On the occasion of the World Economic Forum on Africa that took place in Kigali on the 11th-13th May 2016, an event called Fashion Friday was hosted by Innovation Village on the 13th May. The aim was to show to the rest of the world what local fashion designers are doing. The motto of the day was “Designed in Africa, Made in Africa, For the World”. Rwanda Clothing along with other designers participated. Different styles and elements jewelry were exhibited to attendants. Those interested could even buy right away.
Designers were delighted, for it was an excellent opportunity to demonstrate that the fashion industry is present and active in Rwanda. That made me think more about the place that fashion has in our country versus what people think about it.
- People’s views
Fashion industry is growing at a fast pace in Rwanda. Here and there, different events are organized by different personalities. Yet, there are people I heard out there who argue about the relevancy of fashion in our society. They tend to say that fashion is something that we borrowed from abroad.
This is not entirely the truth. Fashion starts from the basic need of wearing clothes. But it goes beyond mere function of clothes, and explores the aesthetic and artistic side of clothing. Fashion also relates to how we feel about such modes of clothing. Fashion allows us to have different options of styles and colors when we are shopping.
It is true that some popular fashion trends were borrowed from outside, but the whole notion of fashion is as old as the society itself, not only the Rwandan society but the whole human race, if I may say.
- Cultural context
In ancient Rwanda, there existed different styles of clothing that were classified according to age, gender and social status. Among them we can cite ‘inshabure’ and ‘ikinyita’ that were made in skins from animals like goats, cows, impala or even leopards. They were clothed by girls or lords. There is also ‘inkanda’ and ‘impuzu’ that were made out of the bark of a tree. Some elements of jewelry were presents as well. Women wore ‘ubutega’ on legs, ‘ibikomo’ as bracelets and ‘inigi’ as necklaces. We cannot forget to mention the famous haircut ‘amasunzu’ that amazed even people from abroad.
- Artistic context
As the saying goes, “fashion is the art and you are the canvas.” Fashion is a form of art, where fashion designers express various messages to their audience through clothing. I believe that local designers can take advantage of our rich culture and combine with modern tools to create styles that are both catchy and meaningful. Some have already started. We have seen how designers are using ‘kitenge’, the most celebrated African traditional wear, to create good looking styles.
When it comes to music, fashion becomes its inseparable companion. Music artists are always looking for new and fresh styles to complement their beats and lyrics. They also contribute to the development of the fashion industry and popularization of trends. Therefore, both industries should grow together. We have seen how the music industry in Rwanda has been taken to another level during few past years. Fashion should be recognized by our society in the same way.
As long as the need of clothing is there, fashion industry will prevail. Because it is an industry and jobs and money are generated through it. It’s up to us to use it efficiently, so that we may benefit fully.
Let’s not forget that fashion can serve to cast a beautiful picture of our country to the rest of the world, for there are many out there who still see us through the lenses of what we passed through.
For moral issues that rise about some fashion trends, let me quote Rachel Zoe, an American fashion designer, who said that “fashion is a way to say who you are without having to speak”. It is all about our personal choices and preferences, and we have to make sure that our clothing is conveying the message from our inner self.
More of fashion in Rwanda: