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He never thought he would be a tailor | Kezem’s rise to the top

Niyonsenga Emmanuel never thought he would make a successful career from tailoring. It was a hobby learnt from his mother but now he has quickly transformed his hobby into a fashion house. In an exclusive interview, Niyonsenga shared his journey, passion, and vision for the future, revealing the inspiring tale behind Kezem’s success.

Rwanda, a country known for its rich cultural heritage and vibrant history, has now become a hub for fashion innovation and creativity. At the forefront of this movement is Kezem, a fashion house startup founded by Emmanuel Niyonsenga, a passionate and talented individual with a vision to blend traditional Rwandan culture with contemporary fashion.

Specializing in both men’s and women’s clothing, Kezem offers garments that tell the story of Rwanda and Africa. Inspired by the colorful and diverse traditions of the region, their designs showcase the unique heritage and craftsmanship of Rwandan culture.

Niyonsenga Emmanuel always thought tailoring is just a hobby but now he sees it as a career

From an early age, Niyonsenga developed a passion for tailoring. Growing up with a mother who was a tailor, he found himself captivated by her craft. Constantly observing her work, he gradually honed his own skills, transforming his passion into a profession.

He said, “ I was always observing what she did and how she did it. Despite the fact that I enjoyed it and that my mother did it, I never imagined myself doing it as a career. My mother worked as a tailor solely to ensure our survival. It wasn’t something she did as a career.”

It was when the Made in Rwanda initiative gained momentum and the government launched campaigns to promote local products that Niyonsenga began to view tailoring differently. He saw an opportunity not only to create a decent living for himself but also to contribute to the economy and provide opportunities for others. With a fresh perspective, he decided to take his passion for tailoring to the next level.

KezeM’s very own Founder and Creative director always thought tailoring was just done a a way to survive

Niyonsenga’s entrepreneurial journey truly took flight after his high school graduation in 2015 when he started earning money from his craft. Gradually, tailoring became his full-time occupation in 2020.

While attending the University of Rwanda, where he studied forestry and nature conservation, Niyonsenga’s ambition to establish a fashion house began to take shape. Engaging in market research and organizing small shows to gauge public reception, he steadily transitioned into the realm of professional fashion.

Emphasizing sustainability, Kezem incorporates natural or recycled fabrics into their designs, ensuring minimal environmental impact. Niyonsenga and his team exemplify their commitment to preserving the planet by utilizing biodegradable and recyclable materials. This eco-conscious approach sets them apart and serves as a model for others within the industry.

He links his high education studies with his love for fashion and tailoring

He said, “ We make clothes out of natural or recycled fabrics. This is to ensure that we do not generate excessive waste that could harm the environment. That is how I would link the nature consevation I studied and fashion.”

Niyonsenga saved money while using his mother’s sewing machine. However, the growing demand necessitated his acquisition of a personal machine. With the money he gained from tailoring his and his friend’ clothes, he purchased his own equipment.

Relocating to Kigali from Muhanga in 2020 marked a turning point, as Niyonsenga embarked on his entrepreneurial journey solo, single-handedly managing every aspect, from tailoring to business and marketing.

Kezem used different techniques to grow his business including using social media

As Kezem gained recognition, word-of-mouth referrals, and strategic social media campaigns propelled its growth. Notably, collaborations with influential figures and celebrities further expanded the brand’s reach and visibility.

Like any entrepreneur, Niyonsenga faced challenges along the way. Sourcing raw materials proved to be a major challenge, as Rwanda lacks local industries producing raw materials.

He said, “There are no industries in Rwanda that produce buttons or even fabric. Everything has been exported. And it quickly becomes too costly. Sometimes we can’t even find the materials we need.”

Eventhough he meets challenges to obtain fabrics he still manages to counter cost and design clothes that are appealing

Reliance on imported materials can be costly and sometimes even result in limited availability. Another obstacle was finding skilled tailors who could bring his designs to life. However, with the recent opening of a Fashion University in Rwanda, Niyonsenga remains optimistic that this challenge will soon be overcome through long-term training programs.

Despite these obstacles, Kezem has witnessed tremendous growth since its inception. The team gradually expanded from a one-person operation to a talented group of 15 individuals, united by their shared passion for fashion and Rwandan culture.

Reflecting on his journey, Niyonsenga offers advice to aspiring young entrepreneurs. He emphasizes the importance of setting goals and strategies to achieve them, noting that having a purpose and direction are key.

He said, “When you have a goal you have a purpose and you set strategies to achieve that. Another thing is to be confident in their capacity. We are truly able. You do not have to start big.
You can start with your knowledge, and your strength and you make sure that everything is professional. You can attain wherever you want.”

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