Rwanda’s economy is one of the fastest growing in the world, and it is projected that it will be a middle-income state by the year 2035. It seems that such growth is in part due to the various initiatives implemented by the government at sustaining growth in different industries, one of which is the country’s fashion industry. I believe an initiative that is helping the Rwandan fashion industry is “Made in Rwanda”, launched in 2015. The initiative will see an improvement in Rwanda’s competitiveness on a global scale. Some important aspects of the initiative includes giving loans to small businesses and improving production of materials, i.e. leather. The government is looking towards China to show its people how to open factories, as well as produce garments.
Such an initiative is already showing the benefits for Rwandan citizens venturing into the fashion industry. An example of the initiative’s successes is the story of Matthew Rugamba, owner of House of Tayo. It can be said that his moment of success arrived when he connected with Peter Junior Nyong’o, the younger brother of award-winning actor, Lupita Nyong’o. Peter was accompanying his sister to the Black Panther premier, giving Matthew the prime opportunity to showcase his design, which is exactly what he did when Peter wore his three-piece suit to the premier. Lupita acknowledged his work to her more than 7.5 million followers, which no doubt propelled Matthew to instant global recognition. Since this exposure, he has since seen his brand soar in demand.
Another success story is that of Mandisa M. Nana, founder and owner of the luxury handbags and accessories brand, I.Sidai. Based in Kigali, I.Sidai products are mostly made using quality leather and accented with the vibrant patterns of African textiles. Their specialty arguably lies in handmaking all their products to order. I.Sidai also stands out because all production takes place in Kigali and is then sold globally, which isn’t common for African fashion products.
The opportunities for brands like House of Tayo and I.Sidai have further been boosted since the Rwandan government decided to ban imports of Western second-hand goods. I believe that banning Western second-hand products has in turn spurred an increase in domestic production.
With such increases in the fashion industry domestically, it is safe to assume that it will only help to introduce the vibrant and beautiful cultures of Rwanda to the rest of the world. This is already being seen with designers such as Moses Turahirwa of Moshions, who has incorporated as his signature look, the black-and-white imigongo zig zag and square patterns. An art form that almost disappeared with the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, this art form now lives in Moses’ designs.
As many of these designers are staying local, they are contributing to the economy by hiring workers from the community in which they are based. This is also especially helping women, who, without a doubt, often suffer the most economically. Priscilla Ruzibuka of Ki-pepeo Kids clothing line hires mainly women who suffered from the Genocide and teaches them the skills needed to produce the garments.
Although still in its infancy, it is our hope and that of the government and Rwandan clothing and accessories designers that the initiatives implemented will not only bring about a thriving fashion industry, but see it sustained.
Nadia Lobti, is a year one student in Journalism and communication.