Africa Coronavirus Culture Rwanda Weekend

Rwanda: How a local designer exploits opportunities amidst the crisis

Charlotte Shema, a Rwandan fashion designer, is busy. She works day and night most of the days to meet the growing demand for her items.

Many small businesses have shut down and thousands have lost jobs as a result of an economic downturn caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The situation is dire as the economy undergoes unbearable hits from the lockdown imposed by government to contain the spread of Coronavirus. But not everyone is willing to get hit while on their knees.

Some businesses are coping up, thinking, innovating and reaching out to their customers to stay afloat in these hard times. Charlotte Shema, a Rwandan fashion designer, is busy. She works day and night most of the days to meet the growing demand for her items. Shema, and her seven-staff crew, runs Touch of Rwanda Fashion Designs Ltd with two warehouses in Kigali City.

“I am now producing some items such as community face masks, bathrobes, kitchen apron, gloves and other items that people need while we all are staying home,” she says.

Shema’s robes can fetch up to rwf45,000 per piece and they are on high demand.

Demand can surge in some days and what Shema does is to reach out other tailors to beef up the capacity. “Demand varies day by day, but at least we are producing 200 masks per day and I have seven people around Kigali helping us sew these products.”

On Saturday, April 18, the Rwanda Food and Drugs Authority approved 26 companies to manufacture protective gears in the country. The Ministry of Health has ordered that beginning Monday April 20, people should start wearing masks while at home and when they leave their homes. Shema’s Touch of Rwanda Fashion Designs Ltd is in the process of applying for the approval, although her business line encompasses many items and a facial mask is just one item of the many. Shema is concentrating on small scale supply; targeting clients who need one or two items.

“I don’t think that people who want one or two masks will go find those companies selected above,” she says.

Her masks are safe and reusable.

Technology plays big role

Charlotte Shema says her masks are customised handcrafted pieces for small scale supplies at Rwf3000 per piece.

Shema is harnessing the internet via social media accounts to reach out to potential clients. “People are reaching us out through Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp,” she says. “They pay by MoMo, and we use moto for delivery.” Meanwhile, as demand increases, Shem seems to have fortunately begun stocking raw materials ahead of time before the lockdown. “I was used to buying materials and stocking …I have some in my stock already.”

Shema’s strategy isn’t remedy for everyone in her industry, though. Some fashion houses and regulator tailor shops are completely shut down. “My tailors live far from the workshop. And we are in a lockdown. No buses or motos moving,” says Karen Uwera who runs Karssh Collections. “Even if I wanted to produce anything it would be very difficult…The option of working from home was not possible because our workshop is far from where the tailors live and it’s also not possible to take machines at home,” she says.

“I had pending orders from clients that are on hold now, hoping once the lockdown is lifted, we will resume,” she says. As for Sheme, this is a fight and, “I am thinking of what to do.”

If you would like to support her, she can be reached via: Facebook or WhatsApp/Tel: +250 788 619 424

Source: Taarifa

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