Interview with Weldon Kennedy, co-founder of Kenyan running brand Enda

“In my dreams, I am a Kenyan” is a popular bumper sticker for many distance runners. While you may not be competing in the Olympics anytime soon, one company has taken literal steps to to get you a little closer to that pace. Enda has just launched their first shoe, the Iten. It’s a performance trainer in the colors of the Kenyan flag with speed, feel, and honestly, pretty slick looks. More than that, the company supports the East African nation with a “Made in Kenya” approach, supporting local job-creation and athletes to give a little back to a country full of the world’s greatest road runners.

Photo courtesy of Enda
Co-founders Navalayo Osembo-Ombati (left) and Weldon Kennedy (right)

Joel Morris: Is the origin of Enda the fact that a market need is not being met or wanting to benefit the people that contribute so much to running on the world stage?

Weldon Kennedy: Honestly, the answer is “both”, and we’re glad that these two motivations happen to overlap. After all, making Kenyan running shoes wouldn’t bring much benefit to Kenya if there wasn’t a gap in the market and customer’s who weren’t having their needs met by the existing options. 

So we set out to address multiple needs. The Iten really stands out as a light weight trainer, which I really feels is an underserved category of shoes. Additionally, we’re looking forward to selling direct to customers so we can put the shoe at a competitive price while maintaining a consistent fit and performance of each shoe model year-to-year so once you find a shoe you love, you can stick with it. We’re also proud to be offering a more socially conscious running shoe, lots of people use running as a way to do social good so it just makes sense to have a shoe that expands that impact. 

Morris: What is the midsole foam and how do you balance comfort for long runs and “snapiness” for speed? Does the single piece outsole act as a shank/stiffener?

Kennedy: The Iten’s midsole is mid-density EVA. We use a softer EVA sockliner and strobel board to add a bit of cushion underfoot, then the mid-density EVA and full length rubber outsole give a bit more firmer cushion.

Working with our athletes, Joan Massah and Justin Lagat, we actually made the Iten is a light weight trainer – which means it’s neither a heavily cushioned shoe for long runs, nor a stiff racing flat or track spike. Rather it’s a shoe for 5k – 15k runs. Whether going fast or slow, it’s flexibility will help build foot strength and help you go faster in the long run. It’s likely not the shoe for running a personal best, but training in the Iten should help you get to a PB.

Photo courtesy of Enda
Specs: 4mm drop, 7.9oz/224g for men’s size 9 (women’s 10.5), roomier toe-box, midsole holds the heel during turns and leans.

Morris: What sets Enda apart from brands like Altra and Hoka, which have made their distinction as “natural” ways of running distance?

Kennedy: From a technical standpoint, it is a much more flexible shoe with better ground-feel than pretty much anything in the Altra or Hoka lineups. Since it’s flexible, we’re able to do things like give a snug fit along the top of your toes, so when your toes flex before striking the shoe flexes and stays with your foot rather than just letting your toes wiggle around in the air. 

We also designed the Iten to be a shoe that’s very different from the aesthetic of most running shoes. So hopefully for everything beyond running it’s also a shoe that looks good with a pair of jeans and can serve as an all purpose sneaker.

Morris: Outside of your website, where else will Enda be available and do you have plans for running specialty stores or other retailers?

Kennedy: Our shoes will be primarily available online, and our website is certainly the best place to get them. 

One of the issues we see with the running industry is in the way shoes are sold right now, so we’re hoping to do things a bit differently. I love visiting local running stores, indeed a small family owned running store has got to be one of my favourite places to be in the world. But so many of them fit shoes based on pronation control, which isn’t a good way to get someone in the right shoes. Additionally, they depend on new models being available every year, so brands have to change their models even if not making any real upgrades. We’ve heard from lots of runners that this is one of their biggest frustrations with running shoes. 

So, listening to the science and listening to runners, we see part of our offering a challenging both of these issues. By selling directly to customers we can sell shoes based on the type of training someone is doing rather than how big of a medial post the shoe has, and we can keep our shoes’ fit consistent year after year so if a runner enjoys running our shoes they don’t have to worry about us changing in a way that doesn’t work for them. 

Morris: What does the future hold for Enda? While East Africa is often synonymous with distance running, West Africa is more associated with sprinting. Has that been discussed?

Kennedy: We’re dreaming in lots of directions for our future. Certainly we’ve talked about what other product lines out there that meet runners’ needs. But I think the immediate future is building out a diverse product line for runners who are mainly off the track. As we grow we’d certainly love to be making shoes not just for track runners but athletes in a range of sports, and we’ll always be working with excellent athletes to develop our products.

Photo courtesy of Enda
A full rubber outsole and compression-molded EVA midsole give the Iten a fast ride.

Morris: What are your thoughts on the current “Race for 2 Hours” in the marathon?

Kennedy: It’s always great to see athletes pushing forward the boundary of what we believe is possible. I do worry though that some of the current efforts to break two hours are designed less to celebrate great athletic accomplishment but rather to focus attention on a particular shoe or product. Certainly great shoes are important to running a great time, but some current efforts feel designed to cheapen what should be a milestone accomplishment by taking the attention off the athlete and putting it on a product. 

Morris: Lastly, who would most benefit from this shoe and who would find it appealing to work into their rotation?

Kennedy: Most runners can benefit from doing some of their training in lighter flexible shoes. The people who will likely see the most benefit from using the Iten are runners who are running at least 20 miles or 32 km a week and would use the Iten for 1-2 short runs each week. It will help to start build foot strength while still giving you a bit of cushioning. 

Of course, runners doing even more will have more opportunities to use the shoe. The athletes we’ve been working with – Joan Massah and Justin Lagat – run around 40-50km in the shoe each week, mostly for their easy runs and recovery runs.

A very special thanks to Mr. Kennedy for this interview and Miss Osembo-Ombati for the creation of Enda. If you would like to learn more or purchase Enda shoes, visit their original Kickstarter or official website. We receive no commission or benefit from sales or purchases, we just want to see an awesome shoe with a great mission succeed.

Photo courtesy of Enda

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