Friday, November 02, 2018

The (Made-in-Kenya) Enda Sportswear Iten Review: The Anti-Pegasus Turbo

By Michael Ellenberger

Author's Note: I spoke with Enda, and received some updates. First and foremost, new colors (potentially those from the Kickstarter, below) are on the way. Presumably they're a variation on the Kenyan green, red, and black - but we'll wait and see! Second, I have received some questions about the materials and production of the Iten. The Enda team directed me towards a video, showcasing some of the production, and noted that they're moving towards an all-Kenyan production, inclusive of materials and labor. Just another step towards delivering Kenyan running to runners around the world, while driving development in Kenya!

Finally, next in the pipeline is a more cushioned trainer - undoubtedly RoadTrailRun will have it covered once we know more!


* * * * *
The Enda Iten in green. My kind of shoe.
Enda Sportswear is a company based in Nairobi, Kenya. Besides making some kick-ass running shoes (more on that below), Enda promotes a strong social program: furthering economic development by creating manufacturing and marketing jobs in Kenya, supporting local communities through the Enda Community Foundation (Enda commits 2% of each purchase to "social good initiatives" in Kenya), and "changing the way the world sees Kenya."
"Proudly Made in Kenya" - and worn worldwide.
This third point is particularly interesting - any reader of Road Trail Run knows that some of the world's greatest runners are Kenyans, and for many, the extent of what we know about Kenya at all is that it's home to runners - but there's more, of course. Enda wants to highlight the creativity and skill of Kenyans, saying that when you see that 'Made in Kenya' tag, "it should automatically mean quality and contemporary style." Looking at the Enda Iten sitting on my desk, I think they're off to a good start.

Enda started on Kickstarter, where they raised $128,187, more than $50,000 above the set goal. One of the things promised in the Kickstarter campaign was an alternate, "special edition" colorway if the project reached $150,000. Unfortunately it finished short, but I hope we see the special edition colors in the future, because they do look sharp (see below). Even so, I'm a fan of the solid, simple look they went with. Hard to go wrong. The colors offered used even have special meaning: "black represents the indigenous people of Kenya, Red for the blood that was shed fighting for Kenyan independence and green for the rich agricultural landscape of Kenya. The white on the sole is for peace."
Special edition shoes from Enda's Kickstarter campaign.
Enda didn't tell me this, directly, but it almost feels like an anti-Nike. There's no hype here, no flashy technology or carbon fiber plates - just a straightforward, lightweight trainer. Three colors. A simple outsole design. Something about that simplicity, in the era of 4%, Boost, and DNA AMP, really appeals to me. Of course, what really matters is how it runs, not what it proposes to do....
Notice all the little details and patterns on the upper and midsole - really slick. The logo mimics the arrow from the Kenyan flag.
No "ZoomX" here - Enda uses a more traditional foam cushioning mechanic.
The crew at Enda were kind enough to add a bracelet to my order - handmade in Kenya with traditional glass beads.
Instead of a shoe box, my Itens arrived in a drawstring bag, reminiscent of a spike bag from my cross-country racing days. Count me in as a fan of this - I wish more manufacturers would do the same.
The Iten
The Enda Iten ($100, available at endasportswear.com) is the first running shoe from Enda, and slots into the lightweight trainer category, similar to a Nike Zoom Elite, Brooks Launch, or Skechers GoRun. They're offered in black, red, and the terrific green pair that I have. The colors correspond to those on the Kenyan flag and each look good, but with both my high school and collegiate programs being green, I sure do love a green shoe. As to fit, they run a little long in the forefoot - I'm an 8.5 almost across-the-board (tiny, tiny, ASICS Gel-451 not withstanding) and while I wouldn't go down to an 8.0 here, I'd advise those in the middle to size down. Enda highlights the wide toe-box (they call it "slightly wider than normal") and rightfully so: it's darn comfortable. But in practice, that width may come at the cost of just being feeling a touch large up-front. Nothing deal-breaking, just something to consider. Those with wider feet will find no problems, I imagine.
I'm a fan of the outsole - it provided good grip even on my first run out-of-the-box, which was a wet and slick one.
Not that Harambee - in Swahili it means “all pull together.” Enda says it refers to moments where communities come together to accomplish something individuals couldn’t do alone."
The Iten is a higher volume shoe than the Streak 6 (left) and about the same as the Epic React (right). This comparison doesn't tell the whole story, as the Flyknit material on both Nikes makes them significantly more snug at the toe.
At 7.9 oz, I'm not sure I'd pull them for my next race (especially when there's the Nike Vaporfly 4% Flyknit and Reebok Floatride Run Fast Pro), but it bears noting that 7.9 oz is lighter than the Zoom Fly Flyknit (8.3 oz) and about the same as the Adidas Adizero Boston 7, so it's far from a heavy trainer. I'd imagine many runners may want to slip on the Iten for the marathon or half-marathon distance, or just daily training, but I wouldn't pick this up specifically for 5K or 10K races. Enda suggests the Iten for fast or easy runs, and has a shoe (presumably a little more cushioned) coming for long runs in the near future, codenamed HMT. We will hopefully get that in for a review once it's released. The biggest takeaway here is that the Iten is a lightweight trainer - definitely substantial enough for daily runs, but just enough pep to be worth a look for those longer races.

