Joselyne Umutoniwase: a success story from Rwanda sought after abroad

American fashionistas have discovered her products and like them. At 30, Joselyne Umutoniwase, designer and founder of Rwanda Clothing Home, represents all the ambitions of Rwanda today: a country that aims to export its know-how around the world!

Between Kora and Kabeza neighborhoods in the Rwandan capital, Rwanda Clothing Home covers two adjoining shops. Two shops were needed to satisfy her numerous. With a turnover between $ 120 and $ 150,000 last year, Rwanda Clothing Home does not only offer a brand but a concept. In addition to offering customers ready-to-wear, she customizes its products according to the tastes and colors of each and every one. Its creator Joselyne Umutoniwase draws Rwanda today and tomorrow and exports it.
The fate of Joselyne Umutoniwase draws its sources in her early childhood. With skillful hands, the girl draws, sews, and customizes the school bags and uniforms of her classmates. With her mother as a model, she learns embroidery and all other forms of sewing. Her father will also teach her a taste for entrepreneurship. So, very early, Joselyne has an assurance: she will be a business woman.

«I wanted a shop that offers people hand-made and personalized creations.»

At first, she went for cinema. «I received training at the Kwetu Film Center in Kigali for two years.» Then she left for Germany for training. But an idea overwhelmed her: «I wanted a shop that offers people hand-made and personalized creations.» In 2010, back in Kigali, she was enthusiastic about the energy released by this city but fears that her country, still in full reconstruction, is not ready. Finally, two years later, after having matured her project, and gained confidence, encouraged by her husband, she launched and created, in 2012, Rwanda Clothing Home. «It is a brand that is interested in the personal taste of customers. We work with them we listen to them and help them express their personality, through their style.» Her stores offer personalized makeover and coaching advice. The items sold are customized according to tastes and colors, and thanks to her workshop in Situ, the creations are adjusted on the spot to the size of the customers; women and men. Since then, the designer has developed products for all ranges including children, and last born, the house.

«Rwandans like to dress and spend money for it» says Joselyne Umutoniwase. Her models cost between $50 and $350. «It is affordable. Our customers are among the new middle class, expatriates, passing by customers. And recently, Joselyne exports to the United States and Europe.» To meet this new demand, she plans to expand. «In the future, we would like to build the workshop in the basement to increase the size of the store and recruit more employees. Today, we employ twenty-five people. Our international development requires us to recruit new employees». She added: «Export is a new thing. For now, a shop in the United States has ordered Safari jackets, a style that we developed with this outlet. We have adopted the same concept in Belgium for suits in loincloths. They have been very successful with the indigenous public. But to do more, I must recruit and especially train. It takes at least five years to have a hundred skilled designers». For this, she can count on the help of the authorities.

«I want to be an example and contribute to the development of the fashion industry in Rwanda and Africa…»

«Rwanda has taken several steps to reduce and limit the importation of second-hand clothes and develop our own production. To do this, we must offer local customers products at affordable prices. But it still is difficult today to compete with China because Rwanda does not produce any textile raw material. Everything is imported. Our country is landlocked; the cost of transportation remains high. Finding know-how is also difficulty. To remedy this, the government is considering mechanisms to develop practical training and encourage the training of creators through workshops,» Joselyne Umutoniwase explains. This initiative is inspired by the experience of Rwanda Clothing Home. «The fashion market in Rwanda is yet to be developed; there are few creative houses like mine. For someone who wants to start it is not so simple. I want to be an example and contribute to the development of the fashion industry in Rwanda and Africa. I have been working for six years in the garment industry as a business woman. My experience is now renowned and I want to share it to advance this economic sector in my country».

For more information: rwandaclothing.com