Rwanda's fashion industry is reeling from the effects of Covid-19, especially with the lockdowns that participants isolated from their market.
Most affected were the annual runways shows that are now more of a wish. The shows used to serve not only as networking avenues but hands-on market platforms for both rising and established local and international fashion designers, models, jewelry, make-up artists and cosmetics dealers.
“It is tricky,” states Mathew Rugamba, a fashion designer. “People used to buy clothes for weddings, outings, and parties, but when that was disrupted so was their spending culture,” he adds.
“Rwandans had embraced fashion but this was affected by the pandemic,” explains Christelle Kabagire, a model, fashion designer, and media person.
According to Rugamba, there are people who are ready to spend but access is a hurdle since shipping and other delivery mediums were affected.
“I was supposed to have a show in Canada, and in Sweden, but it didn’t happen,” narrates Charlotte Shema, a fashion designer, and founder of Touch of Rwanda fashion House.
With her clothing store in Kacyiru in Kigali back in operation, things have changed since most of her clients were foreigners, tourists, experts, who have all have been affected by the pandemic.
Olivier Niyitanga, 25, of Tanga Designs fashion house, who has made himself a name for bridal outfits, crop tops, men, and ladies suits felt the pinch too since events and outings have since last year been unpredictable.
“We no longer get the clients like we used to,” explains Jacky Mutoni of Cosmetics and Beauty Shop in Remera, Kigali.
“The lockdowns have affected our clients and sales, that it gets harder paying for the shop’s rent too,” she adds.
This is attributed to the fact that most people’s jobs and income were affected.
Ms Mutoni said the lockdowns have particularly affected lipstick sales because face masks overshadow one wearing them.
“We’ve been trying to figure out how to communicate to clients, and finding new markets,” Rugamba adds.
His fashion house, House of Tayo, has expanded to other locations, helping reach more clients.
Ms Mutoni has gone virtual in a bid to reach out to her clients. “We majorly use social media as a more interactive medium with clients,” she explains.
Shema has established a sewing course, hence enrolling a few students. She also ventured into designing uniforms for restaurants, and masks for different companies.
As an innovative measure, Niyitanga teamed up with Honore Hirwa, a rising 3D animator, and created and exhibited fashion designs with 3D technology.
“This has enabled us to connect with people,” Niyitanga admits. “I think it is still too early to tell how it will be when all is back to normal, but I think people are looking forward to reaching out for more outfits, and styles as they catch up lost times,” Kabagire adds.
The Rwandan corporate space hasn’t satisfactorily embraced models for commercial advertisement.
“We have a lot of models locally who can be contracted for several advertisement projects, instead of depending on foreign or any ordinary brands,” Kabagire urges.