Nyamweya is a journalist currently attached to a leading Kenyan media
What if you could leave your house or even travel to the village feeling safe while knowing that you won’t become a disconnected due to dead batteries or lack of electricity? Well, the latest innovation by a Kenyatta University student in cloth design could make the problem of dead batteries a thing of the past, through producing and storing energy on a wearable product.
Moved by the constant power outages at his KU university campus, Calvin Ruuj, then an electrical engineering student thought of a concept of making wearable generate electrical power without being connected to an electrical source. He worked on putting this concept into reality and ended up designing clothes that are not only able to produce light, but also charge phones as you are walking.
This writer reached out to him to explain why he came up with the idea and here is what he had:
“While taking my studies at Kenyatta University, black outs were a regular phenomena and at times, I could not take my evening studies and assignments due to lack of light. In fact. Due to such experiences, I reasoned how I could make use of my electrical engineering knowledge and passion to design clothes that are able to product light to cater for such a situation. I then discussed this idea with some of my colleagues and who despite being hesitant at first on how such an idea can work decided to embrace it and we gave it a try”
Before it is ready for marketing, the product goes through several stages and passes through several hands that entail teamwork.
“This is actually a team work and work involves several people and stages” Claims Ruuj adding that most of the raw materials we use are imported.
Designing is the first process whereby; the concept is put in paper and a picture of the final product is conceptualized. The raw product is then taken to the tailor alongside the design where a tailor does the tailoring work. There is also the wiring process which requires someone with skills in electrical engineering. We also have models who advices on the designs and final product. Once the product is fully developed, there is someone who does the marketing through various platforms.
After agreeing with the design, and the tailor has worked on it, the wiring aspect is then undertaken. What motivated the leader of this concept is that it worked during the trial stage.
“Fortunately, it worked on the first trial and we were really delighted about it. Gradually, we then thought of expanding the idea by working on miniature solar gadgets and other devices that can be charged by regular light” Ruuj tells the Nairobian adding that “Eventually, we managed to come up with a charging system that uses a detachable solar device attached to the jacket. It is this device that is charged by lighting”
The product has been currently improved to incorporate a temperature regulation mechanism whereby one can alter the temperature level depending on the current weather.
At first, the team could only target fellow students at the campus. However, demand so it being released to the public market.
“Although we had initially focused on campus students, we later decided to release it to the general public since the challenges we are seeking to address also exist in the general society”
Most of the clients for this product are people going for camping, motorcycle riders, those going for long journeys including shags where there is electricity challenges. This cloth is also suitable for people who to work or go businesses very early in the morning and thus would need lighting during the wee hours.
However, prominent personalities including popular artists have also shown interest in the product due to its uniqueness.
“We have dealt with the likes of Edu Kenzu, Khali Graphs, Nishi Dora, Davido among others who have come to buy our products and this has been a motivation to us”
For those who are fearful that the cloth will cause shock or any electricity related issues, Ruuj assures them that it is shock free and that since it uses only solar to charge, there is no risk commonly associated with electrical conduct.
Contrary to those assumptions, there is absolutely no negative effect to the user because the electricity used is purely solar and so no harm. When you buy our product, we show you how to fix the components and it is a simple process”
This extends to washing whereby; Ruuj claims that there is no danger since you only need to pull off the device used for charging and generating power and return it back once the cloth is dry. The device can be used for decoration as well.
“Even if the device gets mixed with water by accident, there is no shock or electricity related problems”
To make their products known, they have made use of social media, door to door marketing and even word of mouth. A complete set of this product that has lights, charger device and charging goes for only ksh 2000.
However, it has not always been a smooth ride for the team, convincing people on the products safety considering its electrical power has not been a walk in the park.
“As you know, Kenyans do not accept new concepts easily until they are really convinced about it through other people” claims Ruuj adding that “however, we are grateful that many have now come to appreciate our product”
Another challenge is sourcing materials; considering that most of the raw materials used are sourced from abroad, sometimes there is a delay or limitations as occurred during the corona lockdown period.
Concerning the team’s future plan, the team is currently working on further improvements of the product by incorporating a fan. The idea is to make life easier for people who find themselves in hot temperatures. The new cloth will be out in the market anytime from now. However, they will still retain the features of the existing design to make a complete design set. They are also looking forward to expand this company, reach out to more people including those in rural areas where such a product will be most needful for lighting and charging phones. Besides, they are also working on going online and making it possible for people to order and receive the products from the comfort of their homes.