Haute Baso was established when the two young, ambitious and talented Rwandan fashion designers, Candy Basomingera and Linda Mukangoga, merged their respective brands because “two heads are better than one”. Linda and Candy met for the first time after admiring each other’s work from a distance, they knew it was time to merge their enterprises — Haute Rwanda and Baso Designs — into Haute-Baso.
Haute-Baso became officially registered in March 2014 and the brand makes highly sought after ready-to-wear clothes and jewellery; handbags, handicraft and house decor. Their unique products set them apart from the commonplace Rwandan bespoke trend, believing in the idea that their passion for fashion could be used as a vehicle for positive change, they work towards advancing women and youth empowerment through training, mentorship programmes and job creation.
Mukangoga and Basomingera, both graduates of International Relations, say their designs are created on the basis of something they both love and cherish — aesthetics. They design all their products themselves at an office they share at their shop in Kigali. The business partners share common objectives, and one of their objectives was to come up with products that could be recognised as ethical fashion brands.
Ethical fashion is an umbrella term used to describe design, production, retail and purchasing processes that cover a range of issues such as humane working conditions, non-exploitation of artisans, fair trade, sustainable production, environmental conservation and animal welfare. This is in keeping with modern trends in fashion where businesses strive to be good ambassadors of their products.
Haute-Baso products are made by artisans from 200 women’s co-operatives in keeping with its social enterprise agenda. In the two years it has been in business, Haute-Baso has grown from employing four artisans to 202. The fashion brand helps the artisans by giving them access to highly needed markets of buyers. By paying them based on their own rates, it also gives them the chance to sell for fairer and better prices, as well offering them a space to showcase their work and well-deserved global exposure.
They also offer internships to budding entrepreneurs, and provide stipends for apprentices; and so far, since the launch of the internship programme, they have had eight interns. Part of the duties of the interns is to run the company’s social media platforms and see to the day-to-day running of the business in the shop.
On their designs, Mukangoga said, “Our goal was to make stuff that was wearable. We did not want to make your typical basket earrings, which are cool; we make them functional too. For this, we import some of our fabrics,” she said.
When they started in 2014, the duo had no physical store and used social media and pop-up shops around Kigali’s car-free zones for their merchandise. They eventually opened a shop at Nyarutarama Road near MTN Centre last year. “The store is a reflection of who we are but there is no particular thing that fully defines us. We believe the entire store is our aesthetic expression, and our customers recognise who we are, and any piece from here is easily recognised,” explained Basomingera, a mother of two.
The shop also sells other companies’ goods such as the Felek notebooks from Ethiopia and Kurema Kureba Kwiga postcards (loosely translated as “create, see, learn”) from Uganda, in support of other social enterprises. The shop has an art-meets-style ambience, offering both personal clothing and jewellery items and home décor items in the same space.
Haute-Baso is big on social media because it is what put them on the global market. For instance, their Twitter bio reads: “We make beautiful things that have beautiful stories.” Most of their buyers express their satisfaction online on the company’s Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Most of the Haute-Baso merchandise is sold through friends and social and business contacts. On why people should buy their products, Mukangoga said, “You buy goods that are made in Rwanda without sacrificing quality. Consequently, you are also buying stuff that is made by strong women and designed by women.”
All products are available at the brand’s shop in Kigali and can be shipped worldwide.