I met Joselyne and her husband Roman, the owners of RWANDA CLOTHING recently and have been very impressed with the products and customer service at their store and their creative ideas about business in general. Visit them at their shopfront at Sky Hotel or learn more about them on their website or Facebook page or give them a call on 0786 134 128.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born in Kigali in 1987 and started working as a professional fashion designer in 2010 when I created my first collection of RWANDA CLOTHING. In September 2010 I was invited as one of the most important Rwandan female filmmakers by the German government and the German film director Volker Schlöndorff to participate in a scholarship program in Berlin and Mainz. With two bags full of my fashion creations I then traveled to Germany to also present and sell my fashion there. After three months in Germany I had sold my whole collection and met people working in the German fashion business who were immediately fascinated by my talent as a designer and my creative works. That time I was still not sure if I am really able to work as a designer and was so intimidated by the European fashion scene. But people in Germany really loved what I had created as my first collection.
Back in Rwanda in December 2010 and motivated by my success in Europe, I started designing my second collection with the money I had earned in Germany and sold my RWANDA CLOTHING then also in Kigali. I wanted to know if people in my home country would also like my designs. And they did!
One year later in December 2011 I went to Paris for the first time and was so caught and inspirited by the fashion scene there that I finally decided to end my carrier in the film business and to live my dream of being a fashion designer and to give my full time and energy to become the first Rwandan fashion producer who sells clothing made in Rwanda international successfully. Coming back from Paris, where I also got new inspiration and ideas for my 2012 collection of RWANDA CLOTHING, I founded my company RWANDA CLOTHING HOME Ltd. and became the first professional female Rwandan fashion designer with an own fashion brand in Rwanda.
For me, the commercial success of my fashion has always been as important as being accepted as a design artist on the global market from the beginning on. My RWANDA CLOTHING is meant to be art and should represent the culture of my country but I also always had the vision of creating jobs in Rwanda where I live and work and where I have always been at home. Instead of moving to Europe and to find there cultural conditions which would probably still offer me better chances for my career as a creative person, I decided to stay in Kigali and to help creating a cultural change and to develop a real fashion scene and industry here which is still a long way to go.
After working in Rwanda’s film industry, what made you make the jump to fashion?
I love fashion and have been a clothing designer for almost my whole life. And it was exactly this love and passion for fashion that made my decision to become a professional designer. It started for me very early when I created clothes for my playing dolls and those of my friends at a young age. Later as a young teenager I then also made clothes for myself. It’s the time when you want to dress up and look different from the others. You just want to be you and choose the pieces of clothing that you like. I had the capability to make things look the way I wanted and if I saw something in a store and I wanted to change it, cause I didn’t like the way it was designed, I always found ways to make it exactly as I imagined it should look like. I had a neighbor who had a sewing machine and she let me use her machine occasionally. She was very nice to me and encouraged me also. So I was changing something maybe four or five times until I had it done exactly how I wanted it. I was then around fifteen when I really started creating clothing from the scratch and it was that time I started to realize that I could do this. But until I created a real fashion collection and that I called myself a “designer” took a long time. Almost eight years.
Also visiting Europe and getting insights in the fashion industry there, influenced and inspired me to be part of the fashion industry. In the beginning it was just a wish to work as a designer. But later it became so crucial for me and such a strong need that I had no other choice than becoming a fashion designer. So I gave up working as a film maker but I still have good contacts there and I keep working as a fashion designer in the film industry. I am still somehow into film business.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Fashion is my life – it’s like this. And life is the greatest inspiration in fashion for me. I love to travel to different countries and see people’s style. I read books, magazines and everything I can find in the Internet what got something to do with fashion and I take into consideration things I like to wear. I combine all the details and then I create.
What do you think of Rwanda’s current fashion scene?
Rwanda has developed itself increasingly and can now already be described as having a fashion interested society. Of course Rwandans are still not crazy about fashion compared to the way others love their national fashion designers but you can now more clearly see a change coming. When I remember the last years and see what’s currently going on in the local fashion scene here, it gives me reason to believe that soon we’ll have many new designers and fashion houses and a lot more fashion shows and exhibitions which will be great for Rwanda. We need more creative power especially from young designers and newcomers who are changing rules and will surprise us.
I think Rwanda is very soon ready for a real fashion industry and scene and for a population which is proud of their designers who are representing their country with beauty and style. There is already an increasing competition in the Rwandan industry today but fashion enterprises in Rwanda compared to other countries have still only a small range of designers, including one or two established Rwandan designers, a few new Rwandan designers, as well as some designers from different countries and cultures. But in particular because of the expanding consumer’s demand for new clothing, it is realistic to expect that soon more national and international design houses like RWANDA CLOTHING as well as more individual designers will contribute to Rwanda’s recognition as an emerging fashion market in Africa.
