Friday, April 19, 2024

Sustainable Feet: A Fine Pine of ‘Vegan’ Shoes


In 2018, more than 24 billion pairs of shoes were made worldwide, over 2 billion of these were sold in the U.S. alone. That’s more than seven pairs per person each year filling up America’s closets, piling up near doorways and eventually making their way to Africa as second-hand shoes. You know those mtumba shoes right? They are Nikes but affordable, they are Balenciaga’s but have endured a few smelly feet before boarding to Africa. Now let’s talk shoes.

Shoes are a product of everyday use that most people in the world own; heels for parties, flats for a casual day, sportswear when you want to hit the gym and sandals because its summer. However, too much of something is poisonous as there are many environmental impacts of the shoe industry that cannot be ignored much longer.  The process of shoe manufacturing and shoes in general poses many threats to the well-being of our planets as many toxins, chemicals, and fossil fuels are produced and leaked to the environment during the first and last steps of the shoe life cycle.

According to the environmental impact of the global apparel and footwear industries, footwear alone accounts for 700 million metric tons of CO2 per year. This is equivalent to greenhouse gas emission produced by nearly 149 million cars driven for one year. Companies like Adidas, Converse, and Nike have rolled out shoes from waste ocean plastic to reduce the environmental impact of plastic.

Pine Kazi’s team|photo|Mike

Africa does not produce Nikes or the latest Puma shoes but we have Pine Kazi. An apparel company that offers better alternatives to synthetic footwear- shoes from pineapple leaves. Intriguing right?  A few weeks ago I Interacted with the four brilliant minds behind Pine Kazi; Olivia, Angela, Mike, and Gilbert. They started Pine Kazi as a response to a sustainability campaign. “we were looking for an alternative to plastics then we came across pineapple fibers which also can blend well with other fibers,” Olivia says.

They settled on the name pine Kazi during the Hult prize challenge where they were solving the issue of unemployment. ‘Kazi’ is Swahili for employment. Pine is derived from pineapple. The two give Pine Kazi.

A dismal number care about pineapple fibers. In developing parts of Africa, we have different approaches to dealing with this organic waste. As a matter of fact, “waste” is an inappropriate term for organic matter, which is often put to good use- as manure. After the harvest of pineapples to make a variety of products leaves, 48% of waste behind consisting of fruit peels and leaves forming waste. These wastes are rich in lignin and cellulose thus form a very good raw material for allied fibers. Pineapple waste alone produces 1.8 million metric tons of CO2.

a variety of shoes from pine kazi|image source| Mike

Pine Kazi’s journey has been marked with successes a few of us can relate to from our twenties. The group which met in ENACTUS Kenya participated in the Arman competition in Jordan and emerged as the winners. They took part in London’s accelerator as well. “our journey has been tough, especially during the coming up with the prototype, we almost gave up,” Angela says.  “What kept you going?” I ask. Angela does not shy away to explain that the school would only pay for their tickets if they had a prototype. We laugh but that was motivation enough.

Pine Kazi has learned to embrace teamwork in their daily business routines.  This has come in handy in helping balance between education and entrepreneurship.

On a typical workday pine Kazi gets its raw material from a small scale farmer in Gatundu. Proceed to purify it then weave it into different products. In a single day, they produce 8 -10 pairs of shoes. The demand has been high and their feature on Forbes Africa escalated the same. Sadly, they have not been able to meet the demand in the market due to the lack of funds and the right investors and the raw materials are not enough.  

The four seek to reduce harm to the environment by making affordable shoes from pineapple waste. Their vision is to be the dominating company internationally while using ‘pineapple waste’ to make a variety of eco-friendly products. Pine Kazi also has a variety of products ranging from shoes, bags, mats, and carpets. The cost of a pair shoe Mike tells me ranges from 1500-2500 based on the cost of production.

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