Konjo is an economic development initiative launched by Life In Abundance (LIA), a nonprofit organization that works in several countries throughout northeast Africa. Konjo sandals are handcrafted by a group of vulnerable, previously unemployed, unskilled women and men in one of Africa’s largest slums—Kibera—in Nairobi, Kenya. The leather sandals are made of locally sourced resources and use recycled tire treads for the sole. Each pair of sandals is one-of-a-kind, just like the people who make them—people who are now gaining a sense of empowerment and breaking free of the poverty cycle. “I used to naively think the poor were just not working hard enough,” notes Justin Ahrens, R29 principal. “What I’ve learned through my involvement with LIA is that the majority of Africans living in poverty have tremendous creative skills that can be used to reach new markets. This is what Konjo has allowed many to do.”

Title: Konjo
Client: Life in Abundance
Design Firm: Rule29 Creative
Design Team: Justin Ahrens, Dawn Bjork, Susan Herda, Kara Ayaram
Category: Professional

The leather sandals are made of locally sourced resources and use recycled tire treads for the sole.

Konjo isn’t about shoes. It’s really about the beautiful people in Kibera slum, Nairobi, Kenya.

It’s the story of lives being transformed, and spirits being renewed.

These individuals have gained skills and knowledge, they’ve been empowered to provide for their families, and they now have a better understanding of their own self-worth.

Because of Konjo:
▪ People living in cycle of poverty are now breaking free to provide for their own families.
▪ Under utilized resources are being restored and reused.
▪ Mothers who once accepted “free” shoes now have the dignity and self-worth to be able buy their own children’s shoes.
▪ Previously unemployed people are going to work each day, and getting a glimpse of their purpose and value.

Working with LIA, we researched the viability of a project that would provide economic sustainability, train unskilled labor and create viable product. Our ultimate goal is transformed lives and empowerment. We helped set the initial direction in the beginning, and then we assisted in every stage we could as the shoes were being developed. We had to prove that we could make them first, and then that we could replicate and train Africans going forward.

We picked the most difficult place to pilot this project: one of the world’s largest slums. We are not shoe designers, and neither were our African partners. We relied on design thinking to figure it out. Communication was difficult; we waited months to receive feedback or new samples. Our first prototypes were awful: inconsistent and of poor quality. Starting in 2009, our first sandals weren’t ready to sell until three years later.

The biggest success is that Konjo is now offering well-made shoes at the rate of five to eight pair a week.

    • Women (some HIV positive, widowed, single mothers, uneducated or extremely poor and with few options) are now employed and trained in skills that create a better life for themselves and their community. They are now able to buy medicine and food, and barter for extra shoes.
    • The local people followed our initial direction, but they have since made improvements independently, and we have been able to work back and forth effectively
    • Konjo developed its own “apprenticeship” program and process
    • 100% of sales go back into funding, training and program development

Konjo’s long-term goal is being fully self-sustaining and then expanding into other African communities and countries.