Mupende braving the odds to showcase Africa's richness

Model, dancer and actress Alexia Uwera Mupende was fortunate to represent Rwanda at the 3rd edition of the Africa Fashion Show Geneva (AFSG) in Switzerland in June last year. She was the first Rwandan model to grace the runway of AFSG, whose 4th edition was marked on May 28th 2016 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Model, dancer and actress Alexia Uwera Mupende was fortunate to represent Rwanda at the 3rd edition of the Africa Fashion Show Geneva (AFSG) in Switzerland in June last year. She was the first Rwandan model to grace the runway of AFSG, whose 4th edition was marked on May 28th 2016 in Geneva, Switzerland. 

For this year’s show, Rwanda was represented by Rwanda Clothing, a local fashion house. 

Mupende did not make it to this year’s event after she and three other models were unable to secure sponsorship in time. Last year, she made the trip courtesy of the organisation, UN Women, which sponsored her to attend and participate in AFSG 2015. 

“Africa Fashion Show Geneva is a show that’s organised by a Nigerian lady called Temitayo Ayinla Omotola, the founder and chief executive, who lives in Geneva, Switzerland, and her aim is to promote the whole beautiful narrative about Africa,” Mupende explains. 

“When people hear about Africa the first thing they assume is hunger, children starving, war, corruption, and that’s not what Africa is all about. We have so much to share with the world about Africa. There’s a lot of talent in terms of fashion design, models, and in terms of raw materials because most of the raw materials that are used even in the western world originate in Africa. Even African prints, even though they may be manufactured in other countries but the whole idea was initiated in Africa.”

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“So it’s just something to promote and tell the world about Africa and also put designers and models alike out there so that people can know about them and hopefully work with them or even buy their products – anything that can promote African products.”

Not an easy road

Mupende reveals that behind the perceived glitz and glamour of the ideal modeling life, it is push and shove for local models like her, who periodically fly the country’s flag proudly at international modeling events like the Africa Fashion Show Geneva. 

Last November, she took part in the Kampala Fashion Week along with three other budding Rwandan models; Jeanine Dusabe, Rachel Uwineza, and Umutoni Georgette. 

“We observed that it is better to work as a collective than as individuals and we have since been trying to support each other as far as reaching our dream not just for ourselves but also for other Rwandan models in general.”

The three applied jointly for the Africa Fashion Show Geneva as well. What pains her the most, is the fact that; “subject to our acquisition of tickets we would get more support from the organizers and other partners while in Geneva”. 

All that they needed was air tickets. 

“Funding and support for models is not easy and is one of our biggest challenges especially as it involves travel to other destinations as there are not that many opportunities locally, which involves other costs like visas, and basic costs while abroad like accommodation, meals and or transport. On occasion this may be covered but many times this becomes a cost we have to bear,” she laments. 

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“We do try to invest in ourselves and on some occasions we have borne these costs like last year when we travelled to participate in the Kampala Fashion Week and some of us for Runway Dubai Season II in November 2014 & Runway Dubai Season III last November but it’s neither easy nor sustainable.”

Models as ambassadors

As a professional catwalk model, Mupende believes that her work extends beyond just showcasing the handiworks of fashion designers. 

“We have to tell our own story. We have to change the narrative. When I go out there I do not claim to be something else. I will go and be proudly Rwandan and talk about my country and raise my flag up high. What I do and say when I’m out there reflects on my country so I have to promote it because I believe there’s so much.”

Thinking beyond self

The first time she travelled to model, she did it alone, and also sought the sponsorship alone.

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“I did everything alone, but at the end of the day I do not want to be able to progress in life and leave other people behind who are doing the same thing, are very talented and who can go so far. People may not know much about Rwanda but we have come so far since the Genocide in 1994 against the Tutsi. So why not share what we have done and what we can do and offer to the world? Like I said clothing is a very big industry when you consider the whole value chain; the person who picks the cotton, the one who works on it in the factory, the person who sews the clothes, the designers, the person who will wear it as a model, so there’re so many jobs being created. There is a #MadeInRwanda initiative going on, how better than to use these avenues to promote it globally; yes first start at home then venture to the rest of the world!”

Ultimately am always reminded that “With God all things are possible” Mark 10:27 and I believe we will makes strides and make Rwanda proud around the globe!

More than just a model…

For this interview I met her at Waka Fitness, an up market fitness club in Kimihurura, a City of Kigali suburb. Here, she supervises the customer service desk but also dabbles in sales, marketing and events management.

One of her first briefs was organising the Waka Warrior Obstacle Race in Kigali in March this year. 

And that’s not all. As an actor, she travelled to Colombo, Sri Lanka in January this year, and on to India in February as part of the cast of Dear Children Sincerely, a Mashirika Performing Arts and Media Company stage Production in collaboration with Stages Theatre Group from Sri Lanka. 

Remember that Rwanda has no formal training for arts in schools and universities so it is through such international collaboration and exposure that local arts practitioners hone their skills. 

The tour was organized as a joint collaboration between the Mashirika Performing Arts and Media Company of Rwanda, and Stages Theatre Group from Sri Lanka.

“It was an extraordinary opportunity of a lifetime…a learning experience…very humbling…from the team…cast…audience…this story is so powerful it should be shared with the world!” Mupende told me upon returning from the tour then. 

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She considers herself to have been blessed with such a supportive family that she did not need to first become a renegade to realize her career dreams: 

“My family and friends have always supported me throughout my journey, taking me for castings and shows, and attending them and shouting my name and cheering me on. When I’m trying to process things like Visas and trying to get sponsorship, my immediate and extended families have been very, very supportive. To be able to model you need a strong support system in terms of finances sometimes, in terms of connecting you with the right people who can help you, and in terms of being there to encourage you when things are not working out, and I’m eternally grateful to my family and friends for that. If you don’t have a support system you would give up.”

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