Kevine Kagirimundu, CEO UZURI K&Y
UZURI K&Y is an African inspired shoe brand and manufacturer established in Rwanda since 2013. The company was founded by two women entrepreneurs (Kevine & Ysolde) who met at the University while studying Creative Designs. The two young women simply believed that it would be ideal to gather knowledge and create a common mission. In this interview, Alaba Ayinuola speaks with Kevine Kagirimundu, the Co-Founder and CEO on her entrepreneurship journey into sustainability and fashion, why she is preserving the environment, supporting community and creating jobs through her eco friendly shoe brand. Excerpts.
Alaba: Could you briefly tell me about yourself and your entrepreneurship journey?
Kevine: My entrepreneurship journey started when I was a young girl, I used to re-sew grandma’s clothes, no money came from it, just passion. When I joined university I changed my major from “Engineering to Creative & Environmental built”, it was an important step to starting my journey, I was 19 years old and determined as I started gathering ideas in a book, during that time I also met my co-founder Ysolde Shimwe.
Alaba: What attracted you into sustainability and fashion?
Kevine: I come from a creative family of painters, poets and writers. I loved hand making things and I thought that creating was really my passion, with that I really wanted to add a meaningful value that will bring positive change in my community; that’s why our company is part of the circular economy with a focus on waste management.
Alaba: What’s the inspiration behind your brand, UZURI K&Y and the problems it is set to address?
Kevine: UZURI K&Y is an African inspired eco friendly shoe brand with a vision to brand Africa as an origin of sustainable fashion items on the global market. It was established in Rwanda in 2013 by two university friends Ysolde shimwe & Kevine Kagirimundu with a purpose to solve the environment and unemployment issues in their community.
The company’s core problem that it’s solving focuses on recycling the wastes of car tires where everyday in sub saharan Africa, over one million of them are dumped in landfills and sometimes taking up space from inhabited and vulnerable neighborhoods. In addition to that, it takes up to 80 years for a rubber tire to decompose while polluting water, air and even become nurseries for mosquitoes that carry diseases. Furthermore, in Africa the youth makes 60% of the total unemployment rate and young women are more likely to be unemployed even more often than young men.
In order to tackle these issues we craft viable solutions to recycle car tyres to make functional and fashionable footwear for conscious millennial consumers. The company is also currently running its own production facility, four retail stores and using ecommerce to reach international customers. It is also equipping the youth with practical and soft skills to increase their potential of securing jobs or even creating small businesses. So far, 1,065 youth have been trained and among those 70% are women and 10 have started small businesses.
Alaba: How have you been able to attract customers and build the company till date?
Kevine: Our customers are women who seek shop eco products. Our strategy is to use storytelling via social media channels, we also set to offer a wonderful experience via our retail spaces.
Alaba: What challenges did you run into starting out?
Kevine: I would say there are 3 major challenges as we started: lack of skilled labour, dominated market with second hand and imports and access to finance.
Alaba: Are there other areas that UZURI K&Y is aiming to be more sustainable?
Kevine: We have confidence that we shall be able to brunch into a more diverse range of products, such as sustainable sneaker and even turning the wastes into more useful products.
Alaba: One of the things that stood out on your platform was your intense screening process for each item. Can you explain why you decided to go with this process and what it actually involves?
Kevine: We developed techniques and ways to safely produce our products and it has become our unique proposition. It is an advantage and very important to our customers.
Alaba: Is your brand gender inclusive? What is the importance of gender inclusion in the brand’s choices?
Kevine: Yes, it is important with a special focus on creating jobs for women who are often left behind in different fields. Inclusivity is crucial for the entire world to fight gender inequality, we are proud to be part of this change.
Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?
Kevine: I believe that entrepreneurs will be the key pioneers to changing the African continent, It feels like being part of a history book!
Alaba: Where do you see UZURI K&Y in terms of products and markets in the next 5 years?
Kevine: A household African brand, with a tremendous impact on the youth through skills transfer and entrepreneurship.
Alaba: Finally, what’s your advice to budding entrepreneurs, especially females in the sustainability and fashion industry?
Kevine: Trust yourself that you can do it!
Maelle CABARRUS: The Creator Of The A LA FOLIE
Maelle CABARRUS is a hair coach and hair youtuber since 2010. She is the founder of À La Folie, a research company on textured hair, beauty and self-esteem coaching for black and mixed-race women. Maelle started researching frizzy hair extensively pretty quickly, from the moment she became a youtuber. Her goal is to always better understand textured hair and to provide women with this texture with the tools, keys and methodologies to enhance their hair, themselves and restore the bit of self-esteem.
Her motivation didn’t just come from a desire to share and make the best videos possible. It was also, and in large part, a determination on my part to have the longest, most beautiful hair possible. Kind of like a revenge on life, or a slightly childish attempt, to repair all the anger and resentment she had built up towards my hair.
“I want black women to love their hair and think they look beautiful with it. I want wigs and weaves to be for us first and foremost a means of fantasy, not a default option every other month to “take a break”. I want our hair to be “natural” for us. That wearing them is obvious and natural, that it flows naturally, without any fuss”. says Maelle CABARRUS Founder À La Folie
À La Folie have supported more than 3,500 women in our online programs and served a clientele of more than 8,000 people through our various ebooks and coaching services.
Oumy Saran Keita: Eco-friendly African Artist
Oumy Saran Keita is a Senegalese entrepreneur with a passion for African art. In 2021, she decided to step out of her comfort zone to launch a project that was close to her heart, Kalifa design. A brand that specializes in the design of handmade art objects, with recycled materials.
Having been fortunate enough to grow up with a father who was a visual artist, she has always had a rather special relationship with art. In December 2019, tired of the cold of Paris, she decided to make her first lamp sketches, to give more warmth to the decoration of her office. A dozen sketches were made from it, carefully preserved.
3 years later, back in Senegal, she launched Kalifa Design, an eco-responsible interior design brand offering products designed mainly with recycled materials. All items are handmade and made in Senegal. The name “Kalifa”, which means heritage, symbolises his entire project. The logo features an outstretched hand towards a symbol used by the Adinkra, a West African people.
Oumy Saran Keita uses recycled materials to make papier-mâché which is the basis of all lighting fixtures and works with local artisans to create wooden plates, mirrors, storage boxes and textiles. Kalifa has allowed her to return to the things that are essential to her balance: painting, sculpture and drawing.
Lamine Ndiaye: Promoting Senegalese Art
Lamine Ndiaye, a young entrepreneur of Senegalese origin who is passionate about fashion. A costume designer in audiovisual production, Lamine is the founder of the Yelloow brand, which specializes in the design and sale of 100% African bags. A great defender of local consumption and his goal is to promote all that Senegal has to offer in the field of art and creation. Since Lamine was a child, he has been passionate about fashion. It is therefore quite natural that he chose to undertake this field, while seeking to stand out from the others. For him, entrepreneurship is a factor of development.
Yellow is a brand that offers accessories such as backpacks, travel bags, shoes, computer bags, fanny packs, handbags etc. To successfully promote local consumption, Yellow brings out the originality and quality of its products by using very stylish, colorful and rare African raw materials such as wax, woodin, or upholstery fabrics patched with leather or suede, which makes the products chic and stylish with sustainable use.
Yellow aims to be a brand committed to showcasing African potential in all its artistic variations. The know-how of an Africa that restores itself in its dignity and honour through the creativity of the African.