Style
Photo by Chris Schwagga, courtesy of Matthew Rugamba.

Style Dimension: Matthew Rugamba Is the Designer Building a Dynamic Fashion Sector in Rwanda

We touch base with the Rwandan designer on the responsibility designers have to shape a better industry for the future of African fashion.

Style Dimension is OkayAfrica's seven-part series highlighting emerging designers from Africa and its diaspora. Along with giving you a glimpse of each designer's stunning work, this series is an introduction into their creative realm. In the fourth edition of the series, meet Rwandan designer Matthew Rugamba.

Matthew Rugamba is the founder and creative director of House of Tayo—Rwandan-based fashion label that using uniform and classic silhouettes to reflect on the past as a way to shape the present.

Rugamba began to tune more into his identity as an African after leaving home and living between cities like London, Swaziland and Kenya. "It's not that I ever had any doubts regarding my heritage, but it was the first time I've had been consistently called upon to represent my home; to speak for not only my country but my continent on any related issue. As a result, my appreciation for my culture and history became something that I became particularly keen on sharing. One of the most powerful ways I thought I could do this was through clothing. I wanted to capture that African style and elegance that you could spot from a mile away and that's how I came up with my first pieces—the unisex snood and bowtie combo." It was through that he realized design could be a tool for telling stories about his home.

Beyond fashion, Rugamba is using his efforts to empower the locals in his community. As one of five founding members, Mathew is apart of Collective RW—a local Rwandan fashion collective aiming to use their experiences and brands as a way to collaborate with industry experts to support and promote a dynamic creative sector in Rwanda. In turn Collective RW works to generate new jobs and empower opportunity-driven youth and underserved communities. By growing his brand, he intends to create spaces for others. Since the launch of his label in 2011, he's been featured in a number of major publications from Forbes to Huffington Post; and has participated in African Fashion Week in London as well as organized his own fashion week presentation in Rwanda.

I spoke with Matthew Rugamba about the importance of nurturing African talent and the responsibility designers have to shape a better industry for the future of African fashion.


Photo by Sunny Dolat via House of Tayo's Instagram page.

Photo by Sunny Dolat via House of Tayo's Instagram page.

Amarachi Nwosu for OkayAfrica: How does your African heritage shape your approach to design?

Matthew Rugamba: My African heritage plays a significant role in my approach to design. I use every collection to tell stories about my experience as an African. My 2017 collection, Kinyoozi, was a celebration of the rich, vibrant, uninhibited African Barbershop culture.

My most recent collection, Sankara—The Upright Man, was inspired by some of the thoughts and ideas of the revolutionary, Thomas Isidore Nöel Sankara. He often preached of a self-sufficient, dignified Africa that has realized her full potential. Through my collection, I explored themes of African dignity, change and women's empowerment.

What are your thoughts on the current landscape of the fashion industry in Africa? Do you think the industry is evolving quick enough to creatives who want to build globals brands?

I believe that we have incredibly creative and talented individuals on the continent, but we have not yet figured out the business aspect of the fashion industry. We need to be able to scale production, we need stronger retail across the continent and we need reliable logistics systems to be able to coordinate everything. We can only build global brands when we have sorted out the business aspect of this all so we can scale while our brands are high in demand.

Photo by Sunny Dolat via House of Tayo's Instagram page.

How are you actively trying to change norms or evolve the industry and African narrative through your brand?

Personally, I use my collections to tell stories about the continent. I try to shed light on the rich stories, history and iconography we have on the continent.

On a more continental level, I am co-founder of a group of Rwandan designers called Collective RW. We put on an annual fashion week and we do traveling pop-ups. We use our platform to grow and develop fashion throughout the region.

What advice would you give to other young designers?

It is very important for every new designer to develop an identity. Your identity and character will guide your work. Aside from that I would encourage collaboration. We still have a long way to go to build our continental fashion industry so we will need to work together to make it happen.

Keep up with House of Tayo on Instagram.

