Kevine Kagirimpundu, 30, is the chief executive officer and co-founder of Uzuri K&Y.
She obtained her degree in Creative Designs and Environmental Built in 2015, and also acquired business development and leadership skills from various organisations such as the Institute of Economic Empowerment of Women.
In 2019, she was named among the top 10 heroes creating change in Africa by the Netpreneur Prize Initiative.
“I really have used my passion for craft to build Uzuri K&Y from scratch and make it a pioneer of the Rwandan footwear industry,” says Kagirimpundu. ''I have also learnt that putting people first is the ultimate way to operating a successful business.''
She spoke with The EastAfrican's Elizabeth Mutesi.
What moved you to start the footwear business?
First, passion. When I joined the university, I was to study engineering, but as time went by, I knew it was not meant for me, so I changed the course and joined creative designs — to follow my passion for craft and design.
And Secondly, I wanted to solve global challenges. When we started Uzuri K&Y, my co-founder and I wanted to make sure that our contribution to the world through recycling becomes our mission. Today we have recycled many tyres that were dumped in landfills causing pollution and sometimes taking up space from inhabited neighbourhoods. Old car tyres are some of the most problematic sources of wastes in the world. Take a look at Kigali, or Nyabugogo and Gatsata, some parts of the land are full of tires.
We are also solving the unemployment issue by equipping the youth and women with technical skills. We believe that practical knowledge increases their chances to get jobs or even venture into micro business ventures that bring daily income. So far 1,060 youth who have been trained 70 percent are women and 10 0f them have already started small businesses.
What drives you to run your business?
Following my passion is by far the most wonderful decision I made. That feeling is driven together with the vision that Uzuri K&Y has of “branding Rwanda as an origin of sustainable footwear items on the global market.”
And for that to happen there is so much work to be done which pushes me. In addition to that, there is also having a team of people who expect you to deliver every day, which makes one wake up every single day with fresh ideas.
How has the Made in Rwanda mentality shaped your success?
When we started our company Made in Rwanda was not yet in shape, I believe with few other pioneers we advocated to make the changes. When Minicom announced the Made in Rwanda (MIR) policies we were very happy that we had contributed to the cause. So far MIR is one of the most successful initiatives in Rwanda. In the beginning it was very difficult to convince Rwandans to purchase our products since we had to educate and challenge ourselves to do better. Rwandans love good quality products and so we had to deliver. Since 2017 our Rwandan customer base grew from 40 percent to 80 percent in 2019.
What attracts people to purchase items from your stores?
We offer one of the best qualities of footwear in the country and we are always seeking to make our products better so that our customers can keep purchasing. In addition to that, we also take time to listen to our customers who are idealistic women who seek to buy authentic, affordable and socially responsible products. These women know what they want and usually they have so much information about the products.
What is your vision for the future of Uzuri K&Y?
The future of Uzuri K&Y is definitely to build a solid, sustainable and one of a kind footwear brand recognised worldwide. This year we will expand into making various types of sandals and shoes.
Are there any challenges you have faced in this business? If yes, how have you overcome them?
Skilled labour is one of the most faced challenges of which we overcame by creating our own industrial based training programme.
Access to finance of which is also a common challenge among SMEs that we are also working on to solve the issue.
Lastly, access to markets which costs a lot of money and resources to be able to present your company in any market outside Rwanda. We have been able to overcome this by using e-commerce, which enables customers to shop with us and we deliver to them.
What advice would you give someone who wants to invest in themselves and start their own business?
As long as you’re in business doing something you love, and feel passionate about it, entrepreneurship can truly be rewarding. And with our safe country, you may be pleasantly surprised at where it could take you!
What’s the ever career advice you have ever received?
I was once told to focus all of my energy on one thing, prevail and be excellent at it then move to the next.