Of note, the Iten also has a 4mm drop, to aid with a midfoot or forefoot stride. Though I'm not one to haggle over a few millimeters - I manage to have the same stride in a 10mm or 0mm drop shoe - it is nice to have something in that middle range. Running in the Iten after months largely in the Turbo, Zoom Fly, and Epic React did, perhaps, contribute to some initial calf and achilles soreness, but it subsided quickly. Enda also told me the midsole is intentionally a little snugger to provide for better lockdown, even on tight corners. My foot didn't slip around - and it often does, especially in something like the Pegasus 35 Turbo.
Twelve (12) stripes on each shoe - combined, they stand for 12/12, or Jamhuri Day, Kenya Independence Day.
More shoes need pull tabs. Cool pull tabs with designs. The cutout in the heel mimics the Great Rift Valley of Kenya.
Speaking of which... the most obvious comparison here (at least in terms of Nike) is perhaps the Pegasus 35 Turbo. We tested them here at RTR and really enjoyed them, despite some sizing quirks. Both the Peg Turbos and the Iten are lightweight trainers, aimed at easy days, but capable when the pace gets pushed. The Peg Turbo feathers in at 8.4 oz, just a shade over the Iten's 7.9 oz. Get them muddy and you won't know the difference on a scale.

Despite identical goals - Nike says that its cushioning technology "brings record-breaking speed and responsiveness to your daily training runs," Enda proclaims "[built] for your fast shorter runs ... robust enough to keep you going if you chose to go longer" - these shoes could not be more different. The Turbos have ZoomX foam, Flywire cables, tapered achilles padding - and cost a cool $180. The Iten has no licensed or branded technology, no "space-age" materials, no hype. They cost $100. There's something special here about a small brand taking on a behemoth, a David versus Goliath - Dave Wottle versus the World - story... but it's not all so easy. While the Pegasus Turbo did leave some of us wishing there was a firmer ride and more tapered toe-box, it's also an incredibly comfortable shoe, built to relax and recover after a hard effort without having to pull on a 13 oz. trainer. In that regard, the Iten is left behind - while I've enjoyed logging miles in it, even easy miles! - it's not a shoe I'd slip on the day after a long track session or a hard road race. It's just too unforgiving.

Perhaps a better comparison is to the Nike Zoom Elite 10, a cosmetic update from the Zoom Elite 9.  The Elite isn't a shoe packed with Nike's latest and greatest technology; rather, it's a simple blend of Cushlon, Zoom Air, and blown rubber - a mixture of Nike's past, not its future. And, as my colleague Peter Stuart called it, the "Swiss army knife" of running shoes. Even more similar: it costs $100. But the Elite isn't what Nike wants you to see as the future of running shoes - the Turbo is. At the very least, in mentality, Nike and Enda are trending in polar opposite directions.

