November 2, 2011

Kourage : Running Gear That Changes Lives in Kenya

I learned about Kourage Running a couple weeks ago, by stumbling on a fellow runner’s tweet. A couple clicks later, I was discovering a beautiful company with a noble goal: changing lives in Kenya. How? Simply put; “By playing by the rules”.

I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling a pang of anxiety when buying mainstream running gear, wondering where and how it was produced. In this day and age, we can’t just go around shopping, oblivious to the impact we have on our fellow humans and our home. We can’t blindly support a commercial system of exploitation, on one side, and pretend to care for the people in underprivileged countries, on the other one. Our actions and our values must be consistent.


Kourage Running is a new technical clothing company that aims at making commercial sense by helping local Kenyan people improve their lives through sound, safe and fair work. It is not a charity, it’s a business. Because that’s how you can truly make a difference in a developing country; by giving everyday people access to proper work and conditions.


After purchasing shirts in an enthusiastic show of support, I wanted to learn more about Kourage and got into an e-mail conversation with Chris, the creator of the company. He further explained Kourage’s vision and goals.



FL - How and when was the company created?

CH - Kourage was founded in 2008. I started it as a response to what I saw as an inadequacy of the fair trade movement. Fair trade is focused entirely on manufacturing. But there is much more that goes in to creating garments then actual production. I feel that to have a large impact in a developing country one must concentrate as many operations as possible within that country. I'm a runner, thus the fact there was no Kenyan running apparel brand felt like a great fit.


FL – Who’s behind the company?


Chris – Founder and Chief of American Operations
Laal – Production Manager
Joseph – Fashion Designer

Makumi – Photography

Fady – Photography

Hus – Graphics, Kenyan Operations



FL - What is your mission? Your objective?

CH - Our mission is to inject as much money possible into Kenya. Economic growth is created through goods flowing out of a country and revenue flowing in and remaining within the country. Our objectives are simple, create jobs, inject foreign revenue and investment, and show the world that developing countries have brilliant entrepreneurs!


FL - How does Kourage benefit Kenyans?

CH - We are a very small organization and we embody what it means to be a small business. Right now, our impact is extremely limited. But we have the potential to inject millions of dollars into Kenya and create many high-end jobs.


Kourage isn't a handout. We aren't 'aid'. Giving money has a role as many individuals in Kenya are unable to feed themselves or find healthcare. But aid isn't the only solution. Instead, if we want to truly develop Africa, we must do business there! This is what Kourage does. We seek to hire as many Kenyan businesses as possible to increase their wealth. Through hiring them, these firms will create beautiful products that we will sell throughout the world and return revenues back into Kenya.


What we do isn’t as dramatic as feeding a hungry child, but if we look at the major cities throughout the world, like New York and Tokyo, they were built through commerce, not through aid.



FL - You have operations both in the USA and Kenya. What is the role of each?

CH - Our mission is to turn Kenya into the global hub for running apparel. We would love to ship directly from Kenya to consumers throughout the world but because of customs issues, this isn’t feasible. Thus we need operations outside of Kenya to facilitate international trade. I handle press outside of Kenya, ship shirts etc., but again we always want to concentrate more and more operations within Kenya.



FL - In what way(s) are your products fair and ethical?


CH - Our clothes are produced in a factory that plays by the rules. 45-hour work week, pays at least minimum wage, offers an hour lunch break, in a well-lit, safe, non-oppressive facility. As a result of these fantastic conditions, a worker rarely quits their job.



FL - Where do you see Kourage in the next 5, 10 years?

CH - Kenyan athletes will be wearing Kourage gear at the olympics, we will have a headquarters and factory in downtown Nairobi, selling everything from shoes to tracksuits. We want to turn Kenya into the running apparel capital of the world.



FL - Do you currently sponsor athletes? Is it part of your plans?

CH - Nike and others pay Kenyan runners millions of dollars. We want to focus on sponsoring Kenyan workers.


****


Kenya
is the home of running legends. Let’s hope it also becomes the home of a new, improved way of sharing the wealth. Kourage is working hard to show us the way. So next time you buy a technical running shirt, get one that looks awesome and does something which will truly help other humans.

Be consistent. Buy Kourage.






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