INZUKI DESIGNS is a new age local brand that specialises in Jewellery, fashion accessories, and interior decor derived from unique hand-made products.
Teta Isibo explains the meaning of Inzuki, the fashion and design label that she opened in Kigali in 2010: “Inzuki means bees in Kinyarwanda. Why bees? They are very fascinating creatures of nature.”
“The essence behind the name is three-fold, reflecting on the client, the producers and the product itself. From the client’s angle, even though bees produce something as sweet as honey, they are still not to be messed with because they can sting. To us this represents the attitude of our muse, the modern Rwandan,” Isibo explains, adding; “We refer to this ‘sweet but fierce’ attitude as ‘honey-coated boldness.”
“From the producers’ angle we work with cooperatives, the concept behind cooperatives itself is one of a great sense of community, diverse groups working together harmoniously, much like bees do.
Bees are organised and industrious and by far the best example of a successful working community. From the products angle we aim to create a ‘buzz’ around Rwandan made products which we believe have a globally marketable aesthetic.”
At the just-concluded Kigali Fashion Week 2013, the young designer turned up with a bold collection of rather chunky and colorful pieces that were more suited for the catwalk, but these were well complimented with lots of ready-to-wear pieces that one finds neatly displayed for sale at the Inzuki Designs boutique.
Surprisingly, Teta is a graduate of land management specialising in urban planning and development from Reading University, UK.
“I didn’t ever think I would end up in the fashion design business. It was always just a hobby for me but after a while I realised I really enjoyed it and I was good at it so I had to make a difficult decision between my safe professional career in the land sector and this risky design thing that I was so passionate about. I chose to take the big leap and changed careers. So far I haven’t had any regrets,” she says.
She started off by designing her own jewellery, which she then passed on to local craftswomen to have it customized, in 2007, shortly after completing her studies. When friends got wind of the new venture, they started placing their own orders with her, and by December 2011, she had gathered enough courage to resign her regular job at the National Land Center to pursue her design dream.
In just two years of Inzuki Designs, Isibo has showcased her wares in the U.S (Boston, Texas, New Mexico, D.C, Oklahoma, and New York). She has also showcased in Geneva, Switzerland, and her label was represented at both Rwanda Days this year (London, and Toronto).
Last year, she won the REAL Entrepreneur contest, an annual entrepreneurship competition that pitted 10 young entrepreneurs drawn from diverse sectors. The award came with Rwf 2 million cash prize.
Teta is reluctant to delve into the nitty-gritty of how she made things work for the young brand, how much work and sweat must have gone into it. However, she notes that it was “passion, hard work, and drive, the same attributes you need to succeed in any other field. In Rwanda people don’t really take the fashion sector seriously, so you need to be extra determined and have a thick skin.”
Her clientele is impressively varied, ranging from the expatriate community, tourists, young Rwandan professionals, Rwandans and Africans in the Diaspora, really anybody with a basic inclination to organic, home-made hand-craft.
As a retail brand, Inzuki’s pieces are generally designed with contemporary international style concepts in mind, giving them wider appeal on the market. As an entrepreneur, Teta draws inspiration “from Rwanda’s success story.”
What does the typical work day involve for her? “I take care of the business side of my brand. I’ve grown to love business and have lots of business ideas for the future to compliment my brand. We are currently trying to set up an online store and expand into global markets.”
She has her own reasons for setting her sights on the global fashion and design market: “Ethically sourced products are a big thing now, people are interested in knowing the origin of the products they are buying, they want products that tell a story, a good story. Rwanda is a great source for such products. Hand-made unique products are also trending, they are more appealing than mass produced, made in China products. Big international brands like Anthropology, DKNY, Kate Spade and Nicole Miller have all previously sourced products from Rwanda.”
Would she gladly take up the task of designing a national dress for the country if the opportunity presented itself? “I believe in individualism and really fashion should be about self- expression, so a standard dress code sounds like a bad idea to me.”
Inzuki partners with a number of local cooperatives, contracting their varied skills to translate its authentic designs into vibrant pieces.
“We are part of a wider Rwandan cultural Renaissance, greatly inspired by the growing innovation scene in the country and by the increasing number of young entrepreneurs and trendsetters that are propelling Rwanda to the next level,” Teta concludes.