A new face of Rwandan arts and crafts

`Located in downtown Kigali, just next to St. Michel Cathedral and Radio Maria – half a kilometre before Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) is the Ikaze Showroom.

`Located in downtown Kigali, just next to St. Michel Cathedral and Radio Maria – half a kilometre before Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) is the Ikaze Showroom.

Before you enter the workshop’s premises, you’re greeted by a banner with the inscription, “A setting of Rwandan quality handcrafts.” Certainly, the message does not bluff given the superiority of products on display.

The Ikaze Showroom is a collection of beautifully displayed crafts that include baskets, wall hangings, sculptures, chairs, paintings, jewellery, hats, curtains, shoes that more than capture your imagination as one realises just how gifted these artists are. Oliver R. Ward, is the showroom’s the Executive Director and Benedict J. Teagarden- a consultant, all under Rex Clement, an international company, which deals in consultancy, technology and outsourcing, share with Andrew Israel Kazibwe the uniqueness of the Ikaze Agency.

Q:  What exactly is Ikaze Agency’?

A:  Ikaze is a project that was set up as a prize by the Ministry of Sports and Culture (MINISPOC) to promote Rwandan arts and crafts.

Q:  How did this project start?

 A:  It was a Hand craft Excellence Award programme where the winners were chosen last year by the Ministry of Trade, Commerce and Industry (MINICOM). Ikaze Showroom was opened early this month by the Minister of Trade and Commerce, Francois Kanimba.

Artists who won bring their products here to be displayed and to be purchased as well. The whole programme is to get to the international market through e-commerce.

Q:  What does Rex Clement Company do for Ikaze?

A: We do marketing and consultancy internationally. We were consulted by the Ministry of Sports and Culture to offer these services, so we are working in partnership with Ikaze Agency which owns the Ikaze Showroom; we are working with them to be successful.

Q:  How exactly are you marketing these products?

A:  Currently, we are developing a website which will be ready in March. It’s not only just the people who come in Rwanda for tourism who may purchase these products, but also anyone outside the country will be able to visit this site, order online, pay using a credit card and products will be delivered to them.

Q: How do you see these crafts?

A: I think they are good and there is a lot of potential here. Many of these products here are good. Some need product development and quality improvement, but many are ready to be exported. It’s an amazing range of quality.

Q: Do you think there is ready market for these products out there?

A: Well, part of our job is assessing, and yes, for example; in the US, Europe and China, there is ready market for these products. People seem to appreciate and embrace authentic quality products. People are looking for something unique and genuine, from Rwanda by Rwandan artists.

 Q: What is unique about your products?

A:  Unlike other craft centres where you find a variety of products from different countries, all the products here are made locally by Rwandan artists.

Q:  Do you have other showrooms elsewhere?

A:  That is part of our forward strategy. We hope to open up showrooms, for example, in the United States, Europe and China, and in other places to ease accessibility; we can ship these products to those places so that they can act as distribution centres.

Q:  How many artists do bring their products here?

A: They are about over 90.

Q: Are there any challenges you have encountered so far?

A: Yes, for example, labelling, branding and installation of the products, especially according to their purpose. Some products really have to be displayed in a way that describes their purpose and it requires enough time.

Q: What other prospects do you have for this project?

A: Part of what we will be doing is developing a Rwandan handcraft label. We are also to have an area of details of who makes the products, how they are made and how these craft works help the artists who make them. That is something that people outside Rwanda are interested in.

Q: Has it been a good start?

A: I think it is, though there is still a lot to be done but we hope it will definitely be successful.