I travelled to Rwanda...and started a business?!?

Travelling to Rwanda was mostly my Mom's idea. My brother has been living there since last summer, so I agreed to take her for a trip there to visit him this February. 

My brother, by the way, has a blog about his time there over at https://athousandhills.wordpress.com/.

Micah has made a lot of friends there through his work and his church (and also just because he's just a super nice guy, not a misanthropist like myself), and he introduced us to his host family and his neighbors. Rwandans LOVE making speeches. If you go to a Rwandan dinner, be prepared to listen to a lot of speeches. It's probably much healthier than what we do in the U.S. - wait until somebody dies until we say nice things about them. 

View of Kigali

 

The weather, also, is perfect. We stayed in a guest house in Kigali, and every morning we were woken up by the birds singing to the sunrise. There are so many birds! 

Micah's neighbor's brother was getting married, and we were invited to the wedding. I was psyched, but I hadn't brought appropriate clothes for a wedding. That meant that we had to take a trip to the market so that I could get a beautifully tailored outfit in colorful kitenge cloth.

We ended up going to 2 of Kigali's biggest markets and spending most of the day shopping.

Kimironko Market is an indoor market with so many stalls and things for sale and people trying to sell me things. It was overwhelming. The colors and patterns of the many fabrics were dizzying. 

I expressed interest in buying a jacket, and was immediately flocked by vendors of all ages. They handed me binders with laminated photos of different styled clothes to leaf through. In the back, smiling calmly, was a young man wearing a colorful hat and shorts. He held up a long jacket on a pole. "Do you like this?" He asked. "Ooh, yes!" 

"Try it on," he said. I tried it on and immediately wanted it. It fit perfectly. "I can make you a jacket like this if you pick out the fabric, but you can't have this one. This is my floor model." 

"How much is this one?" I asked. We went back and forth. I ended up buying two jackets from him, including the floor model. He measured me for the second jacket, and agreed to deliver it to the guest house where I was staying if I sent him the address on instagram. 

Later that evening I remembered to send Alexander my address via instagram. I leafed through his photos. Each one had a photo of a different customer and their outfit. The outfits were unique. They were fresh, fun. 

Alexander came to my house two days later to deliver my blazer. It had shoulder pads, pockets that actually worked, and the fabric that I had picked out was stunning. The placement of the design on the sleeves and pockets was perfection. 
 

Me and Alexander

He sat and we chatted for a bit (in Rwanda, it's traditional to offer guests a drink before doing anything else). He told me about his stall in the market, how he wanted to study business, and how he had gone to the Peace Corps' camp for gifted boys. I asked if he was exporting his clothes anywhere. He said that one of his friend’s moms, who lives in Tennessee, had bought some things to sell and was sending him the proceeds. 

I asked him if he’d be interested in starting a business with me. I only had a few days left for my visit, but we agreed to meet on Sunday. I traveled on the back of a moto by myself across the city to meet him at the coffee shop. We drank iced coffee and picked at some french fries, and he showed me his best samples. I told him what I wanted, and he told me that he would sew it for me that night.

My plane was leaving at 6pm the next day. Mom was getting anxious, but Alexander pulled up at 3pm, as promised. His bag was stuffed and he was bleary eyed with exhaustion. He’d stayed up the entire night sewing, and his creations were incredible: five bombers with patterns and contrasting pockets; hats of all colors. He even threw in some items for free, and told me to just send me the money once I’d sold them. I hugged him and told him I’d be placing an order for more soon, and we left for the airport. 

I felt the weight of responsibility on my shoulders. I’ve never worked in fashion. However, my guy told me that these items would practically sell themselves. They were beautiful and unique, the creations of an artist. 

 

Note: this part is a series about my experiences starting a fashion import business. Want buy some gorgeous African clothing (and at the same time, support the dreams of Alexander Nshimiyimana, my business partner in Rwanda?) The store is online at Umudozi.com.

You can help by following us on instagram, twitter, and all other social media as @umudozi.