Rwanda’s fashion industry is steadily growing with new brands seeing the light every year. According to Joselyne Umutoniwase, head designer and founder of Rwanda Clothing in Kigali, there were hardly any competitors when she entered the industry in 2012. “Today, there are many brands, just in Kigali,” she says.
According to Umutoniwase, they all have the same frustration: there are no local accessory manufacturers nor are there component and auxiliary services suppliers to support the industry. This situation provides business opportunities for entrepreneurs who want to enter the industry but are not dead set on creating their own brands.
“I have been in the industry for nine years and what the market is offering is still the same. Most of the things I need, I have to import because you cannot source them locally,” she says. Accessories such as jewellery, handbags, belts and headpieces are not available. Designers have to manufacture their own. A shortage in choice of shoes in their finished form and the components for manufacturing them is a major frustration. Even finding certain fabrics is a challenge.
“If someone wants to bring in beautiful fabric or pieces we can accessorise with, they would be able to build a great business. Other areas like lingerie and men’s underwear or swimwear remain completely untapped,” she explains.
For her latest collection, Umutoniwase again had to create her own shoes to complete the look. “I used kitenge fabric, wood and leather because I have that in the studio and workshop. We have the machinery to manufacture shoes but I don’t want to because it is not our focus.
“Everyone wants to do everything themselves. Brands are doing A to Z and it becomes complicated, but if someone realises they can provide the input components or accessories for various brands – for example, customising shoes – 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 pattern making, cutting and sizing. Some of the designers have the vision but lack the technical expertise.
Many commentators believe the government’s Made in Rwanda policy, which came into effect in 2015, has assisted in the growth of the local industry.