Artisans of Kibera: Baraka, tyre sandal artisan

In Part 1 of a series presented by Nairobi Design Week, we meet Baraka – a young social entrepreneur from Kibera, Kenya's largest informal settlement.

Baraka is a young social entrepreneur from Kenya’s largest informal settlement, Kibera. He saw an opportunity to transform unused tyres into unique and endearing sandals. Tyres are among the largest and most problematic sources of waste. Due to their shapes and sizes, they occupy a lot of valuable space. However, they are one of the most reusable kinds of waste material because the rubber is extremely resilient and it can be used in a number of ways. We caught up with Baraka at his workshop to ask him a few questions about his work.

When did you start your sandals business?

After I completed college in 1998, I was unable to secure employment for quite a while; a friend of mine from Mombasa took me in and taught me how to make sandals from old tyres. Under a different manager, I moved to Nairobi and continued working on production. However, I didn’t not get along very well with my boss so in 2002, I resorted to starting my own business.

Talk to us about your design process.

I often create the designs for the sandals and also make designs based on customer demands. Upon receiving an order, I cut the old tyres into different shapes and sizes. For the leather tops, I draw the design on wood or plastic material and then cut a piece of leather based on the shape. After that, I sew a pattern made of a mix of beads. Finally, I glue the pieces, including the sole from the old tyres.

How many people do you employ?

Currently, I employ three young men who help me with production. Sometimes I hire people on a temporary basis especially when I have a strict deadline.

Who are your customers?

When I had just started my business, it was difficult to get things in order, finding sources of new materials as well as a new place of operation was a hustle. Today, although I have the capacity to produce in bulk, finding a consistent and bigger market is still a challenge.

What is your source of inspiration?

My source of inspiration is my family, I always want the best for them, and that makes me focus on this job.

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

In five years, I hope to expand my business and increase my workforce. 

This series is being released as part of Nairobi Design Week 2015. Article by Rina Waligo. "Artisan Kibera Series" credits: Humphrey Gateri (@iamhumphrey2) , funky industries (@fnky_ind) and Fredrick Bary, NDW Field Research Assistant.