THE BABY that is the Kigali Fashion Week makes two years this November. And, naturally, we all expect a bigger and better event than the first, which had its own share of teething problems.
Truth be told, the first edition, held in December last year at T2000 (Rooftop Bar) was not actually a fashion week, but rather a series of loosely connected fashion events.
In the words of John Bunyeshuli, the founder and chief executive officer of House of Fashion, the organisers of Kigali Fashion Week, “what we had in the first edition were fashion shows, not a fashion week.” And like any new venture, there were inherent problems; besides the usual financial hiccups owing to lack of sponsorship, a situation that was further complicated by the limited time available to put the event together.
But there was the bigger problem of lack of public enthusiasm, let alone awareness about the event. “After the first attempt, we realized the need to sell the idea aggressively to the public with a view to changing perceptions about fashion,” explains Bunyeshuli.
“In the west, some of the most successful individuals and businesses are in the entertainment industry. Here we only tend to think of success in terms of professions like law and medicine. We had to tackle that kind of mentality. We had to show people that there are always other alternatives to the so-called ‘serious jobs,’ notes Bunyeshuli, adding: “We had a vision and it’s still going, with the Kigali Fashion Week set to become an annual calendar event.”
A total of thirteen local designers have been lined up for this year’s do. The thirteen were selected after submitting samples that were sent to organisers of the New York Fashion Week for approval. Indeed, the organisers have partnered with organizers of the New York Fashion Week, also organisers of the Toronto Fashion Week who jetted into the country in two different contingents this week.
Actually, the stage being rigged at the Serena Hotel’s main auditorium, venue for the grand finale on November 8 has been built to replicate that of the New York Fashion Week, only this time it is smaller.
Tracing the brains behind Kigali Fashion Week
John Bunyeshuli is almost as “new” on the scene as the Fashion Week he is putting together. A trained and widely experienced public relations practitioner, he has been away from the country since 1985, only returning last year. His work as a PR consultant has seen him work stints with numerous international organizations across the globe, including New York, Vancouver in Canada, London, and Geneva, in Switzerland. He has worked with the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, and Bloomberg in New York, among others. He also runs a private public relations practice, John Bunyeshuli, in New York and London.
And other than speak about the seemingly healthy financial returns on his job, Bunyeshuli seems to derive the satisfaction from elsewhere as he remarks: “Travelling is the best education one can ever get in the world, because it helps you see different people and how they do things.”
When he returned to Rwanda last year, he showcased yet another of his callings; motivational speaking, a thing for which many students from the National University at Butare will forever remember him. His interactions with these young men and women would become one of the major draws for him to stay home. “The more I interacted with these young people, the more I got stuck.
While the students at Butare may have given him reason to stay in Rwanda, it is the famed beauty of Rwandan women that shaped his choice of fashion as a long term undertaking. “I came to Rwanda and was greeted by the sights of all these beautiful women, and I was so inspired. I set a challenge for myself, and that challenge was how to elevate and improve what was already good. Fashion was the best way to achieve this dream. The Kigali Fashion Week was a simple idea inspired by the beauty of our sisters and mothers.”
He is quick to add that; “It’s a men’s world we live in, but there is nothing that can exist without a woman. Women are the reason men are inspired to go and work every day.”
Owing to his work obligations at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, Bunyeshuli had to reluctantly pack his bags and return to London early this year, but seven months down the road, home sickness kicked in, forcing him to tender in his resignation and head back home –this time for good.
“I was the happiest man that time, and this is because I had never really fitted in abroad. I’m a very realistic person who does not pretend or camouflage. What you see is what you get. It had taken me this long because I didn’t want to come and just visit like a tourist, because this is my home country. I wanted to come back with something to sustain me, whether I had money or no money.”
That was not the only reason for his homecoming. There was his mum, who stays in Butare, not far from where he gave motivational talks to university students, and for this he says simply that “blood is thicker than water.”