The allure of staying and working in the United States of America is many a people’s dream, especially the youth. But for Matthew Rugamba, who went to college in the US, the promise of a better future lay back home. He told Business Times’ Peterson Tumwebaze why he chose to return home after college to start a fashion house in Kigali.
The Bible says that “they have eyes, but they cannot see”. It is also a known fact that some of the challenges we face in our day-to-day lives could easily be turned into million dollar opportunities if we cared to think outside the ‘proverbial box’.
Matthew Rugamba used to wear ties daily during his internship in the US.
As time went on, the 24-year-old discovered that his love for ties presented a huge business opportunity that he could explore as a niche enterprise. He wanted to make ties that reflect his heritage and traditon while incorporating contemporary style.
Dress code inspired Rugamba to start business
When Rugamba was doing internship in Washington DC, his supervisor coached him about the importance of appropriate office dress code. Putting on a tie and ‘looking corporate’ while on duty was a must.
Rugamba says that during his Second year as an International Affairs major at Lewis & Clark College located in Portland, Oregon, he decided to venture into fashion design. This was influenced by the fact that ties were selling like hot cakes in the US.
“I realized how well House of Tayo bow ties could do in the states, so I decided to make it a fully fledged business. I would have the pieces made in Rwanda and take some of them to the states. I juggled school and House of Tayo throughout my last two years of school. I returned home after graduation to work on the business full time”, the graduate of International Affairs points out.
When Rugamba landed at Kigali International Airport, he was armed with just $300 (about Rwf207,000) to start House of Tayo – part of the cash he saved from his summer job over the years.
“I saw the business as a way of supporting myself once I graduated," he explains.
He says when he had settled down in Kigali, he set about looking for a place where he could set up his enterprise. After finding the right place, Illume Creative Studio, located in Nyarutarama, Kigali he established the creative house as House of Tayo's exclusive seller.
With the fashion house ‘up and running’, Rugamba decided to take on other design concepts besides making ties. The enterprise now makes bowties, pocket squares and scarves and is looking to expand the product line in the near future. Today, Rugamba, who is also the managing director of House of Tayo, has no regrets he left the States for the homeland. “It’s not about where you live, but rather how innovative you are to build a business that matters,” Rugamba says.
Within one year, House of Tayo has since grown from $300 to over $5,000 (about Rwf3.5m), and the young business man is still looking to make it a top fashion house in Rwanda.
The enterprise employs 10 people, mostly women from a local co-operative. Rugamba is also targeting the export market to broaden his horizons and market reach.
Rugamba was the second in the Real FinaBank (now GTrust Bank) Youth Entrepreneurship Award 2013, which were organised by Educat, an entrepreneurship training organisation.
Because the quality of material that House of Tayo wishes to use is not accessible in Rwanda, they are facing a big hurdle in terms of import taxes. Since the venture is still in infancy, it is also hard to create trust and confidence among clients, he adds
He says expanding the clientele base is also an issue he faces daily. Rugamba notes that it is hard to build a team with the right skills in Rwanda, not only for House of Tayo, but across all sectors.
Doing business is a learning process; you don’t need to have done it before for you to perfect it. You have to be brave and ready to test the markets, he counsels those still fearing to venture into the business world.
We are looking to become a global brand, like those Italian brands we always see on the market. “That’s why I wake up at 4 o’clock every morning...I want to perfect the trade, go regional and then set my eyes on European markets,” he says confidently.
House of Tayo can be contacted on:
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