Africa wants to be a player in the luxury fashion world, and it’s coming into the game strong. Last week alone, Lagos, Nigeria, was host to two separate fashion weeks featuring African designers. Rwanda is now the latest nation to get behind the creative talent in the design and textile industries, with government subsidies like tax breaks for goods and services needed to import and export designer clothes and accessories.
As part of an ongoing response to aid the country ravaged by dictatorship and genocide during the 1990s, the U.S. Agency for International Development has a program for economic grants. It’s a huge help to Rwanda’s fashion community, which is taking advantage of the globalization made possible by e-commerce and bringing Africa’s aesthetic to our doorsteps.
One of the brightest new talents to emerge on the Rwandan fashion scene is Rwanda Clothing, founded by home accessories and fashion designer Joselyne Umutoniwase. Her shop features locally produced, fair-trade, ready-to-wear and made-to-measure men’s, women’s and children’s clothing. On her company’s website, she writes:
My designs have been sold all over Africa and now I want people in Europe and America to be dressed in RWANDA CLOTHING. I have worked with some very good designers in the African industry but I’d also love to get now in stronger contact with designers outside of Africa.
Designer Patrick Muhire’s line, Inkanda House, named after the traditional African skirt made out of tree bark, has long been one of the leading lights of his country’s fashion scene.
Muhire, who originally wanted to be a doctor but told Africa’s New Times that “I had a phobia of blood,” began his design career when his younger sister needed a dress for her wedding. Muhire whipped it up and set off a storm. He had hit on something: easy-to-wear modern clothes made in traditional African fabrics. Orders started coming in from friends and family, and a business was born in 2009.
Inzuki Designs is an eclectic mix of homewares, jewelry and traditional textiles cut into everything from caftans to headwraps. Like many of the current crop of Rwanda’s designers, Teta Isibo, Inzuki Designs’ creator, is working with her peers to build strong design collaborations. They’ve founded CollectiveRW for merchandising and promotion, with a purpose of lifting the country’s fashion industry up as a whole.
Seven designers are now part of the collective, currently on tour, bringing Kigali Fashion Week to the world. The show is now in Brussels for a three-day exhibition.
While there are no plans to bring Rwandan Fashion Week stateside just yet, you can bring Inzuki’s designs home through its one U.S. vendor, the online store of the famed Field Museum in Chicago. It’s a step in the right direction toward claiming a place on the world fashion stage.