Green versus green. At 6.77 ounces, the Flyknit Streak isn't quite in the same class as the Iten, but I did like the Streak as a lightweight daily trainer.
Fat laces. They're fine, but about 2" too long.
The arrow appears on the toe cap....
... and the outsole!
Some smaller notes, now. The outsole is real rubber, and it feels good. It's grippy, but moreover it's resistant, such that running on a usual loop that takes me over pretty hefty crushed gravel, I felt none of the discomfort I would otherwise encounter in a shoe this light. The tread also seems adequate - I've actually had trouble on the Chicago Lakefront path (and specifically the painted elements) when it's wet on some of the recent Nike shoes. A shoe like the Nike Flyknit Racer has the traditional blown rubber outsole and presents no issues, but something more recent like the Nike Epic React or even (to a lesser degree) Adidas Adizero Adios gave me some uncertainty. The strong lockdown in the Iten doesn't hurt in that regard, either.

Conclusions
Enda Sportswear is a relatively new company, and certainly a small one, and it's hard to draw comparisons with the giants of running shoes - Nike, Brooks, even Hoka One One - without feeling like it's unfair. Enda isn't on par with any of them, yet - they only have one shoe to speak of, for one thing - but the Iten is a strong introduction and a smart choice, in profile: bringing in a lightweight trainer, rather than a mid-weight, Pegasus-esque shoe allows both a lower price point and a more dynamic option.

But here's the thing about the Iten: that no-frills attitude also gives you, ultimately, a no-frills ride. I appreciate the simplicity, and really do like running in the shoe. It'll be in my rotation even when I have more shoes to cover, and I'll likely pick up a pair in red soon. But Nike's technology (or any major manufacturer's) isn't only hype, it's also science. The foam used in the Iten is firm, and it feels firm - it doesn't bounce back the way React, or ZoomX, or BOOST, or even DNA AMP does. It's inert. To me, that isn't the end of the world - I'm not racing in the shoe, so I don't demand the best, and I can appreciate the more 1:1 responsive feel you get from a simple, low-drop shoe. Just don't go into the Iten expecting a $200 shoe at a $100 price.

To revert to America's favorite catalogue of metaphors, Enda Sportswear didn't knock this shoe out of the park - but it did hit a comfortable double to deep-center. It's inspiring to me that a small company can make shoes in Kenya, give back to the local community, and still produce a shoe I'd be comfortable pulling on for most training days. It's a difficult feat, and they're off to a great (dare I say, a running) start. Soon they'll have a more traditional cushioned trainer in the lineup, and I'm hopeful I'll get to try that as well. One can dream of an Enda racing flat coming down the pipe - simplicity can go a long way for a flat, as we saw from Reebok this year. But for now, the Iten is a great entry into performance trainers, and one I look forward to logging many more miles in.

Michael's Score (out of 10): 9.25
  • - .25 for a shoe that's just a little too long in the toe box.
  • - .50 for cushion that's too firm to make me pull it on for those true recovery days.
Comparisons with Other Shoes

Nike Pegasus 35 Turbo: This one is all over the review, of course. The Iten is firmer, less bouncy, and slightly less comfortable than the Peg Turbo. But for any run in which you want to turn over, the Iten should be on your feet - it's far less sloppy than the Turbo, and the 4mm promotes a more natural, quicker foot-strike.

Sketchers Performance GOrun 6: I'm not as familiar with Skechers, across-the-line, as I am with other brands. Partially because they're reasonably new to competitive running, and partially because I, despite my best intentions, still feel a little silly lacing up a pair of Skechers to head out on a workout or race. Still, the GOrun 6 is a terrific, simple trainer - one the Iten would do well to continue to mimic. Like the Iten, we have a simple, no-frills platform, a 4mm drop, and (importantly to both brands) a low price. The GOrun 6 has a knit upper not found on the Iten, but it wasn't universally loved by our reviewers.

