The art of fine shoe-making is a specific design discipline and one that excites the team of entrepreneurs behind the Rwandan shoe brand, UZURI K&Y. Ysolde Shimwe (CFO & Co-Creative designer) and Kevine Kagirimpundu (CEO & Co-Creative designer), are combining their substantial design talents to create some of the hottest shoes on the continent.
LoA connected with co-founder Ysolde Shimwe this month to find out more about this rising star of the African shoe scene….
What does your company do?
UZURI K&Y is a Rwandan enterprise based in Kigali and registered since June 2013, designing and manufacturing a line of shoes through handcraft. With the impact of creating jobs in the handcraft sector, from the workshop located in Gikondo, KK 704 ST, the two partners, Ysolde and Kevine, have trained a team of 13 shoe makers and are currently training 5 more who produce high quality handcrafted shoes for women and men.
"We used to dream a lot of the future, sharing life perspectives and it was so pleasant how our desires converged to become a common vision."
What inspired you to start your company?
Myself, Ysolde Shimwe, and my cofounder, Kevine Kagirimpundu, are both creative designers from the University of Rwanda, and are young self-taught fashion designers. We used to dream a lot of the future, sharing life perspectives and it was so pleasant how our desires converged to become a common vision. For the last 2 years and 8 months, we have invested our time, money and skills learning, and formed a good team to produce designs from Rwanda. We have developed original techniques to handcraft our shoes, with their unique features and patterns, and a particular way of preparing materials.
Why should anyone buy your products in particular?
Our products differ from our competitors’ in various ways such as colours, patterns and original concepts, all generated using local materials such as Agaseke patterns produced by local artisans and also showcasing our traditional old techniques into new ways of application. Our products also differ from others in the combination of materials used, which are mixed with African sourced fabrics, as well as using different soles such as TPU, TPR and recycled tires.
"We have developed original techniques to handcraft our shoes, with their unique features and patterns, and a particular way of preparing materials."
Tell us a little about your team?
The 17 permanent staff (Including the owners) have signed contracts, and the overall organization requires the team to work hand-in-hand together to be able to produce and sell daily. Since January 2014, we have started our internship programme, where we receive 3 interns every 3 months to learn shoe-making skills and later be hired due to their performance. This year in February, we took in 5 more interns into our internship programme. Myself, Ysolde Shimwe (CFO & Co-Creative designer) and my cofounder, Kevine Kagirimpundu ( CEO & Co- Creative designer), have invested initial seed stages since the company existed. Jean Marie Iradukunda is in charge of the company's daily operations and Ntacogora Francois is the chief in charge of the production process. We all work closely together by providing reports of what has been done and inputs about what should be done.
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey, and do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
I have always wanted to work for myself. I used to watch movies and see very confident and independent women business owners on the screen, and I always said that it is what I wanted to become. At the time, I was not sure about what exactly I was going to do, but I also loved making small handcrafted things. I was playing a lot with papers, fabrics and an assortment of different materials here and there. When I started College, at the University of Rwanda, College of Science and Technology, I met a friend who later became a business partner and together we brought our dreams and wishes into reality.
"Our company aspires to provide affordable footwear of constantly improving quality to fashion-lovers both at home and all over the world."
What are your future aspirations for the company?
Our company aspires to provide affordable footwear of constantly improving quality to fashion-lovers both at home and all over the world. Inspired by our African heritage, the footwear is designed in Rwanda and handcrafted by local people. Creating employment especially for women and youth is at the heart of our business. It is also our vision for UZURI K&Y to be a well-known international footwear brand designed in Rwanda in a world where Rwanda is a recognized originator of fashion items.
What gives you most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
I am always very happy when I am walking in the street and I see people wearing my shoes. The shoes that together with my team we have developed for the Rwandan people. I am satisfied when my clients are, and also when they buy our products and come back again for more. It does encourage us and push us to work even more to always satisfy them.
Inspired by our African heritage, our footwear is designed in Rwanda and handcrafted by local people. Creating employment especially for women and youth is at the heart of our business
What’s the biggest piece of advice you can give to any woman entrepreneur starting up in business?
I would like to remind everyone that our dreams are very important and that we must do whatever it takes to achieve them.
Don't have fear - no matter who you are and where you are from, your dreams are real and you should make it your business to achieve them.
Always remember that we all can do it, breakthrough and put Rwanda on the map of every sector or industry.
Contact or follow UZURI K&Y
Why LoA loves it….
At LoA, we love to see uniquely African design being given a contemporary edge by young trendy designers who understand what makes their consumers excited. In the case of UZURI K&Y, these hot shoe design brands are tipped to get the world talking, and showcase the best of beautiful design and craftsmanship, with a vibey design aesthetic. We think this great young Rwandan design team will put the country firmly on the global creative accessory map. --- Melanie Hawken, founder and editor-in-chief of Lionesses of Africa