Rwanda, Africa’s new fashion stronghold
Rwanda, Africa’s new fashion stronghold

Rwanda, Africa’s new fashion stronghold

Designer Joselyne Umutoniwase, founder of the Rwanda Clothing brand, in her production workshop in Kigali in October 2021.

Nestled on a hillside in a posh Kigali neighborhood, the luxury boutique Moshions is a must-see for celebrities visiting Rwanda. Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, American actor Winston Duke and Pedro Almodovar’s muse, Rossy de Palma, have been in for fittings that they shared on Instagram before leaving with a garment created by Moses Twahirwa. This young star of Rwandan high fashion is a leader in the country’s very new generation of designers.

Founded in 2015 and initially known for its fabric inspired by traditional geometric patterns called imigongo, the Moshions brand has quickly gained popularity among Rwanda’s elite. And for good reason: Moses Twahirwa counts President Paul Kagame among his customers. But the November 2021 launch of the Imandwa collection (a term in Kinyarwanda referring to the ancient gods) established the designer on the international scene.

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The line, which mixes typical traditional East African garment draping with shirt collars, high-waisted flared pants and tie-dye, was presented at a fashion show in Florence in June. “I was inspired by the clothes and lifestyle of our ancestors, using local techniques like embroidery and bead weaving, but also working with modern cuts,” said the 31-year-old designer.

The Imandwa collection is gender neutral and its main pattern depicts a crying man’s face

The designer is not afraid to challenge the social norms conveyed by the tradition he draws inspiration from, especially in the definition of masculinity. The Imandwa collection is gender neutral and its main pattern depicts the face of a crying man who is wearing an amasunzu, a hairstyle that was popular before colonization. “I wanted to break down all barriers to self-expression. To show that men have the right to express their emotions as they wish and even to live with another man,” he said.

Today, Moses Twahirwa employs 14 tailors in a small workshop located above the store. They produce 150 pieces per month that are sold in Rwanda and abroad for around 200 euros for ready-to-wear and 1,000 euros for haute couture.

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Like him, more and more Rwandan designers are now popping up in Kigali, attracting a clientele of affluent locals, tourists and expats. “When I started in 2012, the fashion scene was almost non-existent,” remembered Joselyne Umutoniwase, designer of the Rwanda Clothing brand. “At the time, high fashion was not a necessity; the country was in the midst of reconstruction. Today, even if the local market remains very limited, the development of the economy and tourism is pushing more and more young people to start.”

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