While the Rwanda Cultural Day celebrations saw many converge in San Francisco to celebrate the country’s cultural heritage, there was the business aspect to the event that gave an opportunity to entrepreneurs to showcase their products to potential clients.
With the event exclusively focused on showcasing the country’s rich culture and traditions, it opened ways to explore what the international market has for them.
Upon registering her company at the Private sector, Doreen Umwali, of D’zoyah Kreations was among those selected to showcase their home made products.
By incorporating her fashion psyche into the African print, Umwali’s company is a budding fashion company that makes all kinds of clothes like dresses, skirts, blazers and shirts using African prints locally known as Ibitenge.
Their clientele is mostly comprised of people living in other countries. Its peak season is mainly during summer when the Diaspora return to the country or placing orders from other countries.
“Most Rwandans at home tend to undermine Ankara fabric because they think it should be cheaper than what we sell. Most of my clients come from overseas, because they appreciate Rwandan made products more than the locals. We are however teaching them how to appreciate home made products,” she says.
After acquiring her visa, she immediately packed whatever she could carry to San Francisco. The exhibition would help her learn which direction her company was taking and strengthen her brand.
Her experience at the event however was far from what she expected, but were lessons that she definitely brought home.
“My expectations were not fully met as a business person; I had made a lot of clothes for sale, but unfortunately I returned home with half of them. I invested a lot in the tickets, payment for tailors, purchasing the fabrics and the hotels were very expensive,” she narrates.
As a result, she had to stay a week longer to sell her remaining clothes to other interested clients. Social media was paramount in the early success of her clothing line she didn’t hesitate to market her brand using Facebook and Instagram that saw clients placing orders.
“I really appreciate, because I also sold. I think I was the only person who sold a lot in the clothes section as men’s clothes were on high demand.”
“Maybe next time Rwanda Day should be last two days,” Diana says.
She was encouraged by the good feedback from her satisfied clients, and testifies of a good experience at the event for with lessons learned, she got to “know what to carry next time.”
“Another thing I noticed is that our clothes are loved more by Americans. They’re the ones who bought most, and were complimenting my dresses and tops on the streets. Who knows maybe, I will start trading in USA,” she says.
The 34 year old wife and mother of two, has managed to balance work with the help of her family who she says have always there for her sons in her absence.
Her decision to leave office to start up her own fashion business is centered on her passion for fashion and self employment as she explains;
“I was working with the Lands sector before I joined business as I had failed to get a proper job. I had to pursue a career of what I’m passionate because I hate being idle. My mind is always working or cooking up something. Even when I am asleep my mind is working in a way.”
“I have always loved fashion, and before I started the D’zoyah business, I used to sell ladies clothes from Dubai, but then later I had to change because it was stressful.”
D’Zoyah is a combination of her two names, Doreen and her middle name Zoyah, with the D remaining silent.
She adds: “Some of my clients especially women are used to taking stuff and paying at the end of the month, that would be fine, but you find that most of them don’t actually pay as promised, so I had to think otherwise. Because running after people for payment is the worst part of the business”.
Her Ankara fabric is imported from Ghana and Congo as quality delivery of her products is at the core of her business because she “always goes for the best.”
Umwali’s best piece of advice that she has for Rwandan designers, is to always get the best materials for their clients and cater for all classes.
“With quality, a client will come back. Some of them buy my products complaining of the price but later come back because they actually realize that it’s worth it. They need to come up with new designs because people get bored easily.”
“It’s also not always about the money but the client’s satisfaction. Make sure before you receive payment, the client is happy with the product. It has worked for me,” says Umwali who always has something for all classes of people including high end, middle and budget.