Afridrilles, Shoes From Africa to Austin and Beyond

Local nonprofit helps children with special needs via Kickstarter

In the spirit of teaching a person to fish instead of simply giving them a meal, Ubuntu Made, an Austin based nonprofit, is making waves by using a combination of entrepreneurship and philanthropy to help those in need through … shoes.

Photos courtesy of Ubuntu Made

With its recently launched anchor product, the Afridrille, Ubuntu is empowering the mothers of special needs children in Kenya through job creation. One-hundred percent of the profits from each handmade product by these “Maker Mums” goes directly to help their children by benefitting the Ubuntu Special Needs Centre.

The organization behind the customizable espadrille shoe surpassed its initial goal of $25,000, the sum needed to meet the cost of production, in just one day. Foundation Manager Hanna Cofer says this means all future profits go directly to help the special needs school in Kenya and its ongoing medical care for hundreds of children in the area.

“In Kenya, and most of Africa, special needs are seen as a curse and not a disease or a disability.” – Ubuntu Director Hanna Cofer

Ubuntu began close to 15 years ago and began selling products a decade ago, beginning with handbags and other small accessories. Afridrilles mark the organization's most ambitious endeavor yet. Cofer says they chose this type of shoe because it could be entirely “forged with materials from East Africa and be worn around the world.”

The Afridrilles, which are created through a partnership with Zazzle, can be ordered through its Kickstarter page. Customers customize the shoe online and see the changes of color or pattern as they are applied. The order goes to the factory in Kenya where a team takes the canvas to a screen printer in Nairobi. From there the shoes go back to the Kenya factory for assembling.

As a final unique touch, a specially made beaded label created by the Maker Mums is added to every pair of shoes. The Mums, composed of about 40 women, Cofer says have become a close-knit group of women who, through the programs and jobs created by Ubuntu, have been able to help one another and themselves, getting health insurance, starting their own businesses, and owning land. “They have become beacons in their communities and have brought in other women to expand the operation,” Cofer says.

The idea to create products to benefit special needs children in Africa came after Ubuntu’s Executive Director Zane Wilemon went on a one-way trip to Kenya during medical school. There he met Jeremiah Kuria, a pastor who would become the co-founder of Ubuntu, who introduced him to his community. He began volunteering and realized that special needs children were treated as outcasts.

“In Kenya, and most of Africa, special needs are seen as a curse and not a disease or a disability,” Cofer says. “The children are shunned, can’t be taken into the public. The parents can’t get work.”

When they saw what little was being done about the descrimination, they decided this was an area where they could make a difference. So began Ubuntu.

The Kickstarter campaign ends on May 2, and Cofer hopes to continue sales on their website and the Zazzle site. She says they are also working with outside designers to create custom prints for the fall. Increased sales means more maker mums and children benefitting from the program.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Afridrille, Ubuntu Made, Zane Wilemon, Kenya

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