Meet Priscilla Umutashya Ruzibuka - the creative mind behind Rwanda's first kid's clothing company

Priscilla photo.jpg

Priscilla’s interest in fashion and design began when she was a child. She watched with intrigue as her nanny sew clothes for customers, then she would try and do the same and replicate the sewing and make clothes for her dolls. Her nanny inspired her because she had worked her way up from humble beginnings where she learned basic tailoring skills and practiced her craft by sewing creative new designs.

When her family relocated to Tanzania, Priscilla’s love for designing clothes and sewing beautiful pieces moved with her. Though her nanny was no longer able to watch over her, it became clear to her parents that the seed of fashion and design had been planted in their little girl.

Priscilla studied Information Systems Engineering in University, and worked with two organizations that offered business development services to small-and-medium enterprises, and cooperatives. Through her engagements with the entrepreneurs she supported, she was inspired to launch a fashion business and become her own boss. Since she didn't know much about running a business, she decided to go back to school and pursue a Master's Degree in Project Management.

After graduation, she dug into her savings, and also received additional financial support from her parents, and started making baby clothes for her friends. She worked with different tailors on short-term contracts to test their workmanship, and identify those she could work with once she completed her business registration process. 

"Keep an open mind to learn new things. This way, you'll develop new ideas, connect with people and leverage opportunities for innovation." - PR

When talk in Rwanda began over the ban on importation of secondhand clothes, Priscilla decided to take the plunge and register her business. She noticed there were no local designers making children’s clothes in her country, and since she loves kids, and enjoys designing clothes, she decided to set up her business as a children’s clothing company. She registered her company Kipepeo Kids Clothing in January 2016.

Beatrice is one of the star tailors at Kipepeo. She has worked with Priscilla since Kipepeo started in January 2016. 

Beatrice is one of the star tailors at Kipepeo. She has worked with Priscilla since Kipepeo started in January 2016. 

Priscilla has participated in several entrepreneurship programs, including the Akili Dada Fellowship. Through Akili Dada, she received a startup grant of $800 which she used to buy fabric and a tent for pop up events. Priscilla uses pop up events to build her customer base.  

Once she completed the Akili Dada Fellowship, Priscilla pitched her business idea at the Africa Business Idea Cup where she walked away with the best business idea award!! She was selected to pitch her idea at the East Africa Regional Competition where she clinched the 5th position.

By this time, several of her peers had told her about the YALI Regional Leadership Center East Africa so Priscilla decided to submit an application. She was selected as a participant in the Business and Entrepreneurship Track. At YALI, Priscilla learned how to strengthen her leadership skills, how to build an innovative business, how to think creatively and how to communicate with her customers, her investors, and her staff. She attributes her recent pitching success to the pitching sessions she had at YALI. While on her way back home to Kigali after the YALI program, she sat next to a potential investor and had the opportunity to tell him about her business. It worked! She landed a second meeting, and is now working to set up a partnership agreement with the investor.

Kipepeo has also received the Pollination Project's $1000 grant, which Priscilla has used to buy a high-quality finishing machine, and more fabric to expand her business.

As a YALI alumni, Priscilla was eligible to apply for the US African Development Foundation $10,000 grant where she was selected as a recipient. She is using that money to expand her business into an international quality children’s clothing brand with roots in East Africa.

As an entrepreneur, Priscilla confirms this - “entrepreneurship is a lonely journey.” She has dealt with the pressure of getting her business off the ground, working around the clock to ensure deadlines are met and milestones are achieved. Her experiences have shaped her to become quite a savvy business owner. Today, she offers her staff incentives, and signs long-term contracts with them to make sure they perform well on the job. Because her business is growing, and sometimes she experiences financial challenges, the employment contracts she gets into with her employees’ guarantees that they will receive their pay within specified timelines. 

Priscilla believes that producing high quality clothes that are affordable will attract and retain her target customer. Her timely delivery of quality children’s clothing is undoubtedly building her company’s reputation in the industry, and growing her business. Thinking innovatively as more players tap into her area of business, she is now looking to transition Kipepeo into a production and wholesale business. Her current clients are mainly children’s clothing stores who place orders after visiting Kipepeo’s production center and evaluating the company’s quality work.

What motivates Priscilla?

Seeing the lives of women she trains transformed through skills learning, and income generation is what motivates Priscilla. The enjoys seeing her designs brought to life by the tailors she employs, and later in her clients as they admire and appreciate the high quality and affordable children’s clothes she produces at Kipepeo.

Priscilla's advice to young people who want to start and run a sustainable business:

  1. Take time to identify the type of business you want to start. Don't just start a business because everyone is doing it. 
  2. Be clear on who your target customer is, and how they will benefit from your product or service offering. 
  3. If you want to have a social impact in your community, take time to define the impact you would like to have, and think about how you will go about creating it. 

This past August, Priscilla exhibited Kipepeo’s Kids Clothing at the Children's Club International Exhibition in New York City. She secured several partnerships and took many orders.

A good read: One of Priscilla’s favourite books is It’s Rising Time! A Call for Women: What It Really Takes for the Reward of Financial Freedom By Kim Kiyosaki.

Here is a short video by Africa Journal highlighting Priscilla’s business story. Video starts at 12:50 minute.

Till next month, 

Team Thelela