Twenty-two year old Germaine Dusenge is a Rwandan who loves her country. At first glance, she appears quite shy, yet, within minutes of our first meeting, as we set about to speak about her work, she begins to exude confidence. Africa Fashion Guide East African contributor Margaux Rusita briefly chats with this dynamic bag designer in the charming city of Kigali, Rwanda’s capital.
Germaine’s forte is quite intriguing to us as her bags are made of recycled jeans and Kitenge cloth. It is however immediately evident that beyond the artistry and innovation involved in producing her bags, Germaine deposits great love and passion as she creates. This young Tourism student puts so much heart into her art, we simply had to tell her story.
Germaine made her first bag at age 17, in the quiet of the night as her household slept. She shares that she became curious when she looked around her room and saw an old worn out pair of jeans lying on a chair. She immediately knew that she had to turn them into something novel. She picked up a pair of scissors and well, if you continue reading, you will soon discover how that one act changed her life and that of her community.
Germaine spent three hours working on her debut bag. Five years on, she has a clientele of family and friends who could not resist getting their hands on her one of a kind bags which include backpacks, laptop bags and totes, just to name a few. She tells us that she sells her pieces on a made to order basis; which works very well for her clients, as many of them love to participate in the design stage. She says that her clients especially love to have their bags produced from their own worn jeans. Honouring this request, Germaine shares, has given her favour with her clients, since they love nothing more than to see their old irredeemable jeans transformed into something brand new.
Ms Dusenge tells AFG that although she genuinely enjoys designing bags to her clients’ specifications and going along with trends, she prefers the freedom to design as she is inspired. We are sure that Georges Vuitton of the famous Louis Vuitton brand, who created his first monogrammed bags covered with flowers in the late 1800s, would encourage this inspired artist. Georges actually initiated a trend which until today is associated with Paris Hilton and Juicy Couture sweatsuits. Today most of us can recognize a Vuitton bag, and some would go to great lengths to acquire one! We avow Ms Germaine Dusenge as a trendsetter of her time. Clearly, the vibrancy of the Kitenge cloth against the sombre and worn look of recycled jeans is brilliant and plain genius and why we love it! The cheery colours of African print fabric dominate the poor beaten down jeans yet give life to them. A new beginning emerges. This is the power of the creative mind and how it can be life-giving.
For a few minutes, think ‘sustainable fashion’ and how trendy it has become over the past few years. After listening to Germaine Dusenge’s concept, we deduce that it is the embodiment of sustainable fashion yet, she does not identify what she does as such. It is simply her way of expressing herself and doing business. She has chosen to remain pure in her objectives and intentions by not labeling her work based on what is currently popular. However, we want to recognize that Germaine Dusenge’s bags make a lasting categorical impact on a personal, community and environmental level. As previously mentioned, her bags are made from recycled materials such as used and worn jeans, which we doubt the world will run out of anytime soon. However, the landfills will certainly miss them, as they would have been transformed into Dusenge’s bags. Further, her pieces are yet recyclable as they are mostly made of cotton, hence biodegradable. In addition, and for good measure, Germaine makes her bags locally, in the comfort of her home and she hand sews them, hence little overhead expenses. Unintentionally, Ms Dusenge makes her fair contribution to sustainable fashion in the 21st century! This is not where she triumphs though.
Although Germaine’s trade came about simply by her pure curiosity, it’s evident that there is great purpose in what she does. Germaine tells us that she is quite pleased as she is now able to make a financial contribution to the home she shares with her Mother in Nyaminambu, Kigali. Something she says, she does with great joy. In a country where 20-25% of households lack sufficient food, we can understand Germaine’s elation. She tells us of her mother’s enthusiasm to assist her in the business and with her studies. In this day and age, any parent would be encouraged by such an offspring.
We all might have heard the saying ‘charity begins at home’. This is clearly true for Germaine Dusenge, but it has not remained at home! Germaine tells us of the awful lack she has seen within her community since living there. In an effort to make a difference, she has founded
G-Foundation, a charity which aims to impart into orphans within the community through education. G-Foundation pays tuition fees for 10 orphaned children, enabling them to attend school, something which they were unable to do before due to insufficient funds. Germaine funds the foundation by donating a percentage of the profit from each bag she sells. She has become an advocate for the parentless within her community while she works hard to build a sustainable business.
Germmaine Dusenge’s compassion towards the children of her community comes from a very real place. It comes from the heart of a young woman who lost her own father as a two-year old toddler. In honour of her late dad, Germaine used the first letter of his name, Gerard, to title her foundation, G-Foundation.
This young designer’s interest in education has seen her enroll at the Rwanda Tourism University College (RTUC), where she is a first year student. She tells AFG that she has chosen Tourism as her major as she loves people and learning new things. She hopes that upon graduating and entering the Tourism sector, she would have gained enough knowledge and relationships within the sector to grow her business. Ms Dusenge seems to constantly be in the spirit of learning. She shares that one of the reasons she loves making bags is because it inspires other ideas. This revelation is so simple yet it reflects great wisdom! One must do something in order to be inspired to move forward! She adds that being inspired to produce something new incites within the artist a sense of ‘fulfillment and happiness’. We believe that all fellow artists would agree!
This thoughtful and methodical young woman sees herself someday exporting her bags to neighbouring Tanzania, Uganda and Congo. Germaine already has a contact in Burundi who has shown interest in stocking their shop with her bags. Ms Dusenge is however content to market her products in Rwanda for the time being. She sees great opportunity to develop her bags in her country, where the current government is moving mountains to equip and empower its young people. A country which was shattered by a genocide and tremendous poverty over many years is rising again with the help of its young citizens like Germaine Dusenge and her 24 year old.
business partner Eric Bugingo. Eric aspires to be famous in the international fashion industry! He currently designs dresses as a pastime and enjoys brainstorming with creative minds like Germaine. Both of these young people are very optimistic about their future in their homeland.
Germaine, who shares that she enjoys encouraging people and just hanging out with friends, would someday love to have her own boutique where she would be able to display her work as well as that of other aspiring artists and designers. At the end of our conversation, Ms Dusenge seems relieved that she was able to tell her story and vision for the future in her second interview in two months! Germaine, even with all of her gifting, plans and philanthropy was invisible to the world at large; that is, until now. It is our hope to continue to give the much needed exposure to gifted African designers like Germaine who dare to allow their creative flare to manifest in the beautiful work they produce. There is a forecast of insurmountable success for this young designer in the near future. Keep on making those bags Germaine! The world has its eyes on you now.
All Photography copyright: Kharumwa
Author: Margaux Rusita