Ideas, Stories, and Profiles

At the youthful age of 25 years, self-taught Rwandan Fashion designer, Colombe Ituze Ndutiye, is blazing the fashion trail with her eccentric designs and creativity.

Recently, her label ‘INCO Icyusa’ featured in the Kigali Fashion Week, among other 10 Rwanda Fashion house names. However, what makes Ndutiye stand out is not only this fact, but her involvement in brokering LDJ Productions, the company that runs New York fashion week, to come and provide technical support and training at the Kigali Fashion Week in November last year.

“I always loved doodling and drawing throughout my secondary school; little did I know that it would become my most rewarding life-skill,” Ndutiye said, adding that, “I always wanted to work at a place where I would love what I do, and I can honestly say, I’m living my dream.”

In 2011, when Ndutiye officially registered ‘INCO Icyusa’ her fashion label, her perspective on the fashion business dramatically changed; her drawings were no longer enough—she needed to learn to explore the untapped potential she had.

“I’m not limited to a certain style or way of design because a lot of things inspire my work. What stands out more is the beauty in nature, architecture, life…and this is what draws me to designing clothes and accessories that are simple, beautiful, bold and creative,” she explains.

This explains the Kinyarwanda word ‘Icyusa’ in her label which Ndutiye says literally means, ‘Aggressive and Beautiful’. INCO simply represents the initials of all her names.

On Kigali Fashion Week’s Catwalk and Dejong

During her four-year tenure as a budding designer, Colombe says she randomly met a number of internationally skilled fashion designers who mentored her and encouraged her outstanding creativity and drawing skills.

One of these happened to be LDJ Productions’ chief Laurie DeJong whose expertise has crossed from New York fashion week to working on fashion weeks in Miami, Toronto, Los Angeles, Mumbai and Kigali.

Colombe mentioned that she was mentored by DeJong for the past two years.

“I am honored to have worked with Laurie DeJong. I have learnt a lot from her mentorship because I was challenged to think and create beyond what I’m accustomed to. I have gained perspective and I appreciate the journey I have taken because I know where I came from before this day,” Ndutiye said.

Working with Genocide widows

Ndutiye mostly works with women particularly survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. Their workshop is under the umbrella of a Canadian initiative known as Centre César, located in Kimironko, Kigali.

Her pieces appeal to both genders and mostly include; denim, cotton dresses, skirts, shirts, trousers with a touch of African print as well as, traditional accessories. These are made with the help of the genocide widows, who are trained periodically at the Centre by professional designers visiting Rwanda.

“These women are very skilled. They feel empowered and self-reliant when they learn to create new things through various trainings,” said Ndutiye, who was five years during the genocide.

“One day, I hope to see my work displayed at some of the big stores beyond Rwanda, across Africa, Europe and the US,” Ndutiye expressed.

Establishing ‘Doda Fashion House’ through creating partnerships

Amidst challenges that face the Rwanda fashion industry, a limited presence of skilled workers and the absence of locally made textiles are exuberating issues.

According to Ndutiye, these factors shouldn’t be given the opportunity to hinder the growth of Rwanda’s fashion industry.

“Many designers decry a limited financial capacity and support, but I do not think it should be a hindrance to the growth of the fashion scene in Rwanda. We should creatively work with what we have, ‘start small, and grow big’, and market what we’ve done,” she states.

In this regard, ‘INCO Icyusa’ has partnered with Canadian based fashion designer, Johanne St. Louis, to set up ‘doda Fashion House’ in Rwanda. Doda Fashion House launched on March 15th, 2014 at the Centre César in Kimironko.

“The fashion house will be a centre where women are trained in the sewing projects, taught to design and where they will become empowered as workers,” said St. Louis, the Executive Director of the St. Louis label, who also has over 25 years of professional designing experience, has worked with internationally renowned designers and designed costumes for the Canadian National Ballet among other nationally celebrated events.

“We are introducing ourselves as a team of designers, we are going to offer our services in production services because we are hoping to attract other clients so we can also produce for other designers in Rwanda.

“Most importantly, it’s really about empowering women that is why we are working with a group of genocide widows. We are trying to boost their skill and make them see that they have power as women and that they can do good things with their lives,” explain St. Louis.

“I’m really excited to work with Colombe because she is extremely talented and has a great future in the fashion business. I know that anything I do with her will be a success; I’m very proud of her,” said St. Louis.

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