When we visited Moshions Fashion House in Kiyovu in Rwanda's capital Kigali, we found the visibly tensed Moses Turahirwa and his team busy making the final touches on Jidenna’s order.
Jidenna, the American rapper of Nigerian descent known for hits such as Classic man, Bambi and Bomerang, was in the country to headline a monthly concert dubbed Kigali Jazz.
Jidenna is one of a growing number of high profile personalities that Moshions founder Turahirwa is dressing. Others are top government officials including President Paul Kagame and the first family, Rwandan-French actress and Miss France 2000 Sonia Rolland, American rapper Saul Williams, Sophia the robot and Mannekin Pis — the bronze fountain sculpture in the centre of Brussels.
“Are the outfits ready,” Turahirwa asks one of his workers.
“Yes, they are,” he is told.
Turahirwa, whose name means “we get lucky” in Kinyarwanda, founded Moshions in 2014. The label’s mission is “to explore Rwanda’s fashion potential and embolden culture.” Moshions recently won the “Made in Rwanda Emerging Enterprise of the Year Award” at the seventh edition of the Rwanda Business Excellence Awards organised by the Rwanda Development Board.
The event recognises businesses that have demonstrated excellence and contributed to the country’s economic transformation in a significant way.
Yet this glamour and success cannot be any further removed from the life Turahirwa thought he would lead as a young boy growing up in rural Rwanda.
Turahirwa was born in Kibogora in Nyamasheke in western Rwanda, which at 206km, is the furthest district from the capital.
The fourth of five children, he grew up in a humble household — where as a child he used to go to the neighbours houses to watch TV. But despite his parents struggling to make ends meet, they took him and his siblings to school.
He recalls how in his formative years he would fiddle with fabric cuttings trying to make shapes out of them. Turahirwa’s mother was a local artisan who made hand embroidery.
However, the moment that stands out is when at the age of 12, he designed outfits for himself and his sisters for their baptism.
“We were wondering what to wear, then I came up with the designs which we took to the tailor. Our outfits were unique and that made us stand out. That was my first magical moment in fashion,” he said.
His sisters used to ask him for advice on what to wear but Turahirwa never imagined that there was even half a chance of a career in fashion. Fashion, at the time, was simply an “interest that should remain on the periphery as other more serious career options take centre stage.” Journalism was on top of that list.
“I wanted to be a journalist. Every time I saw people reading news on TV, I envisioned myself doing exactly that; as a child I admired that life,” said Turahirwa.
It was while in high school in Butare in southern Rwanda that Turahirwa would come to discover fashion beyond the confines of his village.
“I interacted with students from Kigali and learned about trends on the fashion scene in Kigali and beyond,” he said. “It was then that it struck me that I had a passion for fashion, but given my background, I was convinced that the furthest I could go is becoming a model in Kigali.”
After completing high school in 2011, Turahirwa moved to Kigali. A year later, he joined the Integrated Polytechnic Regional Centre to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.
He would later join a premier modelling agency. It was here that his passion for fashion intensified.
Turahirwa researched on the tailoring industry, fabrics and the market potential.
“I used all the money I earned from my internship to buy fabric and pay a tailor in town to make my outfits. My outfits were unique and soon students began to give me orders,” he said.
That was how Moshions was born. Turahirwa’s big break however, came in 2015 when he showcased his first collection at the Kigali Fashion Week, including leather nets, as well as a re-engineered umushanana — a traditional attire won during ceremonies — which he remodelled with a modern touch, and also paired it with pants.
“I stayed away from the igitenge (African fabric); I wanted my outfits unique; everyone else was using igitenge; After this event, everything changed,” he said.
Shortly afterwards, Turahirwa was invited to showcase his designs in Tanzania and in Kampala — where he received a nomination for an award.
Turahirwa then emboldened his signature designs, digging deep into his culture to bring out the Imigongo motifs (a popular traditional art made using cow dung and includes spiral and geometric designs), hand beading as well as colours used in ancient Rwanda, which he embossed to curve out a unique Moshions brand, with black and white as its dominant colours.
“I wanted a brand that reflects my heritage, but with a modern touch, hence these motifs,” he said.
The fashion house which employs some 25 people currently makes at least 150 garments a month, mostly on order. They range from bomber jackets, pants, dresses, cardigans, sandals, accessories, shirts, shorts to women’s blazers.
Jackets retail for about $90, while dresses and suits can cost as much as $120. Bespoke pieces are made on order, with the clientele base including CEOs. Each of Moshions’ garment has a hand-made piece.
The luxury consumer segment has been showcased in a number of countries including France (Paris), the United Arab Emirates (Dubai), Senegal (Dakar), Egypt and Nigeria. Orders are shipped to these countries.
At 28, Turahirwa is convinced the best is yet to come. He dreams of making it to Hollywood and dressing American actor and producer Michael B Jordan, American singer Beyoncé and her husband rapper Jay-Z, as well as have his garments at the Oscars and Grammy awards.
However, the fact that most of the fabric used is imported remains a challenge for Moshions, as well as the fact that Rwandans are yet to understand the value of branded clothing. Nevertheless, the fashion house makes about $300,000 in revenue annually, and targets to earn $1.5 million by 2023.
“After noticing my strong interest in fashion, my mother used to worry about the direction I am taking in life, she could not fathom how I would end up a tailor, but now she is the proudest mum in the world.”