From New York; Paris to Dakar and Johannesburg the US, John Munyeshuri has literally been in the heart of the global fashion and modeling industry. Munyeshuri has worked with Commonwealth Secretariat in London, and Pan African Fashion Council in Senegal, as a board member until 2013, when he moved back to Kigali.
This exposure and experience would later lead to the birth of Kigali Fashion Week (KFW), a firm that promotes fashion and design, and modeling.
Business Times’ Donata Kiiza caught up with Munyeshuri, who also runs Imena Modeling Agency, to talk about his inspiration and views about Rwanda’s fashion industry.
What inspired you to venture into the fashion industry?
My daughter has been working as a runway model on the London Fashion Week in the UK for some time now.
Her achievements as a young girl inspired me to start something similar to support local talented girls.
In addition, having worked with many fashion labels in London, Paris and New York, I wanted to bring this experience and expertise to my country and help improve the fashion industry in Rwanda to levels I have seen in these places. Otherwise, I have always been passionate to empower disadvantaged people to help reach their full potential.
Being your first venture in the country, what was it like in the beginning?
It was a new concept and different approach for the industry. Previously, events were attended by people that are seen as deviant in society, like prostitutes, so this made it hard for us initially. I also started with my personal savings since there was no one ready to partner with, and we did not make enough money from these events.
This did not derail me because my major aim was to create an image and reputation for the label. With time, we attracted attention since our work ethic and approach were different from what Rwandans were used to.
I exploited my relationships with some international professionals in the fashion industry, for trainers and designers from Britain and Belgium came in to train models and designers for us to produce quality work.
Some of the models were sent to Senegal and South Africa for training and, as time went on, many of our events, like Bujumbura Fashion week, Kampala Fashion Week, Afro-Egyptian Fashion Week, as well as Miss and Mister Elegant, and Jazz Nights at Cleopatra Pub, were successfully launched. We have also partnered with the Miss Rwanda.
All these helped change people’s perception about the fashion industry and instead embraced it.
Which principles guide the day-to-day management of the business?
I am led by the principle that “what you think about everyday gives you everything”.
When you spend most of your time thinking negatively, you get negative results and the reverse is true. This positive energy has enabled me to push on with the businesses and challenges therein. Working and collaborating with the right people in this industry has also helped a lot. Secondly, I like to do things in an exceptional way.
The push for new ideas, creativity and taking risks have brought us thus far in this business.
Where do you see Kigali Fashion Week in five years?
We are looking to make Kigali Fashion Week an international event, on the levels of the likes of New York Fashion Week or London Fashion Week. We are on the verge of clinching deals with international brands, like the Swedish Fashion Week, which will strengthen our financial capacity and propel us to greater heights. Also with the support from the government, I see Kigali Fashion Week promoting more designers.
I am glad second-hand clothes and shoes will be abolished to promote Made-in-Rwanda products. This is good news for us as promoters of local brands and designers.
Why did you choose Kigali over other cities in East Africa for fashion business?
Registering a business in Rwanda is not bureaucratic and is transparent making it easy to meet the right people in case you need help. Rwanda welcomes new business ideas, and there is good leadership. However, above all, my mother lives in Kigali. So, it was more convenient as I felt I am home.
Many people still believe modeling is for the lazy, spoilt kids. What do you have to say about this?
That is a big misconception harboured by those who don’t understand the industry. Models are recruited and trained following set principles and guidelines…Modelling is a profession like any other because these people go through professional training.
Besides, many of our models are professionals employed in top companies in Kigali, and do modeling as a side job because they have passion for modeling and designing. However, there are parents who bring their children here for training because they trust and believe what we do. So, which parent would want their child in a field of lazy people?
About Kigali Fashion Week
Kigali Fashion Week is an annual event that features unique and diverse models and innovative fashion designers, particularly by talented young designers, who showcase the latest fashion trends. Last year, 12 Rwandan and three international designers exhibited their creations. The event attracts a global audience, and was early last year made a permanent board member of the Commonwealth Fashion Council.