Africa continues to be peppered with various fashion weeks and fashion-related events. But it was in Rwanda that Africa’s last major fashion show took place – the CollectiveRW Week of fashion. It was a collaborative effort between Haute Baso, House of Tayo, Sonia Mugabo and Inzuki Designs, all well-known brands in the country, with the help of LDJ Productions, the event management and production company in charge of the management, production and operations of New York Fashion Week.
Fashion personalities like fashion consultant Diana Opoti (Nairobi), Refashion Africa founder and chief cultivator Leanne Tlhagoane, and fashion bloggers Trevor Stuurman and Lulama Wolf (Johannesburg) attended the event and got involved from a marketing PR and advertising perspective. Seeing all that support coming from fellow African entrepreneurs was heartwarming, Sonia Mugabo says, as fashion is not as glitzy and glamorous as people tend to think. There are setbacks in all areas of entrepreneurship, including fashion. With Rwanda being a landlocked country, local designers struggle to find good raw materials – they are few and expensive, which leads designers to import large quantities from abroad, requiring an investment. Additionally, they need further capital to take orders, as most clients pay after delivery but artisans request money at the completion of their work. Furthermore, the skill gap in the country leads to problems in the organization of the textile industry, and the building and maintenance of technical skills. Altogether it makes large distributions tricky.
This is unfortunate, as the fashion industry offers incredible potential for job creation. Haute Baso, for example, started working with just four artisans and now works with 170 artisans over the country. In fact, textiles and clothing represents the second-largest sector in Africa, but is an underdeveloped sector.
Diana Opoti says that it is important to note that the middle class in Africa is growing, which means that there are more and more opportunities for small and medium-sized fashion brands to gain the local market, as before becoming a regional or international brand, it is vital to satisfy the local market first. Furthermore, the pace of middle-class expansion in Africa is being noticed by international retailers. “Before, the market in Africa was too small to even venture into,” explains the fashion consultant, “but now it is high-priority for local designers to make a stand now. The market is still small, but this should be taken as an opportunity to strengthen their brands before competing with big brands.”
Fashion shows are important because they represent a strategic approach. Even if it is common practice for fashion-related businesses to be done digitally these days, LDJ Productions owner Laurie DeJong points out that there’s absolutely no substitute for the experience one will get by attending a fashion show. With her experience producing New York Fashion Week, Laurie DeJong testifies that a fashion show is the best platform for designers to showcase their talents and get products out of it – meaning great pictures and great videos. Lastly, a fashion show creates a lot of excitement in the city … and talking about excitement – Kigali was on fire!
The designs were fabulous, models were stunning – everything was on point from hair, makeup, and lighting to the music chosen for the catwalks. The show was a good testimony of collaboration among creatives while developing a culture of fostering new talents, as the collective shared the stage with local brands Amizero and Uzi Collections as well with more established brands such as Inco and the internationally known Naked Ape.
The CollectiveRW really proved that the Rwandan fashion industry has everything necessary to become the vibrant and lucrative businesses sector it has the potential to be, placing Rwanda high on the global fashion scene. Furthermore, since Rwanda has known an incredible economic turnaround and a fast pace of expansion, we have the potential to become the next powerhouse of fashion in the region. The infrastructures and the hotels are there and Kigali is safe. All the rest of us need to do is support #MadeInRwanda.