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Beauty from Ashes: Using old tyres to make beautiful sandals

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I arrived a few minutes past noon at Village Sandals to the sweet mellow sound of Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds and the backdrop of red, yellow and green all around me, creating a small Rastafari heaven.

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A sample of Zach’s beautiful Akala sandals, photo by Zach Owiso

“…three little birds, pitched by my doorstep, singing sweet songs…”

I arrived a few minutes past noon at Village Sandals to the sweet mellow sound of Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds and the backdrop of red, yellow and green all around me, creating a small Rastafari heaven.

Zachary Owiso 35, proprietor of Village Sandals is proud of his religion, displaying it all around his shop not only with the colours and images of Haile Selassie, but the belief that we are solely responsible for our environment.

Like many artiste’s, Zach makes several different products including t-shirts, necklaces, pots, and benches but what really caught my attention were the beautiful and unique sandals strewn all over his social media pages.

Employing both the old and the new, Zach uses old tyres to make Akala sandals that appeal to the insatiable appetites of 21st century consumers.

 “Young people like trendy things, for my business to thrive, my designs have to evolve as people’s taste’s do,” he says.

The origins of Akala

A woman walking past Village Sandals situated behind United Mall, photo by Monica Guya

Also dubbed ‘thousand-milers’, Kenyatta or Oginga, the Akala sandal is believed to have originated from Maasai herders in the 70s and 80s who needed shoes that could withstand any terrain while herding their cattle.

Made purely of old used tyre, the original Akala sandal was bulky and quite popular with village folk, particularly young men who didn’t have to keep dropping pennies on shoes.

They however made a comeback in the late 90s and early 2000s branded as Maasai sandals, a lighter and stylish alternative to the original.

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4Rs (Repair, recycle, reduce and reuse)

To involve the masses in the climate change conversation, experts came up with the 3R’s of environmental sustainability eventually adding repair, an easy way we can all make small changes that will have an enormous impact.

Yet Zach informs me that he is not conversant with the 4R’s but his business employs their philosophy by employing the use of used tyres.

Procuring the tyres from Kibuye market, he buys both the inner and outer pelts at Ksh. 50/= and Ksh. 200/= per roll respectively.

He also uses glue and leather for the vamp, the upper part of the shoe, which he says is quite expensive and not as easy to come by.

“I also replace old shoes with new soles. At times the vamp is still good, instead of throwing away the shoe, bring it and I will give a new sole,” he explains.

Zach explaining how the sole made of used tyre will be attached to the vamp which is made before hand. Behind him is Harryzone Ameda, one of his mentees, photo by Monica Guya

Waste tyre management

According to data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), since 2013, Kenya has increased its importation of tyres, primarily from China by 6.4%, from Ksh. 13 billion in 2013 to 14 billion in 2017.

A study carried out by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), a German development agency in Kenya in conjunction with NEMA in 2012, estimated that approximately 2 million waste tyres were produced in that year alone.

The study also estimated that the amount of waste tyres in Kenya would increase from 50,000 tons in 2012 to 140,000 tons in 2030 if the situation were to remain the same.

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The study also alluded to the fact that Kenya did not have proper waste tyre management systems, thereby ending up in landfills where they are burnt.

Burning of tyres is illegal in Kenya due to hazardous gas emissions such as mercury, hydrogen chloride, sulphuric acids and fluorides

100% Sustainable products

There is currently a global movement advocating for 100% sustainable production process and products, in line with the Paris Agreement 2016, which aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by making sure temperatures don’t rise above 1.5°celsius.

Zach uses leather on his shoes, meaning his process is not 100% sustainable; however, because he is already in the space of recycling, the government should formulate ways in which entrepreneurs such as Zach can be assisted to achieve 100% sustainability.

Although Zach at the moment hasn’t employed anyone, he mentors many young people who go on to open their own businesses, diving into the promising recycling business.

Howard Gone, a mentee of Zachary Owiso, applying glue to a roll of tyre  before cutting it into the required shapes and sizes, photo by Monica Guya
Howard Gone, a mentee of Zachary Owiso, applying glue to a roll of tyre before cutting it into the required shapes and sizes, photo by Monica Guya

“I wasn’t doing anything constructive with my time before but through Zach I am not only busy, I am learning a skill I can use to earn a living,” says Howard Gone.

This is in line with a report by the United Nations (UN) that states that the transition to a greener economy could create an estimated 60 million jobs in the next two decades.

“I hope many other young people looking for employment can get into this business because it is what has sustained me for the last ten years,” he concludes.

By Monica Guya

I am a freelance journalist and writer from Kisumu County. I am passionate about all issues to do with mental health. I also love to read and tell stories of everyday life!

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