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Artwork: Barthélémy Toguo Lockdown Selfportrait 10, 2020. Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co

1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair Goes to Paris in 2021

The longstanding celebration of African art will be hosted by Parisian hot spot Christie's for the first time ever.

In admittedly unideal circumstances, 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair will be touching French soil in 2021. The internationally celebrated art fair devoted to contemporary art from Africa and the African diaspora will be hosted in Paris, France from January 20 - 23. With COVID-19 still having its way around the globe, finding new ways to connect is what it's all about and 1-54 is certainly taking the innovative steps to keep African art alive and well.
In partnership with Christie's, the in-person exhibits will take place at the auction house's city HQ at Avenue Matignon, while 20 international exhibitors will be featured online at Christies.com. And the fun doesn't stop there as the collaboration has brought in new ways to admire the talent from participating galleries from across Africa and Europe. The fair's multi-disciplinary program of talks, screenings, performances, workshops, and readings are set to excite and entice revelers.

Artwork: Delphine Desane Deep Sorrow, 2020. Courtesy Luce Gallery


The tech dependant program, curated by Le 18, a multi-disciplinary art space in Marrakech medina, will see events take place during the Parisian run fair, followed by more throughout February.
This year's 1-54 online will be accessible to global visitors virtually, following the success of the 2019's fair in New York City and London in 2020. In the wake of COVID-19 related regulations and public guidelines, 1-54 in collaboration with Christie's Paris is in compliance with all national regulations, strict sanitary measures, and security.

Artwork: Cristiano Mongovo Murmurantes Acrilico Sobre Tela 190x200cm 2019


1-54 founding director Touria El Glaoui commented, "Whilst we're sad not to be able to go ahead with the fourth edition of 1-54 Marrakech in February as hoped, we are incredibly excited to have the opportunity to be in Paris this January with our first-ever fair on French soil thanks to our dedicated partners Christie's. 1-54's vision has always been to promote vibrant and dynamic contemporary art from a diverse set of African perspectives and bring it to new audiences, and what better way of doing so than to launch an edition somewhere completely new. Thanks to the special Season of African Culture in France, 2021 is already set to be a great year for African art in the country so we are excited to be playing our part and look forward, all being well, to welcoming our French friends to Christie's and many more from around the world to our online fair in January."

Julien Pradels, General Director of Christie's France, said, "Christie's is delighted to announce our second collaboration with 1-54, the Contemporary African Art Fair, following a successful edition in London this October. Paris, with its strong links to the continent, is a perfect place for such a project and the additional context of the delayed Saison Africa 2020 makes this partnership all the more special. We hope this collaboration will prove a meaningful platform for the vibrant African art scene and we are confident that collectors will be as enthusiastic to see the works presented, as we are."


Artwork: Kwesi Botchway Metamorphose in July, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957


Here's a list of participating galleries to be on the lookout for:

Galleries

31 PROJECT (Paris, France)
50 Golborne (London, United Kingdom)
Dominique Fiat (Paris, France)
Galerie 127 (Marrakech, Morocco)
Galerie Anne de Villepoix (Paris, France)
Galerie Cécile Fakhoury (Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire/ Dakar, Senegal)
Galerie Eric Dupont (Paris, France)
Galerie Lelong & Co. (Paris, France / New York, USA)
Galerie Nathalie Obadia (Paris, France / Brussels, Belgium)
Galleria Continua (Beijing, China / Havana, Cuba / Les Moulins, France / San Gimignano, Italy / Rome, Italy)
Gallery 1957 (Accra, Ghana / London, United Kingdom)
Loft Art Gallery (Casablanca, Morocco)

Luce Gallery (Turin, Italy)
MAGNIN-A (Paris, France)
Nil Gallery (Paris, France)
POLARTICS (Lagos, Nigeria)
SEPTIEME Gallery (Paris, France)
This is Not a White Cube (Luanda, Angola) THK Gallery (Cape Town, South Africa) Wilde (Geneva, Switzerland)

For more info visit 1-54

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