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Kenya athletics brand has ambitions to take on Nike

By Emily Wither, CNN
updated 6:54 AM EDT, Wed October 19, 2011
 Kourage Athletics creates running apparel that's 'designed, manufactured and managed in Kenya by Kenyans.' Kourage Athletics creates running apparel that's 'designed, manufactured and managed in Kenya by Kenyans.'
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kourage athletics say they're Kenya's first athletic brand made and designed in the country
  • The brand officially launched in July and hopes to one day dress Olympic runners
  • The Kourage team pride themselves on being the most ethical athletic apparel company
  • The brand hopes to inspire other young entrepreneurs to follow their dreams

(CNN) -- Kenya is known for producing some of the world's greatest runners and now a company wants to get them noticed wearing a brand from their country.

A group of young entrepreneurs have launched what they say is the nation's first running brand and they have high hopes of one day transforming Nairobi into the running apparel capital of the world.

"There are a lot of Kenyan athletes and you always see them wearing Nike and Adidas and not something from their own country," said Hussein Kurji, who designs the clothing and heads up the Kenyan operation of Kourage Athletics.

"We do have quite a good track record when it comes to running, so why not match that with an equally big clothing brand," he added.

Kourage says it creates running apparel that's 'designed, manufactured and managed in Kenya by Kenyans.'

The name of the brand forms the backbone of the company's ethos.

"Kourage is all about having the courage to do new things, try new things, be brave and go out and do what you would not normally do," Kurji said.

By purchasing a Kourage shirt one is investing in Kenya's future.
Chris Markl, Head of Kourage Athletics

The brand officially launched in July producing just over 1,000 t-shirts. While initial orders are still low the team plans to eventually make everything from running shorts to hooded sweatshirts once they have more capital.

But they are quick to point out that they're not just selling apparel.

"Our shirts are beautiful. We use the softest fabric available; employ a modern fit and fantastic graphics, but what sets us apart are our ideals," said Chris Markl, the brains behind Kourage.

"By purchasing a Kourage shirt one is investing in Kenya's future. A future that is built upon business and international trade not foreign aid," he continued.

Africa growth vision

Florida-based economics professor and running enthusiast, Markl spent years getting Kourage off the ground. He even rode 1,800 miles on his bike from Canada to Mexico to raise the initial start-up funds.

Markl first became interested in the idea of producing an ethical clothing line when he was researching textiles factories in Honduras as part of his Ph.D.

"I always wondered why 'ethical' clothing lines were so focused on concentrating operations in America or Europe. There are incredible designers and entrepreneurs in impoverished countries," he said.

"To create real economic development, an apparel company needs to create as many economic linkages in a poor country as possible," he continued.

Kenya's 'silent crisis'

The Kourage team pride themselves on being one of the most ethical athletic apparel company in the world, according to Markl.

We hope the entrepreneurship spirit of Kourage will show other young talent that if you have the courage and you persevere you can achieve what you want to
Hussein Kurji, designer Kourage Athletics

The clothes are produced by Viva Africa, a Kenyan-owned and operated factory, employing around 200 people, mostly women. The factory makes everything from police uniforms to high-end fashion.

However, the most important thing Markl says is that working conditions are fair and the employees are happy.

But the small team, who all hold down a variety of other day jobs, dream of one day opening up their own factory and headquarters in Nairobi.

While Kourage haven't approached any athletes yet, they hope that in 10 to 20 years Kenyan runners in the Olympics and other major sporting events will be wearing their brand.

They also have plans to approach smaller youth organizations in the country who have a focus on sports.

The group says there aren't many Kenya-based fashion outlets and that most clothing comes from South Africa.

Kourage hopes their industry model could help change the face of business in Kenya by inspiring the younger generation.

"It shows that you don't have to go to India or China to be successful. This could help boost the economy and generate income and jobs," Kurji said.

"We hope the entrepreneurship spirit of Kourage will show other young talent that if you have the courage and you persevere you can achieve what you want to."

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