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Kenyan Company Launches a Line of Environment-Friendly Footwear

Aired August 26, 2001 - 09:15   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Kenyans have launched a trend in footwear that is garnering international attention.

JEFF FLOCK, CNN ANCHOR: Including ours.

PHILLIPS: That's right, we are very attuned to this, with the help of an American, some clever Kenyans and converting old tires into sandals, converting them, rather.

FLOCK: That's right. They're calling these Ecosandals, or Ecosandals? I don't know. We're going to find out in a minute from CNN's Zain Verjee. Thanks for joining us and wearing the shoes.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I couldn't pass up a chance to sport their sandals, you know, but I have to tell you guys, these things are comfortable. They're trendy and they're very, very cheap. Right, that's the important thing here as well.

The unique Kenyan sandals, as Jeff just pointed out, and Kyra, have been a real hit with tourists, with locals in Kenya, as well as people who love surfing the Web, so take a look at this.

Here's what one project has been doing.


(voice-over): You wouldn't think by looking at these tires that they're going to end up on someone's feet, but that's the idea.

This is the first stage of a project that's designed to get Kenyan children off the street and into private enterprise. The (UNINTELLIGIBLE) project is based in an area on the outskirts of Nairobi called Korogocho. About half a million people live there, with no clean water, no electricity and virtually no job opportunities. Project leaders believe that can change.

PATRICK MUKOYA, PROJECT DIRECTOR: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) improve (UNINTELLIGIBLE) appropriate environment. And every environment is provided for them. Our project is a living example.

VERJEE: Two friends, a Kenyan and an American, created the project in 1995. Young men from Korogocho are recycling tires into sandals. They cut them up, attach a sole, smooth it out, add a little leather, some straps, and sew on some mati-dati (ph), or designs. The end product, cool sandals.

So far, more than $7,000 worth of sandals have been sold. The money 18-year-old Joseph earns helps them take care of his sick mother, with some left over for himself.

JOSEPH, SANDAL MAKER: I might buy my clothes, something like that. I somehow -- I can buy even my shoes.

VERJEE: But cash isn't the only commodity Michael gained from his project.

MICHAEL, SANDAL MAKER: We do computers. Now I can -- I (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I can write myself.

VERJEE: That's the Internet Web site that's driving the international sales. And it's a dot-com that's on its way up, not out. will ship schools of sandals this month in the United States, at $15 to $20 a pair. That's netting the young men who make these sandals about $30 a month, a respectable income here for young men still learning as they create an industry.


VERJEE: Now, this project exports about 80 sandals a month to the United States and it is actually picking up as more and more people get to know about this Web site.

FLOCK: You can get 80 orders today maybe on this Web site when we put it up there.

VERJEE: That's right.

FLOCK: How did you get on to this idea?

VERJEE: Well, actually it was really funny. I went to Nairobi on holiday. I'm actually from Kenya, and I was in Nairobi and, of course, I couldn't pass up an opportunity of doing a little work. And so in talking to some people, this project came up a lot, so I went down to Korogocho, which is where it is. It's on the outskirts of Nairobi. It's kind of a slum, poverty stricken area. It's a very, very bad area in some ways, economically.

But I went down and I did it, I met the boys. They were really amazing, you know. I mean, they were just really determined to do this project and be creative about it as well. So, that's how I did it and then we thought, hey, this is a great story, people should know about it.

PHILLIPS: I'll bet that was neat to go home, too.


PHILLIPS: Were they excited to know that you were from there and that you were going to take their story back and talk about this? VERJEE: Yeah. Yeah, they really were. Because, you know, this is the kind of thing where you see a lot of stories about Kenya, about Africa, and it's always so negative. And they were so happy that CNN was coming to do a story that actually showed something that the local people in this particular place, Korogocho, were doing something for themselves. So, they were excited.

FLOCK: We want to get to where this all started, and I think we've got one of the co-founders of the company or -- it's not really, I guess it's not a company, is it Matthew? Matthew Meyer is a co- founder. He's in San Francisco, I believe. And, Matt, where did you get this idea? Where did this all start?

MATT MEYER, CO-FOUNDER, ECOSANDALS.COM: Good morning, Jeff and Kyra and Zain. I got the idea, originally, I as a student. I was a junior in college studying abroad and I was working with street kids. As Zain pointed out, there is a huge problem in Nairobi of street children and in Korogocho in particular, and I was just doing some work. I bought a pair of tire sandals that they sold in the slum, and one thing led to another and a year later I came back with a small seed grant and started what is now a pretty large community owned business.

PHILLIPS: Well, Matt, let's talk about your Web site. We've got it up here on our Smart Screen. We have actually three areas. We -- first, of all, we've got sort of the introduction up right now. What can you tell us about your Web site?

MEYER: Well, first of all, it's all volunteer. Everything at is volunteer. Everyone working on the project outside of Kenya is a volunteer. So, if people send $20, send $40 to buy a couple of pairs, every single penny of profit goes directly to the community owned business.

