Revolution workshop: Telling Rwanda’s story through fashion

A small calabash hangs in the corner of his shop, located in one of the show rooms of Envision Workshop, an arts collective and social collective.

This, however, does not just serve as décor, but tells the story behind the workshop.


“My journey into design started with a broken calabash. I had just completed my studies in animal medicine, but had failed to find a job so I was home, idle, when I broke my mum’s precious calabash.


“I got the little pieces, carved them into shapes and made earrings. Upon posting on social media, I received so many likes and friends began making orders,” Olivier Tamba Niyigena, founder and creative director of Revolution Designs, shares.


His expansion to graphic design soon started when a friend asked him to engrave her boyfriend’s name on a pair of earrings.

“With the help of YouTube and friends I began learning graphic design until I perfected my skill.”

Just like that, with Rwf15, 000, he began his journey into fashion and design.

Today, he adds, he is using his skill to inspire the youth and teach them Rwanda’s history through art and design, through their wide range of everyday style like sportswear, accessories, as well as customised gusaba gifts.

“I want people, not just Rwandans, to understand that beyond the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi there is our cultural heritage, and physical beauty like the volcanoes.”

Some of his designs include the traditional geometrical patterns like the abashi, imigongo itangaza, amatana and amaboko yinyanja.

“Also part of our design is the Kalinga, a Rwandan drum that symbolises leadership and Kwanda (Rwanda’s map) that portrays a small country with a big mind,” he says.

Inkotanyi collection

One of the highlights, he says, is his Inkotanyi collection, which he designed for Miss Rwanda 2019 first runner up, Yasipi Casmir Uwihirwe’s school campaign.

“We came up with the Inkotanyi collection, also to tell our story. When you ask children which super heroes they know, they might tell you Spiderman or Batman, so this collection partly was to show them that we have super heroes, in the real sense, who redeemed our country.

“The interpretation behind the collection, as per the design, shows that our daily struggles seem to be a maze, but with perseverance and hard work, there is always a way out,” he explains.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, the collections also accommodate face masks, which Tamba says have been ‘selling like hot cakes’.

“I started with mine alone and when I posted, people loved the designs and even began ordering for their children,” he says.

Future plans

Going forward, the 22-year-old plans to use his skills and talent to train other young people in graphics and design.

“Often, my friends and some fellow artists have been supporting vulnerable families, but then we thought of a way to get a sustainable income. Helping young people learn the craft is one way they can earn an income for themselves,” Tamba says.

Olivier Tamba is the founder and creative director of Revolution workshop.

Some of the accessories and designs by Revolution workshop.  / Courtesy photos

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