It’s really amazing that young Rwandan women are taking on entrepreneurship roles by venturing into business and overcoming the stereotype that women can’t do anything on their own.
Naleli Diana Rugege is an established Fashion Designer who used to freelance for two years while learning and strengthening her own ties in the industry.
“I have a National Diploma in Fashion Design from the Durban University of Technology in South Africa. When I graduated in 2009, I came to Rwanda to explore fashion designs. It was a new environment since I had grown up in South Africa and fashion and design is in most cases inspired by interacting with new people,” Rugege narrated.
She added that when a fashion designer is inspired, they design and then create.
“When I got here I freelanced for two years, designing a few garments with different clients telling me what sort of garments to design. The demand was high and I realised a lot of people want to look good and beautiful. I thrive on people’s creativity,” Rugege expressed.
She also said that her main aim is to make sure she meets the desires of her clients so as to maintain them.
The eloquent and blissful Rugege traces her artistic traits way back to when she was a child.
“As a child I enjoyed drawing illustrations of women wearing beautiful dresses and that was when my mother advised me to study fashion design. I played with the idea through high school and, at the end of it all, I decided to study fashion design,” Rugege explained.
She attributes her achievements to the massive support of her family who have always supported her childhood dream.
“I discovered that a good support system is needed if you are going to pursue art. And I believe I’m living my dream now,” disclosed the designer.
Her fashion house label is The Marion in Kigali and it’s named after her grandmother. It’s located in Kimihurura below Kigali Business Centre (KBC).
“My grandmother was a very stylish woman so it is a very fitting title. It is my working studio -where I create garments plus it was the build-up preparation for my first ever fashion show which was held at Umubano Hotel on July 27, 2012. This is where the crazy cutting and stitching happens. Besides the models, I work with an assistant tailor and I hope to employ more people in the future.”
“The fashion show was received well because people loved what they saw. The aim of the fashion show was to introduce myself as an organic fashion designer who creates and designs her own work. I hope to have more fashion shows at least every six months when I come up with new designs and colours. I need to introduce them in an entertaining manner,” she revealed.
Freelancing for two years helped her save some money to start her own dream project The Marion in Kigali. She bought space and brought her dream closer to reality.
Just like every new entrepreneur, Rugege was not at all immune to challenges.
“My first challenge was to find a trained person to work with. The element of sourcing out fabric has not always been easy especially when you are looking for a particular fabric. The resources needed as a fashion designer are a bit of a challenge but I have learnt to adapt by using alternatives that sometimes prove to be better,” she revealed.
Regarding the fashion show, her main challenge was finding effective infrastructure since it was her first time.
“My message to young women who want to venture into business is to stay focused, have determination and also be educated in your craft. Education is so important - when I studied Fashion Design, it was not only about drawing, we studied business, pattern technology and that is what gives me the ability to visualize what I studied, research it theoretically and then create it. You will appreciate it and the rewards are great,” advised Rugege.
Besides being an established fashion designer, Rugege is also a poet and is usually involved in art related fields such as several shows of Spoken Word. She explained why she enjoys the field.
“Once you are an artist, you don’t belong to one particular kind of art; you belong to all of it. Professionally, I’m a fashion designer but I belong to other art departments too. I feel like a poet, other times I feel like a song writer or actress. When you have a passion for art, you belong to all of it.”
“If you look around, everything is inspired by art - music, photography, clothes and so many other things. People who don’t value art should look around and they will discover that world is made of art. Art supports and inspires life.”