Pride Of Africa Awards

Chantal Murebwa grew New Kigali Designers and Outfitters from a small venture with just two tailors and one sewing machine, into a thriving fashion company. 

Standing in front of a two-storey brick building, Chantal Murebwa admires the crisp white paint. She has witnessed the entire journey of this structure: from its foundations being laid to its transformation into New Kigali Designers and Outfitters, a thriving garment factory

Located close to Kigali Genocide Memorial, the company founded by Murebwa employs 280 workers.

In the reception area, an array of finished garments, including t-shirts, coats, overalls, and shirts, all in vibrant colours, is displayed.

In the cutting room, workers operate machines that precisely cut collars and sleeves.

The production room, where cut garment pieces are assembled, is on the second floor. State-of-the-art tailoring machines hum as workers in matching black t-shirts, emblazoned with the factory’s motto ‘Home of tailor-made garments and branding’, tend to their tasks.

In the finishing room, the assembled garments undergo ironing, quality checks, and packaging by the factory’s staff.

 A humble beginning

It all began in 1995 when Murebwa was just 24, in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide, a devastating period for the country.

“There were a lot of challenges but also opportunities. I was inspired by my passion for fashion and women’s empowerment. When I started, I had one sewing machine and two women staff, and we were focusing on enlarging or reducing the size of women’s clothes. We later secured a gig to make uniforms for security guards and progressed,” the entrepreneur explains.

Murebwa registered New Kigali Designers and Outfitters as a company in 1998, initially employing five tailors. By 2005, her workshop had expanded to include 20 tailors.

Recognising the high demand and numerous opportunities for growth, Murebwa began seeking financial support.

“I obtained a loan from BCDI, now Ecobank, by showing them a contract I had won to produce uniforms for security guards, and I repaid it well,” she says. “Then, in 2003, Bank of Kigali extended another loan to me for acquiring the land where we constructed this factory.”

In line with the Made in Rwanda campaign launched in 2015 to promote the consumption of Rwandan-made goods, Murebwa’s factory acquired high-tech machinery through the National Industrial Research and Development Agency (NIRDA). Additionally, the factory received support from the German development agency, GIZ, for a skills development facility to enhance technician capabilities, which had previously been lacking.

Since its establishment, the factory’s clientele includes both corporate entities and individuals, with a growing presence across all provinces of Rwanda.

Challenges and future endeavours

The size of the apparel market in Rwanda, as of 2024, was $426.10 million, with a projected annual growth rate of 3.41% between 2024 and 2028.

A 2023 UNESCO report, The fashion sector in Africa: Trends, challenges, and opportunities for growth, highlights Africa as one of the next frontiers for fashion. Rwanda is also listed as an African country with a growing local high-fashion luxury brand presence.

Despite these positive trends, Murebwa still faces challenges that hinder her work.

She identified access to finance as a major obstacle. Moreover, the impact of the strong US dollar is a concern, as her company relies on importing all its raw materials.

“Delays in shipping also disrupt my factory’s workflow when urgent orders are required,” she says.

“Acquiring skilled manpower remains a challenge, especially for roles like textile engineers and quality assurance personnel, as they are costly to hire from abroad. I suggest that the government establish faculties related to these trades in universities to develop local talent,” she adds.

On a personal note, Murebwa continues to grapple with balancing her work life and family commitments. Her business requires a significant time investment, and she often finds herself struggling to find a balance.

Looking ahead, Murebwa’s New Kigali Designers and Outfitters is in the final stages of opening a second phase of its factory at the Kigali Special Economic Zone.

“The new phase will house 300 staff [in addition to the 280 already employed] and incorporate high-tech machinery. This will enhance our ability to target export markets. Our focus will be on producing a variety of t-shirts to ensure affordability for all,” Murebwa says.

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