April 30, 2010 – I met Iregi Kuria on Facebook, on a friend’s page. He had posted a picture of a shoe there with the Kenyan shield on it.
I wanted that shoe… I could wear it with shorts, jeans or even a dress… Thank God for Iregi, aka Rigz, because maybe one day I will get my hands on and foot in that shoe.
Rigz on the other hand, I am certain, thanks God for Barack Obama. Not because of his roots in Kenya or his message of change, but because of the CRAZY fame that seemed to trail this inspirational man everywhere.
As the campaigns heated up, Rigz had a Eureka moment.
“I love shoes and sneakers especially. I had been trying to get a West African friend of mine to include me in his shoe supply business but it was proving impossible. One time, while watching TV, Obama was on and I thought to myself ‘this guy is hot cake’!”
Iregi called Obama’s campaign team and asked if he could use the current US President’s image on canvas shoes.
“I got a resounding yes! In fact the campaign manager said I would be doing them a favour.”
Rigz managed to sell 432 of the 500 pairs of shoes he produced, marking an instant success for a graphic designer who was looking to make a break. A pair of shoes was retailing at about $35 (Sh2,800).
Rigz has been living in Toronto, Canada since 1999, where he went to study advertising design after completing a course at the Kenya Polytechnic. He works as a graphic designer at a certain firm there and in the spirit if hustling decided to begin designing shoes to meet the needs of a ready market.
“I was very encouraged by the initial sales. I realised that I could do this! I have begun designing different kinds of sneakers using the Kenyan shield. The shoe is called Kenya.”
Rigz told me that the basic element of a shoe is comfort. After that style and quality make it a perfect package, says the 32-year-old.
“I don’t have my own company yet, but I market my shoes online through www.zazzle.com. They make the shoes and give me a percentage. That way I can design some more and hold my job at the same time.”
He tells me that he does not count the hours he works, because he loves to design.
Rigz is the first born in a family of two. He studied at Nairobi Primary and Dagoretti High and entered the graphic design scene when it was still ‘old school’.
“We used to do designs by hand. I can tell you this though, Kenyans are very very talented. They just need to do something with it.”
Rigz is hoping to be completely self-employed soon and with the growth that he has seen just over one year after he started, he’s having trouble stopping the ideas from flowing.
“I have so many plans, many of which I cannot divulge until the deal is complete, but the next thing I am working on is cologne…”
His word of encouragement to many young or older Kenyan entrepreneurs is to keep at it until they succeed – to diversify.
“It’s like a dream to me…”