
Although not a household name yet in the footwear industry, his designs are finding space among young middle class and celebrities like Daniel Ndambuki (Churchill) who have been spotted wearing DanjeShoes.
DanjeShoes are made in China where Mr Manjewa has contracted two factories — one to design his unique soles and another to assemble the finished product.
“I wanted something unique…something which I knew could not be done locally,” Mr Manjewa, who studied interior design at Maseno University, told Enterprise.
“China has a wider range of leather to work with and a complete ecosystem for the production of footwear keen on workmanship, production capacity and quick turnaround time.”
Mr Manjewa started out drawing many items, a passion that led him to sketching shoes while in secondary school. It was then that he developed an interest in men’s shoes, inspired by footwear adverts in local magazines.
“I began doing design sketches until 2013 when I decided to register a company and a year later decided to dust off my files and make my childhood dream come true,” he said.
Armed with a portfolio of sketches, he boarded an airplane to Guangzhou, China where he believed he would get the unique product he was seeking at a price that would be affordable to his target clientele.
He pumped in Sh2.5 million from his savings and a commercial bank loan.
“In China, we started out with the outsole design. It took three alterations during the prototype stage before I settled on what is in the market,” said Mr Manjewa.
“We then moved on to the shoe prototype phase where we did more than 20 pairs trying out different leathers and shoe designs.”
MR Manjewa says his team spent eight months prototyping and testing the designs to come up with the final product which was launched in December last year.
Sh6,500 a pair
His shoes come in three different colours: blue, black and beige. They shipped in 240 pairs and were well received, selling 70 pairs within the first month at a cost of Sh6,500 a pair.
Many buyers were impressed by the simple but unique design, quality and branding of the shoes which led some to think they were some known brand, he says.
While many would assume that producing shoes in China makes them automatically cheaper than local production, that is not always the case.
Production costs depend on the orders and Mr Manjewa says the business is yet to break into big cash to significantly lower expenses.
It costs approximately $3,000 (Sh303,000) to develop the mold of the soles, therefore limiting the number of designs he wanted to come up with.
Mr Manjewa, whose day job is interior design, says they have sold more than half of the original batch and are shipping in another 300 pairs.
“Chinese factories are in the business of mass production. They talk in terms of containers of products.
DanjeShoes orders are still quite low, lowering our bargaining power and increasing our costs,” he said.
“In order to break even, I need to sell about 800 pairs of shoes. This will happen as the brand gains traction in the market and margins improve as we increase our factory orders.”
Official statistics indicate that the annual demand for shoes in Kenya ranges between 24 and 32 million pairs. However, local manufacturers only manage to produce about four million pairs a year, leaving a huge market for imports.
Mr Manjewa, who promotes and sells his shoes through social media, says he is slowly learning customers’ tastes and that these nuances will show in new designs.
“We realised that numbers seven, eight and 10 move faster than the tens and elevens. The shoes with white soles are more popular than dark-coloured ones,” he said.
His advice to anyone who wants to venture into the shoe business; do not sell shoes, develop a brand that can sell itself.