Rwanda’s Total Ban of Second Hand Imports Boosts Local Designers

At first glance, Matthew Rugamba’s big break was the result of pure serendipity. Since 2011, he has built a loyal following for his House of Tayo brand, fusing African heritage with contemporary designs to create brightly colored, mixed-print items like bow ties and infinity scarves. But he had struggled to break out from the local fashion scene. That changed in 2018, with the premiere of one of the most anticipated movies of the year: Black Panther, when Lupita Nyong’o’s brother wore his suit. But it wasn’t just luck, hustle, and connections that propelled Rugamba to the Hollywood red carpet. Rwanda, a small nation of 12 million people, has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, with aspirations of becoming a middle-income nation by 2035. And Rugamba is the beneficiary of one of a series of homegrown initiatives aimed at sustaining high and inclusive growth in different industries—including the country’s nascent fashion scene. One of those initiatives is “Made in Rwanda,” launched in 2015, which aims to recapture parts of the Rwandan market from imports while improving the competitiveness of Rwandan exports globally. How? By boosting (pdf) private businesses and the manufacturing sector, augmenting garment and leather production, reducing operation costs, and helping small businesses, like Rugamba’s, get finance from the government or commercial banks.


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