I am sitting in the lounge of Waka Fitness in Kigali, where I am flicking through some magazines, waiting to meet Alexia Uwera Mupende, one of the most renowned models from Rwanda. I had seen her only in pictures before, but I have no trouble recognizing her from far. With a height of 5’10” and long dreadlocks, she stands out easily. One couldn’t help but notice her gracious gait in the workout outfit that she had put on.
She, then, leads me towards the café, where we sit down and have an interesting conversation about her career as a model. Here’s the exclusive interview:
Alexia, what are your origins?
I am Rwandan. I was born in Nairobi, Kenya but fortunately I was able to return back home.
Tell us about your career as model. How were you discovered?
I wouldn’t say I was discovered because I feel it has been a different journey altogether. I’ve always had a passion for modeling since I was a young girl and I guess I decided to take it upon myself after learning that it’s not always that you will be discovered, sometimes you also have to put a push and get yourself seen. Like, market yourself. I took it upon myself and started doing research on modeling and seeing what’s required, watching shows and competitions, reading, how to build a portfolio, to build working relationships with people working in the industry, whether it is designers or trying to get signed up with an agency. So, I did my research and started building my portfolio and tried to go for castings, whether here in Rwanda or even abroad. Wherever I felt I had the desire to be part of something, I would contact the people involved and present to them what I had done thus far and see how I can work with them.
When can you say you did your first professional job as a model?
It depends on how you look at it. I started way back in high school, but I wouldn’t know if I should call it professional modeling. Maybe I could say 2012/2013 is when I actually started actively trying to work in the industry in Rwanda.
What type of modeling do you enjoy most? Domestic, international, runway, commercial, editorial, etc.
Every experience brings something different to it. So, I can’t say there is any specific one. With runway, there’s the exhilaration of doing it and actually being on the runway and the catwalk. Of course, it has certain fears of what if something goes wrong. When you do commercial modeling or catalogue, it’s a lot of work in the moment but you see the result after. When you see the result, it’s a different feeling altogether. So, I can’t say there is any specific but I feel every experience has something that it brings because each time you are doing something different, maybe working with a different person on a different project. So, I guess all of them but I can’t really say typically one in particular.
What do you consider to be your career highlights, and what are you most proud of?
Winning the Premier Modeling competition was one. For me, I think every step ahead that I make is something to celebrate. However small it might seem for someone, I am always thankful for every opportunity. So, I can’t say one in particular. But, I’ve been blessed and I am thankful that I’ve been able to do multiple shows both locally; with individual designers and fashion weeks. I’ve been able to travel abroad to represent my country. So, for me any opportunity is a blessing
What do you love most about being a model? And, what do you least enjoy?
One of the things I love about modeling is that it provides opportunities to travel. You get to experience different people and different cultures. You learn from those experiences and it is very eye opening, very exhilarating and very nice but it also comes with challenges. It’s a lot of work. You have to invest quite a bit in yourself as an individual in terms of your health and fitness, your mental state of mind. You have to be ready to work because this is a job. One of the things I least enjoy, one of the challenges I face is maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Being healthy, fit and always ready for any work because every opportunity presents itself with different challenges. You might have to work in a difficult environment and conditions. You cannot always predict where you will work and the kind of work you will get. It’s a good thing but it’s also a challenge because you never really know what to expect. You can’t always plan and say it will go like this. It might rain when you need the sun, work long hours, it can be exhausting… You meet different people and with every experience it is different. You never really know what to expect and that can really be a challenge. And also, you never really know what people you work for want. You’re not always sure. So, being able to adapt to all of that can sometimes be challenging
How do you stay in shape?
Well, I know this would sound cliché but I try to eat healthy. That should be a recommendation for everyone, regardless whether you are modeling or not. What you put inside of you actually comes out. Drinking a lot of water, keeping yourself hydrated, being active, working out,… it’s really good. I work in a gym in Kigali, so that helps. Even when you’re lazy, you have to get encouraged to work out and stay healthy. Everyone has something different that works for them. Some might be going to gym, some might go swimming, some might be running,… but any course of activity that keeps you healthy and keeps your body active is recommended for everyone.
How would you define your personal style?
I tend to go with what’s comfortable. I love to dress for comfort more than anything, but again I also believe it’s also worth dressing according to the occasion. Once in a while, I spice things up but I tend to dress up for comfort. I love just being in my jeans and comfortable shoes, that’s who I am! But from time to time, I do switch things up!
Who is your style icon?
