Rwanda’s fashion scene might still be young and relatively small, but with an increasing number of talents emerging every day, its future is looking bright and promising. We have listed the 6 most talented Rwandan fashion designers who, determined to put Rwanda on the world fashion map, are helping create a thriving local fashion industry.
Candy Basomingera and Linda Mukangoga
After working for three years in Public Health and HIV, Candy Basomingera wanted to start her own business doing something that she loved, but never really considered doing it professionally.
Having studied International Relations at university, Linda Mukangoga soon decided to focus on her passion for fashion instead, and forge a new career.
In February 2014, both young and talented Rwandan fashion designers came together, merging their respective brands to establish ‘Haute | baso’. Based on the belief that ‘two heads are better than one’, they started designing globally-minded culturally inspired clothing, accessories and jewellery.
Using their passion for fashion as a vehicle for positive change, they work together towards empowering women and young people through training, mentorship and job creation. Together with other local designers and artists, they aim to boost Rwanda’s creative industry as well as their brands and create opportunities, strongly believing in the potential of the local fashion scene. Through their stunning collections, Haute | baso’s two ambitious founders are stating that Rwandan fashion is chic, contemporary and accessible.
After completing his second year of college in the USA, Matthew Rugamba started his own fashion brand named ‘House of Tayo’. It was during his time abroad – where he often found himself dispelling myths and sharing anecdotes of what life is like growing up in various parts of Africa – that he became particularly keen on sharing his appreciation of Rwandan culture and history. One of the most powerful ways in which to do this is through clothing, as he himself states – ‘I wanted to capture that African style and elegance that you could spot from a mile away’.
Even though Matthew Rugamba gets his inspiration from all over the place – markets, blogs,GQ issues and art galleries -his primary source remains history and culture. ‘When I started the brand, I was obsessed with the style of the Pan African movement of the late 1950s and 60s. It was the perfect blend of classic Western style and African traditional clothing at a time when leaders were trying to stimulate a feeling of nationalism and appreciation for Africa, much like I would like House of Tayo to do.’ He admits frequently going through history books to look at how Patrice Lumumba skilfully combined fine tailoring, a bowtie and traditional leopard print accessories, as well as iconic pictures of Kwame Nkurumah in Ghanaian Kente Cloth. Before creating his pieces, he likes to remind himself of what the brand represents – African sophistication, class and elegance – and to be surrounded by all those rich images that inspire him.
While studying in the USA, Sonia Mugabo had the opportunity to work in New York’s fashion industry. Moving back to Rwanda in the summer of 2013, she realised the growing need for Rwandans in fashion, but also the high potential of the Rwandan fashion scene. Naturally therefore, this became the perfect time for her to enter the industry. She then created her brand, ‘Sonia Mugabo’ (SM), for the sophisticated lady in all of us. Named after her, SM is very feminine, detail oriented and versatile, offering an eclectic mix of African trends and contemporary fashion. She strongly believes that Rwanda has a very rich culture with an artistic side to it, and is determined to put the country on the world fashion map.
Sonia Mugabo finds her inspiration in everything around her, in her everyday experiences, in travelling and reading. She thinks Grace Coddington, the Creative Director of Vogue Magazinesays it best – ‘always keep your eyes open. Keep watching, because whatever you see can inspire you.” As she believes every individual has a story to share with the world, she decided to share hers through her collections. Her designs are her own way of saying ‘Hello, this is me. This is Sonia Mugabo!’ and her only wish is for her collections to be timeless, inspire others and be remembered.
Having been passionate about design and African jewellery from a young age, Teta Isibo’s hobby became a small side business while she was working at the mayor’s office as an urban planner. There, she came across a talented artisan participating in a basket weaving programme organised by the social department. She then thought about giving the artisan her personal earring design to be reproduced using the basket weaving technique. The results were amazing, and before she knew it, she was designing earrings for friends, and friends of friends.
A few years later, she resigned from her job to dedicate herself entirely to the fashion design business, creating ‘Inzuki Designs’. She was one of the first Rwandan designers to start her own brand, and is now in the process of opening an online store – a first for the country. ‘All products are locally made, and are a fusion of traditional craftsmanship and contemporary design’, she says. At the moment, Inzuki Designs specialise in jewellery, accessories and interior décor, but Teta Isibo confirms the plans to expand very soon to become a contemporary African lifestyle brand.
Teta Isibo’s inspiration comes from a blend of people, places, times, colours, textures, and the like. Her collections are beautifully presented as the reflection of a new Rwanda and a new Africa. Indeed, her colourful, bold, diverse and unique pieces are just an evidence of the continent’s changing narrative and beauty.
Colombe Ituze Ndutiye
Colombe Ituze Ndutiye has loved drawing from a very young age. When she later met a fashion designer, she was inspired to make her own sketches, and decided to start her own career in fashion. Her brand, ‘INCO’, is the first Rwanda-born fashion brand combining African traditions with modern and urban lines. INCO offers a stunning range of products from unisex clothing to cutting edge accessories for men and women. The brand follows a noble philosophy: ‘to fit the needs of everyone involved in the process, from the skilled worker making the products to the consumer’.
So far, Colombe Ituze Ndutiye’s collections have been presented at various fashion shows in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Kenya, and the USA, and are also being sold in Canada. In 2013, she was awarded the Rwanda Fashion/Style Role Model by Diva Awards Afrika. Asked about Rwanda’s fashion scene, she is always keen to state that she believes firmly in its future, as more and more talents are emerging every day, and Rwandans have started appreciating the value of locally made fashion.
Through her collections, Colombe Ituze Ndutiye wishes to share positive feelings, strength, freedom, energy, hope and ambition, giving courage to women in need of a voice to express themselves, to women who already have a voice but need to stand tall and shine, and to men who are supportive of the cause.