Francis Iraguha: fashion with a touch of gold

Francis Iraguha is the kind of man whose wedding many people would have wanted to attend. On September 21, 2013, at the Ahava River wedding venue in Kicukiro, the flamboyant fashion designer said “I do” to his fiancée, Sherina Ingabire.
Iraguha designed all the outfits that were worn on his wedding day himself. Sunday Times/Moses Opobo
Iraguha designed all the outfits that were worn on his wedding day himself. Sunday Times/Moses Opobo

Francis Iraguha is the kind of man whose wedding many people would have wanted to attend. On September 21, 2013, at the Ahava River wedding venue in Kicukiro, the flamboyant fashion designer said “I do” to his fiancée, Sherina Ingabire.

Now, an invite to a wedding will always be on high demand, mostly because we generally go to weddings to admire or gossip about other people’s dress and fashion sense. Plus dine and wine, of course.

Iraguha’s wedding was not just any other wedding though. First, rumor has it that he is one of the best dressed/best groomed hunks on the Kigali showbiz circuit. But that’s just that –a rumor.

If you are into local Hillywood movies, you could be knowing this man from his role in a few local motion pictures, most notably Inzozi, in which he plays a lead role, and Ikigeragezo cy’ubuzima.

When we meet for this interview, he declares that; “I’m into everything lifestyle,” and I find no reason to dispute his claim.

Above all, this was the kind of wedding in which the best in bridal wear was expected to be on display. As a local fashion designer of repute, and founder and Chief Executive of Zahabu Fashions, or simply FZ, a Remera-based fashion line, he had offered to design all the outfits for the bride and groom, and their entire entourages.

This was all well within his normal line of duty, save for one item, the bridal gown, which he had never made before. But the mere fact that it was his own wife for which he would be making it gave him all the confidence he needed to execute the task.

“I designed the bride and all her maids. It was something totally new and challenging to design, but all the same it was a pleasure to do it because …well, it was my wife!”

He goes on: “To her it was nothing really special because she has always had faith in me to do anything when it comes to design and fashion”.

Iraguha has something that he fondly calls “The Zahabu touch”, which is basically the signature style of his fashion house. He named it Zahabu, a Swahili word for gold, because, he explains, “I wanted to give value to my creations, and most importantly the people who wear them. I wanted my brand name to express what it actually is and feels like.” He pauses lengthily then proceeds; “I wanted a name that could be easily spoken and understood by anyone.”

The Zahabu touch was to be extended beyond the bridal wear, to the wedding cake, down to the décor of the wedding hall. Just like for the clothes, he made the design sketches for the cake, imprinting them with a feel of Zahabu, and sent them to the respective professionals for execution.

That’s right. Iraguha does not actually need to physically sit on the sewing machine or head down to the bakery to come up with his products (although he is a professional tailor himself, choosing instead to outsource the service after developing his sketches.

On average, it takes him 2-3 days to construct a piece. “I make a sketch, find a suitable fabric to use then I present it to my tailors who are very talented and hard working then on day 4, the piece is ready and on display in my shop,” he says.

He draws two words to summarize his personal style: Smart and Classy.

On whether his works revolve around his own personal style, he says: “Definitely, my work reflects what I like but not entirely, I also keep in mind what other people like and try my best to satisfy either one.”

But if there is anything that Francis achieved from designing his own wedding, it was giving the wider public faith in the Zahabu brand. “Some people still think that I make only Ibitengi designs, but I would say Ibitengi is just my signature. I can make clothes in bitengi and other fabrics as well.” But if there is something that hurts him even the more, it is the fact that most of his clients are still foreigners, and Rwandans from the Diaspora. “My goal is to have more Rwandans get acquainted with this industry and wear local designer clothes”, he hopes.

At last year’s Kigali Fashion Week, Zahabu Fashions displayed an intriguing combination of the African and the contemporary, which in effect is Zahabu’s signature.

It is clear that he has made a conscious decision to identify himself with the African market, as his designs always tend to have some kind of African prints in them, no matter how contemporary they seem to look. For example you will find the said prints in his tuxedos and suit linings.

It is little wonder therefore, that local celebrities flock to him in droves for a fashion makeover. Singers Jean Paul Samputu, Jules Intore, Mani Martin, and the Dream Boyz are some of his known celebrity clients.

But the Zahabu brand is about a little much more. They also have their fingers in interior design, and corporate branding and communication. if you have ever been to the clubs, chances are that those well-dressed waiters smiling at you were designed by Zahabu. That is to say that he gets many orders from corporate companies to design their staff. “We bring highly appealing and effective brands to companies who realize that communication today transcends traditional marketing mediums, so I try to bring a fashionable aesthetic to work wear, by integrating a company’s brand values with fashion to produce ambient communication that best suits the culture and environment where it is worn. It’s not just about making a T-shirt with a logo on it, but designing and cutting a custom-made product to suit a brand, its staff and its customers.”

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