“Now we are empowered, we can produce eco-friendly shoes with the quality we want”
After working with SWITCH-Africa Green, Champion Shoes of Kenya boasts consistent surge in profits, quality of products and sustainability
On the factory floor of Champion Shoes in Thika, northeast of the Kenyan capital Nairobi, James Mwaura, owner of Champion Shoes, is pointing to a pile of irregularly-shaped black rubber offcuts that would once have been discarded as waste from the process of making gents and school shoes.
“This is the most important part of the business. This is money for us— before, we used to throw it away,” said James.
“Before” was almost two years ago, when SWITCH-Africa Green’s team began working with the Kenyan MSME (micro, small and medium enterprise) to help it green and improve its processes on the basis of all three pillars of sustainability: social, economic and environmental.
The products generated from the waste material— ladies’ and babies’ open shoes and leather key holders— yielded a pure profit of 215,500 Kenyan shillings (about $2,079) in 2016. “Before” in 2012, the company’s entire profit was 20,000 Kenyan shillings.
The enterprise now also reduces waste by using old tyres for the soles of some shoes. It also lets other local shoes factories use idle machines at a fee, optimizing the use of resources.
A SWITCH-Africa green partner, the Kenya Leather Development Council (KLDC), puts the company through its Testing and Assessment of Products process, training staff in identifying, choosing and using sustainable, suitable material, in sustainable packaging and in marketing and promotion.
“We used to make bad quality shoes because we used the wrong leather, but now we produce eco-friendly shoes with sustainable and high-quality leather,” said Mwaura.
The company has now partnered with other local shoes factories to ensure collective bargaining power and access to quality leather from Nakuru, Thika and Sagana Tanneries.
This improved product quality has boosted sales and access to more markets, including supermarket networks across Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
Training by SWITCH-Africa green focused on areas such as resource optimisation, product innovation, resources efficiency, branding as well as pricing and costing of finished products. The training was informed by an initial assessment on quality of products by Kenya Bureau of Standards.
“Now we are empowered. The training we received from UN Environment and SWITCH Africa green helped us to improve our shoes and increase both sustainability and profits,” he said.
Indeed, the company’s profits have been on a healthy rise since 2012, from 20,000 Kenyan shillings ($193) back then to a total profit of 8,153,040 Kenyan shillings (about $78,659) today.
Creating job opportunities for all
The SWITCH team’s capacity building efforts also led to improvements in record keeping and product costing.
“We also taught the company how to keep accurate accounts,” said coordinator of SWITCH-Africa at UN Environment, Patrick Mwesigye
“This is part of readiness to apply for green finance, something the company wants to do and that UN Environment can help them with,” he said.
As the business grew and production became more consistent and sustainable, Champion Shoes recruited an accountant for the first time, fresh graduate in Accounting from Kenyatta University, Steven Nyoro.
“With Steven on board, we are able to keep records and do the right costing of our products. We used to under-price our products and that affected a lot our income,” said Mwaura.
The 25-strong workforce at Champion Shoes is predominantly young women. There are more women than men employed here, and most of the youths employed are orphans who benefited from SWTICH-Africa Green training programme.
“After the training, I started making Safari boots. I was given the power to make different products,” said Felistas Mwakali, a female worker at the factory.
Focused guidance to MSMEs pays off significantly, but needs more mentors
SWITCH-Africa Green is implemented by UN Environment with the assistance of the European Union, and the fruits of its efforts are now starting to emerge clearly.
The programme supports 497 MSMEs in Kenya alone and operates across six pilot countries – Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, South Africa, and Uganda - in Africa to achieve sustainable development by leading in transitioning towards an inclusive green economy.
Champion shoes is one of the 35 MSMEs and 7 tanneries under the project “Greening SMEs Leather Clusters and Leather Tanning Industry in Kenya”. The project was developed by SWITCH Africa Green grantee, COMESA-Leather and Leather Products Institute and partner Kenya Leather Development Council. SWITCH Africa Green has 34 grantees across six pilot countries in Africa.
It hopes to bring on board more European companies as mentors to help African MSMEs implement sustainable consumption and production practices, including energy and water efficiency, product innovation, record keeping, better product pricing, standards and certification.
Already, in some SWITCH-Africa projects, this has led to increases in incomes, cost savings and job creation, improved time efficiency, improved health and increased productivity.
Common challenges include lack of financing to implement these practices.
This kind of focused assistance to MSMEs has been shown to have significant impacts on their survival rate. A recent survey by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics showed that almost half of Kenyan MSMEs died in their first year of operations. In 2016, only 41 per cent of MSMEs in the UK were still in operation after five years and 42 per cent of those in South Africa were still operating after two years.
A World Bank study found that formal small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) contribute up to 45 per cent of total employment in emerging economies like those in sub-Saharan Africa, and create 4 out of 5 new positions. They generate up to 33 per cent of national income. These numbers would be significantly higher if informal SMEs were included.
Source: UNEP Stories
Project Title: "Greening SMEs Leather Clusters and Leather Tanning Industry "
SAG Grantee: COMESA – Leather and Leather Products Institute (LLPI) (Visit Page)
Project Partner: Kenya Leather Development Council
Pilot Country: KENYA (Visit Page)
For more information on Switch-Africa Green, please contact:
Mohamed Atani, Regional Information Officer for Africa, UN Environment at: