As an entrepreneur, feminist, advocate for immigrants’ rights, blogger and fashionista, Judicaelle Irakoze is already accomplishing her dreams at only 23.
“I don't belong in the future. I belong to now, to these moments. So I live as I get into moments. I am a multitasker. I don't believe I have yet finished discovering what I can do. My plan for now is to keep it up with my multitasking game and consistency.”
The biochemistry student at Massachusetts University, in the US left her home country Burundi five years ago to pursue her dreams of producing skin care products and also own a lab, having grown up with skin disorders.
As a student in a foreign country, she sacrificed school semesters to work overtime so she could be able to accomplish her other dream of bringing together women into creating and sustaining businesses, and through fashion shows raise awareness on different issues in communities.
In Portland, USA where she is based, she set up her clothing line called Abigaelle Closet and is using her passion for business to impact lives and empower minorities.
“My passion for fashion is a way of embracing freedom and claiming it. Fashion is very personal and tells stories words cannot tell. I have been using fashion to tell the world this is more than style but a tool I can use to advocate for daily issues in communities.”
In 2014, she organised her first charity fashion show in Albany NY, where together with her friend they raised funds for her friend’s NGO that helps unprivileged kids back in DRC.
In 2016, Abigaelle Closet organised a fundraising to provide 200 mattresses for students in Lycee Kiganda in Burundi who were sleeping on very old mattresses.
That same year, she participated in a fashion show, in Rwanda, dedicated to refugees in Mahama Camp.
She also travelled to Uganda, last year, for the 'Love and Colors' Fashion Show for Fistula to advocate about women with Fistula in Uganda alongside Ugandan legendary artiste Halima Namakula.
She has already expanded her fashion enterprise to Bujumbura, having been Miss Burundi 2017’s designer and has plans of setting up one in Kigali soon.
“The women in my team destroys daily the narrative “Girls can't sit together, they always compete". We embraced sisterhood, we nurture it and we give that freedom daily to people around us,” she says.
An ardent feminist
Irakoze is passionate about womanhood, making sure a woman like herself, with a loud freedom and very ambitious creates a world where any girl is safe to dream and be who she wants to be outside of society's bubble and still be that woman she designs for herself.
It stems from the fact that she comes from a family made up of mostly women and grew up challenging the status quo a lot.
“My mother today would tell you that she knew I was going to dedicate my life to advocating for women since the day I asked her why my brother has my dad's last name and not me or my three sisters,” she reveals.
For her, feminism not only helped to establish her values but also gave her that inner freedom. She chose to share her experience in order to help other girls and women out there.
“When you decide to become a feminist you go back to defining your own terms as woman. It involves liking yourself and its goes to embracing freedom to be who you want to be and also give that freedom to other people to be who they want to be outside of what society wants them to be.”
Irakoze was the youngest woman nominated in Portland, in 2015, to share her journey to other young immigrant women in Portland.
In 2016, she started the Portland Story, a platform that was used to destroy many wrong narratives about immigrants in the US and showcase what young immigrants in Portland are doing to make it their home.
She started her Girl talk program ‘Choose Yourself’ in Rwanda, last year, to create space that centers on ‘women's narratives and humanizing their experiences.”
“There are so many wrong narratives about feminism and I used to have them too as well. Every movement that comes to challenge those concepts which already exists is wrongly treated by society and society replies back by attacking it.”
“I think that people need to open their hearts and try to understand feminism regardless of all those wrong narratives they have already heard.
The problem today is we judge things without knowing exactly what they are, we give our thoughts on something without doing research, and knowing what it is. Do not close your hearts about it without knowing it,” she explains.
Her blog, ‘A walk in my heels’ is her way of putting her views on certain issues around her, out there and hoping someone else can relate.
“I write mostly about everything. I write about my life in the US, and my experiences as a woman. It is a way of sitting in my mind and unraveling my unsaid thoughts and unexpressed words. ”
Her satisfaction is derived from the feedback she gets from women who relate to her voice, ‘the sweet messages of women who stand in her freedom to embrace their own freedom is enough for me to make me sleep peacefully at night.’
She has learned a number of lessons…
“I have learned that you have to start. You start crappy. You start bad. You start afraid. You start confused but you just start then you stay consistent at your work. There is no such thing as failure or loss if you pick the pieces and learn from it. Such moments shape us, make us stronger and persistent.”
“Silence will never protect me. I learned that every time I squeezed my voice or stayed silent, I hurt myself. Because what you tolerate, you approve. So you have to always speak your truth. My passion is the only thing that keeps me moving. Therefore I must protect it from people and from myself.”
“People are my best assets. The sooner I find a team who can carry the vision with me, the greater our accomplishments get. Know your people and love them.”