At the residential house that doubles as his atelier, Patrick Muhire hand stitches a mix of casual and formal outfits blended with traditional patterns and colours. With him is a small team of women, Visitors are not only encouraged to peruse the finished pieces that hang on racks, they are also invited to place orders for custom-made outfits.
Mr Muhire started his fashion house, Inkanda House, 11 years ago, quitting his to both pursue his passion and explore his potential.
Over the years, Muhire has built a clientele that kept him afloat. Satisfying his customers and taking part in revolutionizing the industry are what he considers success.
A year ago, Muhire’s major products were women's and men’s formal attires, wedding and ceremonial outfits and traditional styles. His target market was diverse. When Covid-19 hit in March 2020, uncertainty set in.
“I was used to spending daytime in my atelier with my team. But when the lockdown was imposed, I was all alone. It was very depressing. I could neither work nor think. My business and personal life froze for a moment. It was terrible,” Muhire confides.
The frustration did not end with Muhire’s personal life and business operations. All the clients, appointments and orders disappeared.
Inkanda House lost approximately Rwf1 million in the first week of the lockdown. Orders were cancelled, weddings were called off, parties and events were all halted. Most of the clients lost their jobs.
During the pandemic, although businesses were affected, expenses were not. Taxes, salaries, electricity, water and other basic deals continued to accumulate. Losses were already around the corner in just a few days during the pandemic.
“I mainly sell outfits for ceremonies and weddings. None of that was happening anymore. That is when I got an idea that changed my business forever,” he said.
While stuck at home alone and uncertain, Muhire came up with new fashion ideas to adapt to the pandemic. Since his clients were all stuck at home as well, they no longer needed formal outfits and shiny shoes but casual clothes, slippers and sandals for a comfortable but forced stay-at-home season.
“I first made 20 pairs of slippers and they sold out in hours. Before I knew it, people started ordering in masses. I couldn’t believe it. My sales skyrocketed ever since,” Muhire narrates.
Expanding business in the middle of a pandemic that had disrupted movements and the flow of goods was tough at the beginning. He turned to shoemakers who were already jobless due to the pandemic. He invited them to make the shoes with their own equipment.
“Finding capital was not an issue for me because I was already used to the fashion business. I hired some of my suppliers as a way to also help them through the pandemic,” he explained.
Today, sandals, purses, slippers and casual outfits are the most sold items because people are encouraged to stay and work from their homes since social gatherings, ceremonies and parties are prohibited. His earnings increased by approximately 30 percent last year.
Muhire says if he had found a way to adapt to the situation, losses might have led to closure or bankruptcy.
“The income increased when I changed my products. The profit plugged some financial holes that were caused by the pandemic that would have severely damaged the business,” he said.
Although Muhire’s business is thriving, he still struggles with increased prices and some materials that have disappeared from the market due to the pandemic.
“Our prices have increased by five percent due to high production cost. I now need to convince my clients that we are also trying to adapt,” he said.
While businesses have been struggling to stay afloat during Covid-19, Inkanda House has managed to get even more customers. His eight employees who work full time were as well given a rise in salary as a result.
To Muhire, fashion is essential. It is not for parties and weddings only. Everything involves fashion and it is an artist’s job to adjust to the trends. Muhire says when you do business with passion and proper training, it would see you through hard times such as the pandemic.
Inkanda Fashion House will never be the same. The pandemic brought creativity and diversity to Muhire’s business but also taught him to look further.