Kevine Kagirimundu is the co-founder and CEO of UZURI K&Y, an African-inspired shoe brand and manufacturer based in Rwanda, East Africa. Her firm recycles car tires into eco-friendly and fashionable footwear.
Kagirimundu said her entrepreneurial journey started when she was a young girl. She would re-sew her grandmother’s clothes out of passion. It was her passion for creatives that led her to change her course from Engineering to “Creative & Environmental built”.
According to her, changing her course of study was an important step in starting her entrepreneurial journey. She met her business partner while studying Creative Designs at the University. “I was 19 years old and determined as I started gathering ideas in a book, during that time I also met my co-founder Ysolde Shimwe,” she told Business Africa Online.
Kagirimundu comes from a creative family of painters, poets and writers. She grew up with a strong passion for ‘hand making things’ and desired to add value to it so as to bring positive change to her community. And according to her, it is the reason her company is part of the circular economy with a focus on waste management.
Kagirimundu said she was inspired into recycling tires into fashion shoes in order to tackle car tire waste in Rwanda and Africa at large. Across Africa, over one million car tires are dumped in landfills.
“In addition to that, it takes up to 80 years for a rubber tire to decompose while polluting water, air and even become nurseries for mosquitoes that carry diseases. Furthermore, in Africa, the youth makes 60% of the total unemployment rate and young women are more likely to be unemployed even more often than young men,” she said.
To tackle this problem, Kagirimundu and her partner crafted viable solutions to recycle car tires to make functional and fashionable footwear for conscious millennial consumers, she said. Last year, the company said it was running its own production facility, four retail stores and using eCommerce to reach international customers.
“It is also equipping the youth with practical and soft skills to increase their potential of securing jobs or even creating small businesses. So far, 1,065 youth have been trained and among those 70% are women and 10 have started small businesses,” the Rwandan CEO told Business Africa Online last October.
The majority of Kagirimundu’s customers are women, she said, adding that she uses storytelling via social media channels as a strategy to sell her products. Although she is aiming to be a household brand in Africa, Kagirimundu said the journey so far has not been easy. According to her, she and her co-founder faced three major challenges when they started. “Lack of skilled labour, dominated market with second hand and imports and access to finance,” she pointed out.