This remarkable award-winning Rwandan designer made the move from career urban planner to African-inspired jewellery and accessory creator and retailer.
Teta Isibo is the highly talented founder and CEO of Inzuki Designs, a Rwandan company specialising in African inspired jewelry, accessories and interior décor. She is the creative brain behind the development of the company brand and design ethos, which was inspired by the Kinyarwanda word ‘Inzuki’, which means bees, and was specifically chosen as it reflects the attitude of the brand she is building. She explains:
“Never stifle your dreams and aspirations; if they don’t scare you, they are not big enough”.
“The essence behind the name is three-fold, reflecting on the client, the producers and the product itself. From the client’s angle, even though bees produce something as sweet as honey, they are still not to be messed with because they can sting. To us this represents the attitude of our muse, the modern Rwandan. We refer to this ‘sweet but fierce’ attitude as ‘honey-coated boldness. From the producers’ angle we work with cooperatives, the concept behind cooperatives itself is one of a great sense of community, diverse groups working together harmoniously, much like bees do. Bees are organised and industrious and by far the best example of a successful working community. From the products angle we aim to create a ‘buzz’ around Rwandan made products which we believe have a globally marketable aesthetic.”
Teta’s start in business came at a young age, whilst still at school, designing earrings and having them made into jewellery pieces for friends by local craftswomen. What started as a hobby, turned into a business venture, although not until she had completed her studies, attained a Bachelors degree in Science, and gone into a career in urban planning in the first instance. She was attracted to what she does as an entrepreneur today, because it is a fusion of design, culture, innovation and people. She sees the Inzuki Designs brand as a mix of traditional craftsmanship and contemporary design. Her jewellery and accessory pieces are hand-made using primarily local organic materials and produced by cooperatives around the country, mainly consisting of women. Today, Inzuki works closely with about 10 co-operatives as a way of inspiring women to get into entrepreneurship and manage their own wealth. Isibo says she has been blessed to cross paths with lots of women who have inspired her, so if she does the same for others, she takes it as an honor.
“Rwanda has so much potential in terms of the traditional craftsmanship skills, and in terms of the raw materials you can find here but I felt that we weren’t really living up to that potential. Everything you’d find on the market was you know, very touristy stuff; and I wanted to create something that Rwandans, as well, would love to wear and would love to say this was made in Rwanda."
In 2012, she won the REAL-Banque Populaire Entrepreneurship Award, a competition she entered because she saw it more as a training and exposure opportunity. She gained a lot of experience in the process, having to prepare and pitch her business presentation to a panel of judges and a room full of people. The first time she wrote down her business idea and practiced it, it was 18 minutes long; cutting it down to the required 3 minutes without skipping anything important was definitely an interesting challenge for her.
Her next goal is to open an online store and attract customers from all over the world, promoting Rwandan brands and products. "Rwandan products have big potential. We should be known for our fashion and creativity in the same way as we are famous for coffee and tea," Isibo argues. "Inzuki wants to showcase this to the world."
She is also a passionate supporter of women’s entrepreneurship in her country and believes that any woman can be what they want to be, despite the challenges they face. She says: “Why do we always dwell on the challenges? I think that Rwandan women have a lot of opportunities. We have equal rights to land, education and employment. I am not saying that there are no challenges but we tend to focus too much on them while the opportunities are right there staring us in the face. The men come and grab those opportunities while we are too busy complaining about the challenges”.
"My start-up capital was about 2 million francs (about 2,500 euros). I had budgeted for much more, but I decided to just start with what I had. If I’d waited to get all the money I believed I needed to start, I’d probably still be waiting. Sometimes you just have to take the leap, start with whatever you have and use it resourcefully."
Speaking about her own decision to become an entrepreneur, Teta says: “I am doing something that I chose to do, something I am passionate about and naturally good at. To me, that’s a blessing because many people go through life with no idea of what they want to do, or if they have the idea, they simply do not have the courage to do it! The decision to open my own store was radical, but I have not regretted it even once. I have a clear vision of what I want to accomplish and this is what drives me every single day.”
Over the last few years since Inzuki Designs was launched, Teta has showcased her fabulous and unique jewellery pieces and accessories globally, including in the U.S (Boston, Texas, New Mexico, D.C, Oklahoma, and New York), Geneva, Switzerland, London, and Toronto. Her clientele is impressively varied, ranging from the expatriate community, tourists, young Rwandan professionals, Rwandans and Africans in the Diaspora, really anybody with an aesthetic interest in unique, African-inspired, hand-crafted design pieces.
Last year, she won the REAL Entrepreneur contest in Rwanda, an annual entrepreneurship competition that pitted 10 young entrepreneurs drawn from diverse sectors. The award came with Rwf 2 million cash prize and in the process raised her profile on the African continent and abroad.
“We are part of a wider Rwandan cultural Renaissance, greatly inspired by the growing innovation scene in the country and by the increasing number of young entrepreneurs and trendsetters that are propelling Rwanda to the next level."
In terms of plans for the future, Teta has lots of business ideas to compliment her brand and is currently looking at online retail and expanding into global markets. She believes that the time is right for Rwandan fashion and design to tap into the growing global interest in ethically sourced products. She says: “People are interested in knowing the origin of the products they are buying, they want products that tell a story, a good story. Rwanda is a great source for such products. Hand-made unique products are also trending, they are more appealing than mass produced, made in China products. Big international brands like Anthropology, DKNY, Kate Spade and Nicole Miller have all previously sourced products from Rwanda.”
Why Loa loves it....
Teta's story is one that could inspire many other young aspirant women entrepreneurs in Africa. She had a dream not only to build a business and a brand that was African inspired, but to also take it to the global marketplace and build a loyal client following. The Inzuki brand is definitely going places and is one to watch for the future. --- Melanie