The fashion industry in Rwanda keeps growing with new brands emerging every year. According to Joselyne Umutoniwase, chief designer and founder of Rwanda Clothing in Kigali, there were hardly any competitors when she entered the industry in 2012. “Today there are a lot of brands, just around the corner. Kigali, ”she said.
According to Umutoniwase, they all have the same frustration: there are no local accessory manufacturers or suppliers of ancillary components and services to support the industry. This situation provides business opportunities for entrepreneurs who wish to enter the industry but are not determined to create their own brands.
“I’ve been in the industry for nine years and what the market offers is still the same. Most of the things I need I have to import because you can’t buy them locally, ”she says. Accessories such as jewelry, handbags, belts and headdresses are not available. Designers have to make their own. A lack of choice of shoes in their finished form and the components to make them is a major frustration. Even finding certain fabrics is a challenge.
“If someone wants to bring in some nice fabrics or pieces that we can accessorize with, they would be able to start a great business. Other areas such as lingerie and men’s underwear or swimwear remain totally untapped, ”she explains.
For their latest collection, Umutoniwase once again had to create their own shoes to complete the look. “I used kitenge fabric, wood and leather because I have this in the studio and in the workshop. We have the machines to make shoes, but I don’t want to because that’s not our goal.
“Everyone wants to do everything themselves. Brands do it from A to Z and it gets complicated, but if someone realizes that they can provide the input components or accessories for various brands – for example, shoe customization – they could really be successful ” , advises Umutoniwase.
There is even a market for a company that can provide technical services and training in areas such as model making, cutting and trimming. Some designers have the vision but lack technical expertise.
Many commentators believe that the government’s Made in Rwanda policy, which took effect in 2015, has helped the local industry grow.