Naleli Rugege, was born in December 1986 in Lesotho, but grew up in South Africa where she spent all her life before moving back to Rwanda in November 2009.
At 23 years, she is a confident young and visionary African fashion designer who is steadily growing as she masters her skill.
Rugege is the fashion designer behind the African dresses worn last year by Miss Rwanda’s Beauty contestants during the opening dance as well as the exquisite Beach wear.
She specializes in African illustrations and design, a skill she adopted as a young child.
“I have always been passionate about Fashion Design. I started at a young age and my first doll was African; this instilled in me a sense of African design and as I grew older I got skilled in my art.
Throughout my primary and high school I was more focused, I illustrated more and discovered my skill,” she said
Thanks to Naleli’s supportive parents to whom she attributes her success.
“My parents are my role models because they have encouraged me to pursue my dreams whole heartedly.”
Rugege trained as a professional Fashion Designer at Durban University of Technology (S.A) for 3 years. Rugege was the only African student learning design and she said this was a challenge that motivated her to appreciate African culture through African garments.
“I was the only one in my class doing African illustration; it was difficult to master the technique since I was doing something that no one else was. While learning the History of garments, African research material was difficult to come by as compared to European material that was readily available,” she said.
“I worked harder in my research and thankfully I tried to carry the African trade mark and did not conform to what everyone wanted, instead I was inspired to carry the African pride throughout my course,” Rugege said.
Rugege’s Miss Rwanda designs incorporated Kitenge and African Fabric to make attires that were modern and restored Rwanda’s pride at the same time.
“This was an opportunity I was ready to explore in order to put our culture in the limelight,” she said.
According to Rugege, fashion is not about conforming to a western trend, but rather transforming what we have to create attire in our own image.
“As fashion designers in Rwanda, we need to incorporate African fabrics and use western cuts if we want to compete internationally; this is what will help Rwanda’s fashion industry to grow,” she explained.
Citing an example of the Mushanana and Gitenge, Rugege explained how various styles and prints are used to make it; however, it is the choice of fabric and the way it is worn that makes it unique.
Currently, Rugege is working hard designing garments to showcase in her first fashion show in Kigali. The show, whose date is yet to be communicated will be open for all interested Rwandans.
However, she called upon interested designers to pursue training in Fashion in order to avoid undermining this profession.
“Education in Fashion, just like in any other profession, acts as a firm background for your career. Untrained designers usually fail to meet the quality control that education brings. As a result, they undermine the profession and weigh the industry down,” she stated.
Rugege said that, “Mature fashion designers are those who look at a market, understand what it needs and are able to deliver that service. At the end of the day, we should be service providers who maintain a sense of who we are in this trade.”
This young designer says her trademark is, ‘Using African fabrics and restoring African pride through African attire.’
Besides fashion, Rugege enjoys Poetry, writing, doing research, singing, travelling and good food.
“I love chapatti; it’s a major taste I have acquired since I came to Rwanda,” she said, adding, “travelling acts a visual feast because I delight in colours, cultures and meet with new people.”
Naleli Rugege’s Portfolio
• Designed Miss Rwanda’s Beach wear and Opening Dance attire.
• Participated in the annual Golden Horse Event, a renowned fashion show in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal, in South Africa.
• Showcased her designs in Durban Fashion Show; an event that attracts thousands of South Africa’s trend setters in the fashion and textile industry.
• Took part in Durban July, an annual fashion extravaganza that brought together thousands of interested fashion designers across South Africa.
• Finalist at the Pavilion Fashion Competition where she designed a creative useable bag with natural resources like dried, grass, metal, sticks and plants.
Finalist at Hat-tabulous, another fashion competition where wear able hats are creatively designed out of natural raw materials.