The site in particular was written by Jim Mangiafico (ph) and myself. He is a friend of mine in law school and we just sort of did it in between homework assignments or -- I guess about a year ago, the beginning of the second year of law school, and put together a shopping cart and things of that sort.

PHILLIPS: OK. Tell us about -- we actually went to the section here that tells us about the community. Of course we saw a bit about it because of Zain's piece, but can you go into a little more detail? We'll try and bring that up again. Here we go, there we go. We're close.

FLOCK: We were going to buy them...


PHILLIPS: There we go. Now, that's OK. We hit a few wrong buttons there. Go ahead and tell us about that.

MEYER: You're talking about, you know, 300,000, 400,000 people who are living in huts one right next to the other with dirt alleyways. There are often six or seven people living in a one room hut. There are very few job opportunities. There is a lot of violence, a lot of crime. Very little access to health-care. And so in talking to Kenyans, I felt like one thing we could do was try to create a market for a product, make sure it is community owned, and get money there that way. But the...

FLOCK: Now, are you ready to hit the -- I mean, this could be -- this could take off here. I'm hearing, Zain was saying about 80 pairs a month. How much stock have you got there?

MEYER: Well, they're actually all made to order. So, and there are certainly plenty of people willing to work. There are plenty of supplies, so we don't see any stop in the near future.

VERJEE: Matt, I wanted to ask you. When I was at the project in Korogocho, what really amazed me, that it wasn't just about the sandals. Yes, that was a big part of it, but another part of it was also about educating the boys there about computers, having some sort of informal school was the ultimate objective of some of the people I talked to. Can you tell us a little more about that?

MEYER: Well, Zain, as you know, in Kenya everyone has to pay for school and almost all the kids in Korogocho have to leave school after the equivalent of fourth or fifth or sixth grade, if they're lucky, because the families simply don't have money to pay.

It was, for me, and for a lot of people who started the project, it was somewhat unconscionable for us to be making sandals, supplying money to these now young adults, when they didn't have the capacity, basic skills, to read and write.

We also want them to learn computer so that if it doesn't work out with our particular project, they'll have some skills to help them move on. What we didn't realize, Zain, is that beyond job -- beyond job opportunities and education, it's really building dignity and I think that's kind of what you sensed there. There is a lot of dignity and pride in that project that you, that at least I didn't see when I initially went to Korogocho.

PHILLIPS: Well, we know it first hand because she's wearing the sandals, Matt. I just have to tell you, they're pretty cool.


PHILLIPS: There you go. There's a shot right there. There they are. She even got a pedicure for this.

VERJEE: Yes, I did. Thank you, Kyra. I hope you like the color, at least.

MEYER: You know, Kyra?


MEYER: They are perfect, they are perfect sandal wear for Madonna concerts. So, if you're watching Madonna...

PHILLIPS: Now, what a way to bring in your business, with Madonna. That was very smart.

OK, now, Matt, before we let you go we want to talk about the contact page. OK? How we can get in touch with you. Can people order these sandals on-line? Give us the scoop about that.

MEYER: Sure, they can order them on-line by just clicking "Buy Sandals" and it will take you from there. It's mainly for North American customers and for large orders, if you just click on the contact page, send us an e-mail, we'll set up large orders for you to be shipped directly to you.

PHILLIPS: All right. Zain, any final thoughts? You want to teach us some Swahili?

VERJEE: Yes, yes, all right. Now, if you take a look at my sandals here, you'll see that they've sewn some shells onto it. They do other beads and stuff, and that you can call mati-dati (ph), which means pretty design. So, you can say that, mati-dati (ph).

PHILLIPS: Mati-dati (ph).

FLOCK: Mati-dati (ph).

VERJEE: And the sandals, you call them akala (ph). Akala (ph).

PHILLIPS: Akala (ph).

VERJEE: Mati-dati (ph) akala (ph).

PHILLIPS: Mati-dati (ph) akala (ph).

VERJEE: That's not bad.

PHILLIPS: Hey. Matt, what do you think?

MEYER: Mati-dati (ph). It's beautiful.

VERJEE: Hakuna matata, which is by the way also Swahili.

PHILLIPS: Oh, boy, we're going to be having more lessons with Zain, I can see it right now.

FLOCK: I'm still working on the English over here.

VERJEE: The rest of the bulletin in Swahili. All right.

PHILLIPS: Well, you can log on to the site, of course, Ecosandals. And you can see Matt Meyer's project here and also you can see Zain Verjee on "INSIDE AFRICA."

VERJEE: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: That's right. You want to tune in to CNN INTERNATIONAL. Thank you both so much for being with us. What a pleasure.

VERJEE: Thanks for having us.

MEYER: Atante dona (ph). Atante dona (ph). Thank you.

PHILLIPS: You going to say that one?

FLOCK: No. I'm not going to try.

VERJEE: Atante dona (ph).

FLOCK: I may buy a pair of sandals, though.

PHILLIPS: There you go.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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