Twahirwa: My passion for fashion was my breakthrough
To get to the Moshions Fashion House, one has to endure a brief but stiff climb up a rugged gravel road past the ISCO Security headquarters in Gikondo.
Past the branded black gate, the eyes immediately rest upon the impeccable white walls of the fashion house, a large patio and even larger lawns.
On Tuesday afternoon when I visited, a small crowd of women and a man were huddled together in one corner of the balcony, chatting, taking selfies and pampering a little girl.
Stepping inside the showroom, I’m greeted by the sound of Papa Wemba’s Show me the way on replay from a Mac computer. A few people are checking out outfits from the collections on display. Occasionally a client dashes into the fitting room to try out an outfit.
The sound of tailoring from adjacent rooms completes the picture.
Fashion designer Moses Twahirwa established the Moshions Fashion brand in 2015, against all odds. It was the sheer passion for making garments and his perseverance that saw him through.
He explains the name, Moshions;
“I wanted to combine my name and what I do as a career. So it was Moses Fashions which I had to combine to come up with a name which is not only catchy but that also sounded like a brand name.”
Twahirwa launched his first collection of eight pieces at the Kigali Fashion Week 2015, while still at university.
“Everyone was like wow … this is nice, because I used different materials from Kitenge which is common with most fashion designers here. Instead I used leather and stretching wool to make my own combinations and the results came out good,” he explains.
After that showcase the orders started to trickle in.
In December 2015 his collection was spotted by the Swahili Fashion Week in Dar es Salaam and he was honored with an invitation to showcase.
Then he was nominated for the Abryanz Style and Fashion Awards in Kampala Uganda, organized by Ugandan fashion designer Brian Muhumuza, in the category of East African Designer.
“This was really quick and it was mainly because I used social media to gain visibility for my brand. If I designed something for you I would post it on Twitter and make noise about it. I tried my best to make it clear that I was now fully into fashion design and I moved here in April 2016 because I needed bigger space.”
He started with just one tailor and one sewing machine, the tailor being the same guy that had tailored Twahirwa’s clothes while still at university.
“I convinced him to come and start this journey with me. I was not sure how things would turn out but I decided to take the risk.
After two months I brought in another tailor because I was seeing the progress and the interest from clients.”
He kept recruiting and today, he has five full-time tailors on board.
Started in school
Interestingly, Twahirwa studied Water and Sanitation Engineering at IPRC Kigali. It’s actually from IPRC that the fashion designer in him first manifested.
“I started from nothing, from my room at university where I had just my pencil and pen drawing designs that inspired me from a day-to-day basis. I was doing it all for myself. If I drew a shirt today and had it tailored, then someone would come and ask where I bought the shirt, I would make a similar design for them, go to a tailor in town and ask them to tailor it. Sometimes tailors wondered why I was making so many shirts of similar designs.”
When he moved to his present location early last year, Twahirwa started from scratch, “because I had almost nothing, not even a tailor but just my mind and my drawings”.
Earlier while still in high school, streaks of the fashionista in him had begun to manifest;
“But I didn’t really know what it was all about –whether it was about designing garments or about being a model, because I originally started out as a model before establishing a brand in fashion design.”
He completed secondary school in 2010 and the following year joined Premier Modeling Agency and started training as a model “because I just loved the catwalk. It is from my career as a model that I pushed myself to know more about fashion.
When I joined the fashion design industry it opened my eyes to the fact that fashion designers exist and you can actually design clothes and make money. I started to feel that now I needed to do something I love. If I knew all this before, perhaps I would have studied something related to fashion.”
His main inspiration is Umwitero, traditional Rwandan clothing used by the royals from as far back as the 16th century.
“When I started I wanted to be unique but also with a touch of tradition to reflect where I’m from. But I wanted to elaborate on it and make it a bit modern so that it can match with the generation and the world we live in today. I wanted something that would be catchy to Rwandans but also to the international community. It’s something particular to my designs and people like it.”
He handles mainly orders for wedding bespoke suits, and his brand is ssociated mostly with men’s wear, although he also makes outfits for women.
He dispels the popular notion that fashion is a woman’s world;
“I would say that this mindset is changing. Women dress but men dress as well. In developed countries men are actually more into fashion than women.
The thing is, once you prove to men that you have different options to wear, they’ll go for it. The men’s outfits I do are usually unique and classy but not extravagant and shouting.
Before, men did not appreciate the value of fashion but now this is changing. They understand that they have to wear a suit made for them, for their own measurements, rather than buying a suit which is already made, and you still want to find a tailor to adjust the suit. It’s better you take the measurements and do a bespoke suit or shirt.”
So far, the fashion house has worked with a fair number of local celebrities; it designed the costumes for singer Mani Martin’s latest video –Afro, Buravan for the East African Party with The Ben on New Year’s Day, and the musical duo of Charly and Nina for their recent showing at the HiPiPo music awards in Kampala, where they scooped the
He has also designed outfits for Ugandan socialite Judith Heard, as well the Urban Boyz for all their Guma Guma road shows.
Made in Rwanda
From my experience I would say the Made in Rwanda campaign has contributed a lot for the industry I’m in. since it started people are very curious to know; do we even have these Made in Rwanda brands who can dress us? So in the way of finding out for themselves they come to us and ask what can you do, what can you make, and once you make it, then they know that Rwandans can design and tailor clothes to make them look different. With that curiosity for finding out you get more clients coming to you or approaching you. They may not be buying now, but maybe after they will come.
He believes that with repeated urging from government, the Made in Rwanda campaign will go places;
“Before, people would just say “I will go to caguwa (used clothes) and find something” but now the mindset is changing. People now want to be proud of wearing Made in Rwanda rather than other brands from outside. It’s now becoming cool, like the Gucci of Rwanda. For us designers and other manufacturers, the impact is growing our industry in terms of finances as we get more clients.
West Africans have developed because of that because when you see west Africans most times they are wearing their brands.”
Caguwa vs Made in Rwanda
People need to understand that once you’re producing, there is that flexibility between expensive and affordable. The other thing is that because the campaign is new, the materials are still expensive on the market. All those things you need for tailoring are still on a high price, then you have to pay the tailors, so the final product is a bit expensive than caguwa. But caguwa is something used. If you want to talk about the price of Made in Rwanda then don’t compare it to caguwa. Compare it to other brands like Gucci because buying something old is totally different from buying something new.”