Adidas Adizero Adios: The energy-return from the BOOST material sets this shoe apart, a little. For a tempo run or easy day, there's no reason not to consider the Iten - especially when the Adios costs almost 50% more - but for a race day, we loved the feedback and control of the Adios.

Nike Zoom Fly Flyknit: Like the Turbo, the Zoom Fly Flyknit seems antithetical to the Iten: Flyknit, React foam, carbon propulsion plate. There's a lot of technology here that simply isn't found on the Enda model. Add in the 10mm drop, and you're looking at two shoes that approach "performance lightweight trainer" in extremely different ways. Largely, the takeaway with the Fly FK is the same as the Adios: for training runs, as much as I love the Flyknit upper and that mid foot propulsion, there's nothing inherently worth the $60 premium to me when a flat, light shoe like the Iten can get me there. But if you want a shoe that can race, or really get those track sessions in-line, I think your money is better spent on the Nike. Just don't expect the Fly FK to have the range down to easy recovery runs that the Iten has - that carbon plate makes for some uncomfortable strides if you're not turning over.

Reviewer Bio
Michael Ellenberger
Michael is a third-year law student at Northwestern University in Chicago, with an interest in patent and intellectual property law. Prior to law school, he competed collegiately at Washington University in St. Louis (10,000m PR of 30:21). He recently finished 2nd at the Chicago Half-Marathon in a PR of 67:43, and was the top Illinois finisher in the 2017 Boston Marathon (2:33:03, 82nd overall). Michael is a gadget and running nerd, and has pipe dreams of running the Olympics Trials marathon standard. His pre-race breakfast is, and will always be, Pop-Tarts.
Shop for the Iten at Enda here

The product reviewed in this article were provided at no cost. The opinions herein are entirely the author's.
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5 comments:

Rachel said...

Great review of something outside the box. I’d buy these shoes almost just to know my money was going to a startup with folks for whom every sale makes a difference. Love the more reasonable price tag too. How does the Iten compare to the Clifton 4 (my daily go-to) and Altra Duo (my uptempo/longer run shoe)?

sam winebaum said...

Hi Rachel,
Will try to venture some thoughts about your question as I have not run Iten but have the other two and I am not sure Michael has run your two favorites. I think you would find Iten firmer than either of the other but closer to the Duo than Clifton. it appears to be a wider toe box firmer up tempo shoe. A closer comparison might be to something like the Salomon RA Pro (softer) Brooks Launch (more drop for Launch), or even Saucony Kinvara.
Sam, Editor

Rachel said...

Thanks Sam!
I’m curious about sizing too; maybe you can check with Michael. Lengthwise, are they on the smaller/larger end? I’m 7.5 in Hoka/Altra but 8 in Nike. I’m thinking of getting a men’s 6.5 in the Iten since they’re sold out in the women’s color I wanted. I did email them to ask but haven’t heard back yet.

Anonymous said...

Hi Guys great review as always. I notice you've compared it to the nike streak 6, im interested in sizing and have the streaks, did you get the same size or size up/down? 10.5in the streak
A general comparison to the kinavara would also be great, 4mm daily trainer vibe, assume kinavara is softer/more cushioned?

Michael said...

Rachel - As the post says, I found it to run just a little long. I'd go with the 7.5 or mens' equivalent (which I suppose is a 6) unless you hear otherwise from them. I believe they allow exchanges for sizing, as well, so shouldn't be a huge issue.

Anon - I had the same size (8.5) in Streak 6 and Iten. As you can see in one of the photos, the Iten runs a little longer, so if the Streak was on the larger side already, you may want to drop down .5.

As to the Kinvara, I actually haven't worn one since the 8 or so, but if it tracks with other EverRun models (even if slightly diluted in the K10), I do imagine it's a little softer and peppier than the Iten. Trying them on, they do feel very similar underfoot. I just haven't trained enough in the K10 to have a real impression.