The fashion market in Rwanda, which is today still dominated by second-hand clothing, will be witnessing strong growth in the next years owing to a young population and an increase in disposable incomes, which is leading to increase in consumption and so to rapid growth in organized retail of new clothing. RWANDA CLOTHING will be an important key player in pushing the Rwandan fashion scene to a higher level.
How have you found the process of setting up and running your business in Rwanda?
Starting a business – Rwanda is one of the easiest in the world, getting credit – Rwanda ranks also on top worldwide, paying taxes – also one of the easiest place to pay taxes in the world. And I as a businesswoman can bear witness to this. Doing business in Rwanda has become, in fact, very easy as the government is creating a very good environment to do so. I like doing business in Rwanda very much and I am happy to work here even though the fashion industry is still underdeveloped. But it is our job as designers, fashion entrepreneurs and especially consumers to change this.
Having worked in both film and fashion, what do you think of the creative scene in Rwanda in general?
I think, what I have already said about the fashion scene applies also to the art scene in general: We are becoming more and more international here in Rwanda and our good artists have already reached a high level of international standard according to the artistic and creative quality of their work. I am very optimistic for the cultural future of Rwanda.
Are young Rwandans encouraged to go into creative fields?
Since art has always been very important in Rwanda and many of our ancestors have earned their living with traditional artistic craftsmanship like making baskets and weaving carpets etc. I would say that creating art is accepted in our society as a profession even nowadays. But as life is becoming more and more expensive and our society is developing into a more and more technology focused culture it is becoming harder to survive as an artist even though there is an increasing number of Rwandans who are spending a lot of money for art of any kind and especially fashion.
So I think if parents do not want their children to become artists it is more because of their worries that their child will struggle to survive and to feed their own family and family is still very important here in Africa. But I don’t see any problems being an artist in Rwanda. No one will laugh about you or might think that you are somehow less important for our society.
What do you hope for the future of RWANDA CLOTHING?
RWANDA CLOTHING has set itself ambitious targets for the next years including especially considerable increases in sales coming from online business. Soon we will launch our new online store on: http://store.rwandaclothing.com and are first targeting customers in Europe, mainly Germany.
We also want in particular to have an extensive product range including more accessories, a more efficient production process, highly qualified and motivated new employees and online sale activities that are tailored to the end consumer. Own retail is extremely important for our future development. Due to the opportunities arising and with regard to the sales and earnings development as well as consumers’ perception of the RWANDA CLOTHING brand we are investing in two new RWANDA CLOTHING STOREs in Rwanda which will open in middle and end 2014.
What do you think makes RWANDA CLOTHING stand out as a Rwandan business?
My fashion design is always in the middle between Rwandan tradition and international trends. I am constantly searching for the right visual and artistic expressions to have the right balance of those two influences. Although the international aspects of my fashion designs becomes a more and more stronger influence in my work, my designs at the same time getting more Rwandan too. It’s hard to understand, even for me, but the more I make internationality a subject of my creations the stronger the Rwandan-African counterpart becomes at the same time. It’s like as if they both always grow together: The more international RWANDA CLOTHING gets, the more Rwandan and African it is too. For me it’s not a contradiction and you can see it also especially in our capital Kigali these days: New international architecture, new global companies, new markets but this happens to be also very Rwandan at the same time cause it fits together so well with our Rwandan culture and tradition. Rwanda for me is a modern country and has somehow always been an international part of the world due the European influences in our past. This is at least the way I see it.
As a role model for the Rwandan society should also stand the corporate culture at my Rwandan company which is characterized by internationality, openness, diversity and based on trust. We utilize flat hierarchies and promote independent thinking and the use of ones own initiative at all levels. Also my RWANDA CLOTHING design stands for traditional and modern Rwandan values: beauty, authenticity, independence, creativity, innovation, ambition and professionalism, sense of responsibility and environmental awareness as well as what is natural and ethical.
My fashion design has therefore adapted a more international – I would say especially Italian and partly also English – fashion style and at the same time looks to me more Rwandan then ever before. I see my creations and I think: ‘This is my version of a Rwandan fashion style’ and others agree with that. You can’t negate the influences coming from Europe and especially Asia today but we here in Africa have to try to remain also true to our own way of dressing. We have to keep our special designs but it has to be in a authentic combination of both – African and International – so that the design is interesting and new.