Posted by: beninmwangi | June 1, 2007

African Path Interview with Sandstorm Kenya


For those of you who have not yet had a chance to read this interview, I highly recommend that you do it. The interview is between Joshua Wanyama, Editor of African Path and Keith Steel, owner of apparel maker Sandstorm Kenya.

What I enjoyed about the interview is that it may have pointed out where Kenya’s competitive advantage lies amongst her global competitors.

Here is an excerpt:

“…Around 95% of all bag and accessories manufacturing comes from China,” Keith says. “We are proud of the fact that everything that goes into our bags are from Kenya. We support Kenya, the Kenyan heritage and its people. The whole operation in Kenya is run and operated by Simon Mwangi, our very strong and able manager. All our employees are Kenyans. This is a commitment that we will continually uphold as we grow Sandstorm.”

“Sandstorm in no ordinary Kenyan company and neither is its owner Keith Steel. The rich heritage that the company embodies is a direct reflection of Keith. While Sandstorm is a relatively young company, Keith has managed to create a mature brand that conjures a romantic image of Africa. That of Indiana Jones battling through tough terrain while on safari seeking to conquer new lands. Wading through rivers in the jungle or crawling through the African bush. Keith says, “We are a safari-lifestyle brand and people expect the highest quality on our products. This shouldn’t be confused with luxury. Our customers are those with active lifestyles seeking lasting quality. They love the outdoors, care for the environment and appreciate authentic products.”

Keith has a great love of Africa since his childhood in Kenya. He loves nature and the abundant wildlife in Africa. His love has extended to nature conservation. Sandstorm has developed a relationship with Lewa Wildlife Conservancy located on the Laikipia Plains in Northern Kenya. The conservancy aims to conserve wildlife, educate people, work with local and international governments and change people’s attitudes towards development. Sandstorm donates a portion of every bag sold to Lewa…”

This to me brings out something that I have observed within the last three years and it is a global phenomena. This would be the successful cross-over positioning of high end product manufactures have somehow managed of late. Both into the minds of the bargain conscious consumers and to the conspicuous consumers who demand that their labels convey opulence. I think that Sandstorm Kenya is a powerful embodiment of that concept.

And think about it, can a small country like Kenya compete with an economic giant like China on price alone? Hmmm….But when you add the hand made, attention to detail piece and couple that with the relatively low prices, oh-you’ve got a real winner. After all Kenyan made goods may not be priced as low as China’s but compared to goods made in the UK or in the USA, they are still a bargain.

Now as far as I am aware compared with her close neighbors south of Ethiopia and north of South Africa, Kenya has a very strong manufacturing edge. So this manufacturing example may not neatly translate into a model for other countries in Africa, but perhaps if you took the same concept and applied it to other areas it would make sense. Like let’s say agriculture, IT, tourism, and or any other industry where the low price only gets you the automated and “hands off” production approach by other nations, then many of Africa’s countries who already produce those types of items might have a powerful advantage. Get my drift?



  1. There are market opportunities within African nations whereby businesses can leverage and position themselves to serve a global market. I think the question in all about how a company sees itself, how a country sets itself up (security, infrastructure and the like) and how a country markets itself. Since our reputation in the global stage is far behind most other continents, African countries need to figure out what they stand for and how to let the world know that. Each country has advantages and disadvantages. One just has to figure out what they are.

    Kenya is located geographically at a nice area within the continent, they are technologically advanced (online and mobile platforms), innovative with good business environment that currently lacks seed capital for most companies to stand a chance in the marketplace, the economy currently enjoys a good growth rate although I doubt it has reached down to everyone and its reputation is better than say Somalia or DRC or a lot of other countries. All it has to do now is start utilizing its position to gain a hold of the global outsourcing market.

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