Nothing completes an outfit better than a great pair of shoes from a brand that helps you to express who you are. For decades, most shoe fanatics have turned towards Europe and the US for the latest designs - but now designers from Afrika are putting their countries on the international footwear map by infusing local patterns and ideas into their creations. The results are bold, creative and attention-grabbing designs that allow you define your own unique look.
One such brand is Oyè from Kenya. Founded by Ricky, the exquisitely handcrafted sandals and shoes reflect the designers tasteful marriage between local heritage, current fashion trends and customer preferences. I think it is because of his open mind and creativity that this young, up and coming shoe brand is already getting attention from interested customers around the world.
What does Oyè mean?
I named my business after my grandfather. He used to call me Oyè when I was little. In Samburu that means "good". My grandfather was also the one, who thought me how to tie my shoes. I could not think of a better name than this for my shoe brand.
What inspired you to start this business?
I have dreamed about designing and selling my own shoe line for a while. One day, I decided to turn my dream into reality. It hasn't exactly been an easy journey and I am still facing many challenges. It is for example not easy to find the right equipment and know-how to make shoes and sandals in Kenya.
Nevertheless, I am happy that I took the leap of faith and created my own brand which is slowly growing.
"A dream is only a dream, until you decide to make it a reality."
What has been the greatest challenge for you so far?
My brand is still in its infancy. The greatest challenges in the beginning was finding quality materials and meeting the right artisans who can help me turn my designs on paper into actual products.
But, things are slowly coming together. That is a great feeling! I have found some great people that I can work with including some talented local artists as well as reliable suppliers for the materials.
What are you hoping to achieve in the near future?
I am working towards having my very own shoe line. Every new product that I create brings me one step closer towards achieving that goal.
I think I am on the right track. The feedbacks that I have gotten from customers both at home and overseas have been great so far. What ever they share with me I take into account for my next design. That is how I improve my products. I also take current trends into account when I design my sandals. Much of these trends I observe in movies that hit the screens actually.
Which markets have you already conquered?
Aside from Kenya, I have customers in Ethiopia, Senegal, Marokko, Ruanda, Denmark and the US. Hopefully soon Malaysia will follow?! What is interesting though is that the taste of customers in each market is a bit different.
In Kenya for example, my customers prefer plane designs - a sleek brown or black leather sandal is what they are looking for. My beaded products are more popular overseas. That is why I have both designs.
What product categories are you focusing on?
My focus lies on shoes and sandals for now. I have so many ideas. It will never get boring. In my newest designs for example I experiment more with beads, pearls, shells and turquoise stones.
I want my shoes to be attention-grabbing statement pieces that my customers a looking forward to wearing for every occasion. Maybe they will even become conversation starters and raise awareness for my brand from Kenya in the process.
I have also experimented with designing a bag pack. I sold it to a customer in Germany. Maybe one day, I will add this to my permanent collection as well but for now, my focus is on sandals and shoes.
How do you source for the materials that you use to create your amazing looking sandals?
I get my leather from a wholesaler in Tanzania and rubber from Malaysia. In the long run, I will try however to source more materials from producers that live closer to home and focus on an environmentally friendly production process.
Currently, I am looking into vegetable tanned leather for example. The producers use waste from banana plants for example. This is not only good for our environment but also helps to make the leather last longer. Many luxury brands are already using this.
What is your work process like - from idea to final product?
I experiment a lot with new ideas and designs. That process usually takes some time. My inspiration comes from the latest fashion, local patterns and movies.
Do local traditions and patterns guide you as you design your products?
I try to come up with unique designs that mix traditional African craftsmanship with modern ideas. Beading for example is a longstanding tradition in Kenya, especially within the Massai Community. Its beautiful patterns and loud colours definitely influence many of my sandal designs.
Who are the people that you are working with?
My team is still very small - just me and two artisans named Baraka and Moses. I met them two years ago. Both of them have been making shoes for the longest time. They guide me with their insights and help me turn my visions and ideas into products. I am thankful for their help.
What makes your products stand out?
I would describe them as unique, daring and colourful. Each and every one of my designs are statement pieces. I want my shoes to help my customers express who they are through their outfits.