From upcoming to household names, Rwanda’s fashion designers are making major waves and turning major heads on the runway this season.
Meet Joselyne Umutoniwase, one of the leading designers in the local budding fashion industry, and the brainchild behind the just concluded ‘Rwandan Fashion Up-grade 2013’.
In an interview with The New Times, Umutoniwase speaks extensively on her presence in the fashion industry, her passion for designing and her future plans in the business.
Q: Briefly tell us who is Joselyne Umutoniwase?
A: Joselyne Umutoniwase is a designer of Rwanda Clothing. I am 26-years-old and married.
I started working as a professional fashion designer in 2010 and founded my fashion house, Rwanda Clothing Home in February 2012. That is when I decided to live my dream and to give full time and energy to become the first Rwandan fashion producer, who sells clothes made in Rwanda internationally, to customers from different parts of the world.
I live and work in Kigali. I travel a lot and have many friends especially in Europe.
Q: How do you compare the fashion industry in Rwanda to other countries you have been to?
A: There is increasing competition in the Rwandan industry today and it will become a buyer’s market from seller’s market. Customers will be the ultimate beneficiary of competition in the market which will reduce prices and force the manufacturer to maintain product quality to sustain in the competitive market.
The fashion market in Rwanda, which is still dominated by imported second-hand clothes, will be witnessing strong growth in the next years owing to a young population and an increase in disposable incomes, which is leading to increase in consumption and so to rapid growth in organised retail of new clothing made by Rwanda Clothing Home Ltd.
The Rwandan consumer is evolving and driving retail growth in the country and companies in the fashion industry are reacting to this evolution which suggests that fashion will become a strong industry in Rwanda, yet the industry is still fragmented across a small number of different competing clothing companies mainly from abroad (South Africa, Kenya, Uganda etc.).
Fashion enterprises in Rwanda compared to other countries have only a small range of designers, including one or two established Rwandan designers, a few new Rwandan designers, as well as some designers from different countries and cultures.
Another great chance for the Rwandan fashion industry could be, if the Rwandan government, tourism board and the fashion sector worked together to deliver an international promotion campaign that highlight the beauty of Rwanda represented by its beautiful Rwandan fashion and Rwandan models who then wear for example the beautiful Rwanda Clothing.
Q: What inspired you to join the fashion industry?
A: I love fashion and all my life I have been designing. And it was exactly this love and passion for fashion that informed my decision to become Rwanda’s first professional female designer, who is having an own fashion brand.
Visiting Europe and getting insights in the fashion industry there influenced and inspired me to be part of the fashion industry. In the beginning it was just a wish to work as a designer but later it became so crucial for me and such a strong need that I had no other choice than becoming a fashion designer.
Q: Why did you make your fashion shows free of charge?
A: Fashion is part of Rwandan culture and it belongs to Rwandans. I wanted to give everyone the chance to visit my show. Culture should not be only for those who can afford it and be able to pay entrance. I love fashion and I know a lot of people who also do but they don’t have money to pay for it. I especially wanted to open doors for young people in Rwanda.
Q: What are your future plans?
A: Our goal for the coming years will be to achieve the success of our international role models and to always remain true to ourselves and to preserve our Rwandan identity.
We want to be one of the leading and most popular African fashion brands and also a leading representative of Rwanda with our main brand Rwanda Clothing with its three sub-brands which all stand for beauty, authenticity, independence, creativity, innovation, ambition and professionalism, sense of responsibility and environmental awareness as well as what is natural and ethical.
To communicate and build the profile and image of our brands and our company we will start launching seasonal advertising campaigns in the coming years.
Q: Which challenges do you face in this industry?
A: The most probable problems that could arise in future would be; limited fashion specialists to employ at Rwanda Clothing Home Ltd, because of a scarce supply of experts on the labour market in Rwanda.