Joselyn Umutoniwase: Representing Rwanda through fashion

Joselyn Umutoniwase quit filmmaking to focus on starting Rwanda Clothing, a Kigali-based label representing fashion in her home country.

From the Series

Joselyn Umutoniwase was working filming and editing short films and documentaries in Europe when the idea to start a Rwandan fashion label struck her. Inspired by the fashion culture in Europe, Umutoniwase founded Rwanda Clothing in Kigali and joined the fledging fashion scene there.

“I think that the fashion scene [in Rwanda] is growing and getting very strong,” says Umuntoniwase. “Before it was just individuals but now its small companies. It’s quite interesting to see it, three years ago it was not like this.”

Umuntoniwase says that she began sketching as a young girl, using her drawings to decorate items such as books and posters to hang on her walls. Her interest in fashion began when she started making clothes for herself and her sisters: “My mom said: ‘Okay, if you don’t want to wear something that looks like other people's and you want something special, we can do that,’” says Umutoniwase.

Umutoniwase is still using her talent to make something distinct: “I think I represent the country very well in terms of people who take souvenirs and remember Rwanda through the pieces I make for them.”

To appeal to modern and traditional fashion enthusiasts living in Rwanda her garments combine African fabrics sourced from Ghana and Nigeria with European shapes and silhouettes. Her workshop is based a short distance from the Rwanda Clothing store in Kigali and she employs local tailors and seamstresses.