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December 27th, 2011

Kourage and strength – Kenya’s First Running Apparel Brand

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Written by: Jacqueline Shaw
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kourage tees

Nairobi, Kenya has produced some of the greatest distance runners in the world. Kourage Athletics is the first and only brand of athletics garments designed, manufactured, and modeled in Kenya, by Kenyans.  “Kourage exemplifies the greatness of Kenyan athletes and Kenyan entrepreneurs,” says Joseph Kisuli, 23, Kourage Athletics fashion designer. The parent organization of Kourage Athletics is Kourage, Inc is an emerging not-for-profit organization has harnessed that storied tradition in an effort to break the cycle of poverty by exporting a line of running apparel for athletes worldwide.
Like most of Sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya is plagued by abject poverty.  Subsisting on 2-dollars a day, the typical Kenyan has life expectancy of a mere 55-years.  Angry about the conditions within Kenya, Kisuli states,
“I’m sick and tired of seeing the hungry people of my country dying.”
Kourage garments are exported and sold in the developed countries with revenues reinvested into the Kenyan economy. Production for Kourage Athletics is sourced to a Kenyan owned and operated factory that produces everything from police uniforms to high-end fashion. Located 139 km north of Nairobi, the factory is in Rift Valley which is home to the greatest Kenyan runners. The factory employs over 200 Kenyans where each employee works 45-hrs a week, is provided an hour break for lunch, a well lit, cool facility, and jobs that follow minimum wage standards in Kenya.
authentically_kenyan_-image copyright Kourage

authentically_kenyan_-image copyright Kourage
authentically_kenyan_-image copyright Kourage
Head of Kenyan Operations for Kourage Athletics, Hussein Kurji, is disheartened by the government and wasted foreign aid and asks “If we as Kenyans don’t use our businesses to grow the Kenyan economy, then who will?” Revenues from the sale of Kourage garments support Kenyan businesses and create jobs in Kenya.  Kourage has big dreams of building a global headquarters and fair-trade factory in Nairobi.
Chris Markl, 31, President and head of American operations, states, “From our garment’s fit and feel, to our organization’s commitment and ideals, Kourage makes you feel good.”
Employing moisture wicking performance fabrics, modern fits, and fashion forward graphics, Kourage Athletics garments are for sale exclusively at kourage.org for $39. they are soft, lightweight, breathable and have quick dry finishes. They have even been tested at the top of Mt. Kenya (15,000 ft).
Africa–image copyright Kourage
Picasso Afro-image copyright Kourage
kourage_logo_on_t-shirt_cut–image copyright Kourage
Why the name Kourage?  Markl remarks, “Kourage is doing something outside of one’s comfort zone: going back to school, training for a 5k or a marathon, traveling outside of one’s country for the first time.  Kourage is how we change the world.” As a two-time marathon finisher, Chris would be drawn to Kenya, the running capital of the world; a country that, until Kourage Athletics, lacked its own major athletic apparel company. Chris has encountered barriers to doing business in Kenya, including many large Skype bills and hundreds of hours of research to find qualified partners. Outside of Kourage, Chris is an Assistant Professor of Economics and International Relations at Florida State College at Jacksonville.
Their aim for Kourage is for it to be fashion forward running apparel which will create jobs in Kenya. Kourage works with young entrepreneurs in fashion, graphic design, photography, modeling, and marketing to create and expand their businesses. This includes, but is not limited to, linking entrepreneurs with potential customers (in Kenya and abroad), providing a clean modern workspace with the latest equipment, and training upcoming entrepreneurs in business and in their respective trades. Kourage firmly believes that economic development through employment and entrepreneurship is the most effective means to increase the welfare of a country and the result is the vertical integration of the Kenyan economy and the creation of a sustainable and expanding system where revenue from apparel is used to create and expand production facilities as well as employ additional workers and work with more entrepreneurs.
“We aren’t just selling running apparel. OUR ONLY GOAL IS TO CHANGE LIVES.”
While in school, Chris created a 4.300-mile cross-country bicycle ride to reduce poverty, which raised over $85,000 and was featured on the Today Show and Sirius Radio. Two years later, Chris would leave a Ph.D. program, where he studied the apparel factories in developing countries, to start a clothing company that would transcend fair trade standards.

In this  developing nation there are many barriers to conducting business. Electricity shortages on alternate days means a firm has to battle constantly with varying issues and there is no compensation for loss of business. Internet costs are huge and speed is extremely slow because Kenya still depends on satellite. Corruption and bureaucracy are the cornerstones of society there but they believe Kenya can step out of its own mess if only it could see its own potential and the damage it does to itself. Nevertheless the choice to start up a business there was great – as the industry is young . And its an exciting time to be part of it.

 Chris urges that though

‘We are a small organization with very big dreams of taking on Nike, Adidas, Puma, etc.  We in no way have the same resources as them, but we definitely have the heart.  It’s why we are called Kourage, each of us have put everything on the line to fight for what we believe in, for what we think is right.  Because of these ideals, we are already a success.’

And we think so too.

Author: Jacqueline Shaw







 
 

 
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