The RWANDA CLOTHING Story
By Joselyne Umutoniwase
The RWANDA CLOTHING fashion brand was founded in 2012 by Joselyne Umutoniwase, born 1987 in Kigali, and Roman Schulz who is a German lawyer and investor.
Joselyne is a fashion Designer, film director and editor and has worked in the Rwandan film industry for five years until 2011 cause at that time there were no possibilities in Rwanda of making a living with designing fashion. Now she works as the most successful fashion designer in Kigali.
Joselyne started working as a professional fashion designer in 2010 when she created her first collection. In September 2010 she was invited as one of the most important Rwandan female filmmakers by the German government and the German film director Volker Schlöndorff to participate in a scholarship program in Berlin and Mainz. With two bags full of her first fashion creations she then traveled to Germany to also present and sell her fashion there. After three months in Germany she had sold her whole collection and met people in Germany – like the German lawyer Roman Schulz who later became Joselyne’s business partner and husband – who were immediately fascinated by her natural talent as a designer and her creative works. But in 2010 she was still not sure if she really would be able to work as a designer and was first of all very intimidated by the European fashion scene even though people in Germany loved what she had created as her first collection.
Back in Rwanda in December 2010 and motivated by her success in Europe and with the help of Roman, she started designing her second collection with the money she had earned in Germany and started selling her creations then also in Kigali. “I then wanted to know if also people in my home country like my designs. And they did as well!”.
One year later in December 2011, after having worked half time as a semi-professional fashion designer and half time in her former profession as a filmmaker for documentaries and short films, she again traveled to Europa and this time she went to Paris and was so caught and inspired by the fashion scene there that she then finally decided to end her carrier in film business and to live her dream of being a fashion designer and to spend her full time and energy to become the first Rwandan fashion producer who sells clothing made in Rwanda international successfully.
Returning from Paris, where she also got new inspiration and ideas for her 2012 collection which she wanted now to create as a full time fashion designer, she founded her company RWANDA CLOTHING HOME Ltd. with Roman Schulz in Rwanda in February 2012 and finally became the first professional female fashion designer with an own fashion brand in Rwanda. That time no Rwandan woman was doing fashion in Rwanda professionally.
Joselyne decided to become a fashion designer because of her love for fashion. She says about herself that she has been a clothing designer for almost her whole life but did not know that this can become a real profession of hers one day. In the end it was exactly this love and passion for fashion that made her decision to become a designer.
“It started very early when I created clothes for my playing dolls and those of my friends at a young age. Later as a young teenager I then also made clothes for myself. It’s the time when you want to dress up and look different from others. You just want to be yourself and wear the pieces of clothing that you like. I had the capability to make things look the way I wanted and if I saw something in a store and I wanted to change it cause I didn’t like the way it was designed, I always found ways to make it exactly as I imagined it should look like. I had a neighbor who had a sewing machine and she let me use her machine occasionally. She was very nice to me and encouraged me also. So I was changing something maybe four or five times until I had it done exactly how I wanted it.”
It was when she was around fifteen years old when she really started creating clothing from the scratch and it was that time she started to realize that she had talent. But it took longer until she created a real fashion collection and that she considered herself as a “designer”. Almost eight years from then on.
Also visiting Europe and getting insights in the fashion industry there, crucially influenced and inspired her to become a part of the international fashion industry as well. “In the beginning it was just a wish to work as a designer. But later it became so important to me and such a strong need that I had no other choice but becoming a fashion designer. So I gave up working as a filmmaker. But I still have good contacts to the film industry in Rwanda. I am still somehow into film business. But I never regretted quitting. Fashion is just my life – it’s like this. And life is the greatest inspiration in fashion for me. I love to travel to different countries and see people’s style. I read books, magazines and everything I can find in the internet what got something to do with fashion and I take into consideration things I like to wear myself. I combine all the details and then I create.” says Joselyne.
When asked what makes her being a good fashion designer, Joselyne answers: “As a designer in Rwanda – like everywhere else in the world in my opinion – you have to know your market first. Who are your customer and what do they like to wear are your main questions. Special training is not necessarily required to become a designer cause in my opinion it is our job as designers to train ourselves and to develop our talents. That is an important part of what we are doing and this is how I did it myself: Learning by doing. I didn’t visit a fashion or art school. After finishing secondary school, I had four years of training at an international film school in Rwanda and some months of working internationally in South Africa and Europe. As a designer you have to analyze your market, make research about global design and fashion trends, communicate with your customers, understand their needs and demands and you have to figure out how you can satisfy your customer the best way.”
“There is no general recipe or best practice to become a successful fashion designer. You just have to be very regardful, curious and interested in other people, what they like to wear and how you can improve their lives by creating better outfits for them. You have to find out individually how you can make others happy and help them to feel better, more beautiful and more self-confident by wearing your clothing creations. This special social gift no one else can train you. Being a designer is a special talent which training cannot replace unfortunately. It is different from film business. Being a fashion designer is being an artist with highly developed social skills and empathy.”
Like Joselyne herself describes her way of working, also we at RWANDA CLOTHING share her opinion and describe her talent and personality as follows: “At RWANDA CLOTHING we believe that no one can expect to become a good fashion designer just by participating in a education program or by working with other designers. Someone has to have very specific interests and an existing creative talent and most important social skills which make you capable of knowing what others like to wear. But these given talents can be developed, shaped and improved. Further we all believe that Joselyne already has developed, shaped and improved her tremendous talents as a fashion designer. Most of us at RWANDA CLOTHING had never worked here in Rwanda with such professionalism and passion when creating clothing before Joselyne came and gave us a job in her company. Her performances also in terms of motivating coworkers and customers to try out new things is exceptional. We now believe we have to cross boundaries and be more innovative and inspired then the rest of the market.”
Being asked about the future of fashion design in Rwanda, Joselyne says: “Not only me and my RWANDA CLOTHING has reached a further and much more international level of clothing design but also Rwanda has developed itself increasingly and can now already be described as having a fashion interested society. Of course Rwandans are still not crazy about fashion compared to the way others love their national fashion designers but you can now more clearly see a change coming. When I remember the last years and see what’s currently going on in the local fashion scene here, then it gives me good reason to believe that soon we have many new designers and fashion houses and a lot more fashion shows and exhibitions which will be great for Rwanda. There is already an increasing competition in the Rwandan industry today but fashion enterprises in Rwanda compared to other countries have still only a small range of designers, including some established Rwandan designers, a few new Rwandan designers, as well as some designers from other countries. But in particular because of the expanding consumer’s demand for fashion clothing, we believe that soon more national and international design brands and individual designers will contribute to Rwanda’s recognition as an emerging fashion market in Africa. The fashion market in Rwanda, which is today still dominated by second-hand clothing, will be hopefully changed completely. RWANDA CLOTHING will be an important key player in pushing the Rwandan fashion scene to a higher and much more professional level. This is why I love to work in Rwanda. We at RWANDA CLOTHING are the first here to establish a fashion scene.”
About the beginning of RWANDA CLOTHING she says: “It was very difficult of course. But this helps you later, when you have first time success, to stay grounded and to not make the mistake to become too proud of yourself. It is always good to know where you are coming from and to never forget how hard it was to start your career. To struggle in the beginning and to overcome the temptation of just giving up, shapes your character and makes you strong enough to handle the success which follows afterwards. So I am thankful even for the hard times in my life and starting this business here in Rwanda was definitively not easy for all of us at RWANDA CLOTHING.”