Personally, I guess one person who inspires me the most is Tyra Banks. I believe she has revolutionized the industry from her show ‘America’s Next Top Model’ and also from her experience as a model and sharing all of that. Sometimes you assume that modeling is all glamorous but there are a lot of realities behind the scenes that you need to know about. But she brings this forth and encourages people to be different. She’s encouraged diversity in terms of age, size, orientation and background. She’s one of the few people who put out plus size models, petite models, she’s worked with male models,… just giving everyone an opportunity and teaching people how to do things. You don’t necessarily have to be on the show to be able to learn from that experience and be able to practically use that knowledge in your day-to-day life, so for me, I just love what she has done!
Can you share with us the best advice you’ve ever received?
Patience is a very big one in this industry. Particularly in Rwanda, the industry is still young and has multiple challenges. So, you have to be patient. You can’t want instant gratification from everything you do. You have to work hard, invest a lot of your time and energy and you have to be willing to try things outside the norm that you are used to in order to be able to get somewhere. Believe in what you are doing, and most of all if you are doing something that you love and you are passionate about, give it your best and just keep pushing; not just doing things for money. You have to do things because you love them. Otherwise, money might take a while to come, but if you are passionate about something and you are professional about how you execute your work, people will see that in you and will be more likely willing to work with you.
Any advice to young men and women who aspire to be models?
I just tell them to follow their dreams, but also work hard. I know it’s good to dream big; I dreamt big, I’ve realized a number of dreams and I’m still hoping to realize more. It’s good to dream but you have to work hard, you have to work really hard and never give up just because the odds are against you. If you really push and work hard, you are likely to get what you want. It’s not just about glamour. And you have to build relationships with people, work with people and be professional; you will be surprised with what it can do. Doors can open for you because of how you present yourself.
What do you do when you are not modeling?
Right now, I work with Waka Fitness and we are all about health and fitness. We just want to help people to transform their lives into living a healthier lifestyle and, hopefully, put Rwanda on the map for being one of the healthiest countries in the world by encouraging people to be fit, active and eat healthy. I believe a healthier workforce would more likely bring more results as opposed to people who are not healthy. So, that’s one of the things we try to do, to help people with their fitness goals.
You are the face of the VLISCO 2016 collection of RWANDA CLOTHING, how did it feel to work with them?
It was a wonderful experience. I got to see a beautiful tea plantation and the Nyungwe Forest Lodge. It just got me thinking how we have such a beautiful country! We focus so much on what we know, but I believe we should get to know our country. It is a beautiful place coupled with beautiful people. I believe we have so much to offer to the world. For me, that was a lovely experience. And being able to work again with Joselyne was a rewarding experience. Working with her has always been rewarding. In the time spent with her, she shared on both a personal and professional level, and I learned a lot from her. I got the opportunity to work for the first time with a gentleman called Raphael Cardinael, a very talented photographer, and the pictures speak for themselves!!! Being able to have different experiences with different people in different settings, for me, was very rewarding. I am thankful for that. I’m thankful to God, to Joselyne for choosing to work with me and trusting me to be the one to present her collection. It was an ultimately rewarding experience!
See here the whole VLISCO Collection 2016: rwandaclothing.com/collection/vlisco-2016
And a last question: Where do you see the fashion industry in Rwanda going?
I see it going to greater heights. I see people coming together to promote Rwandan Fashion. #MadeInRwanda is something big and I see all stakeholders coming on board. I see the Government, the creatives in terms of designers and different parts of the industry sharing and pushing this campaign. Models are on board, designers are on board, Rwandans themselves are on board and are actually buying into the idea of buying things that are made in Rwanda and promoting them abroad leading to great exports. In terms of income, I believe it’s going to create more jobs for people, starting from the seamstress, to the cutter, to the designers, to the retailers to the models, to generate tax revenue for the Government. I just believe it is something grand and I just can’t wait to see how far it will go. And I am very humbled and glad to be a part of the process and I hope I can do it justice to the best of my abilities.
Alexia Uwera Mupende is a Kenya born Rwandan model, dancer and actress currently living and working in Kigali, Rwanda. Entertainment has been at the heart of her life since her childhood, earning her three titles as Miss Junior and Miss Intermediate twice in a row.
Alexia has had the opportunity to work with some established local fashion brands and designers such as RWANDA CLOTHING, House of Marion, Ikanzu Designs and Accessories, Inzuki Designs, Rupari, Sonia Mugabo and Haute Baso to mention a few. Alexia also had the privilege to represent Rwanda at Runway Dubai Season II and worked with international designers like Modupe Omonze who is also the founder of Runway Dubai, Shaleen Cheah, Helen Couture, Si Fashion Galerie and Khalid Al Ayoub.
You can see more on her website http://alexiamupende.com , or follow her social media accounts: