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The Student News Site of Buena Vista University

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The Student News Site of Buena Vista University

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Q&A with alumni Sonia Mugabo, creator of Afrikana Exquisiteness


Aaron Burns | Graphics Co-Editor

Who is Sonia Mugabo?

I attended Buena Vista University (BVU) from 2009–2013. I majored in Graphic Design & Visual Communication with a minor in Digital Media.

I was very involved in different activities during my time at BVU. I was an Resident Adviser (RA) for two years, head RA of Swope in the 2010–2011 academic year. I was News Editor for The Tack and the President of the Graphic Design Club in the 2010–2011 academic year. I was also involved with the BVU International Club.

Why did you attend Buena Vista University, and what role did it play in a design career?

I attended BVU because I wanted to attend a university that was small and private. Because of these factors, I got the chance to interact with my professors on a personal level.

I was very close to Jamii Claiborne, Rebecca Frates, Andrea Frantz, Bruce Ellingson, Mary Mello-Nee, and Dave Boelter. With them being great mentors, I managed to secure three internships in New York and one in Washington DC, which got me a lot of experience and reaffirmed my love for design and fashion.

Also being a graphic designer has made me a disciplined creator (thank you Rebecca Frates). I do have a process where I research on trends, colors, and pretty much what is hot at that moment. Then I go on with sketching thumbnails of different ideas I have. I select the main idea I want to execute. Once I have the concept in mind, I know exactly what fabrics and the kind of audience I want to attract.

What is Afrikana Exquisiteness (AE)?

“Afrikana” is the African way of saying “African”, and “exquisiteness” is the noun for exquisite, meaning “characterized by beautiful design”. It was the name of my senior show last spring, and I brought it to life by making it the name of my fashion brand.

When did you first start working in fashion, and how did you get to where you are now?

The first time was when I was interning with Teen Vogue in Jan. 2011. This experience in the Big Apple inspired me to follow my dream of pursuing fashion. New York has my heart, and I see it is as my second home after Rwanda. I create my best work when I’m in New York. I’m a competitive person, and with so much competition in NYC, I’m driven to become a better designer. There is so much inspiration in New York.

After interning in New York during the summer, I made a bold move by moving back home in Kigali and started my AE Brand.

What motivated you to become a fashion designer?

I have always had a deep affinity for fashion, and with the fashion industry only starting to get recognition here in Rwanda, I knew I had to take advantage of the opportunity to be a part of this growing field in my country. In some sense, I see this as a great way to help Rwanda’s booming economy but also do something I deeply love.

‘Afrikana Exquisiteness’ aims to position itself as the Rwandan reference in high quality ethical fashion, working with local women co-operatives in beadings, crafts, and tailoring using mainly Africa-made fabrics and material. This way, the brand will create jobs, transfer skills, and contribute to empowering local women and the country’s economy.

What inspirations do you use when creating your designs for fashion?

I’m inspired by everything. Grace Coddington, Creative Director of Vogue Magazine says it best: “Always keep your eyes open. Keep watching, because whatever you see can inspire you.”

Also, with so much culture to explore in Africa, I’m inspired by the diversity and richness that African cultures have. African materials are very vibrant, vivid, and different, so I try to use them for my designs.

Where has Afrikana Exquisiteness been featured thus far?

I showcased my first collection at the 2013 Kigali Fashion Week, which took place at The Serena Hotel on Nov. 1. This was a great opportunity for AE since it created a lot of exposure and visibility for the brand.

I’ve been featured in different renowned international newspapers like The Guardian, Germany’s Del Spiegel, Britain’s York University Newspaper known as “Nouse,” Rwandan New Times. I have also spoken on the BBC NewsDay radio show.

Where are you now, and what are you doing there?

I’m currently based in Kigali, Rwanda. I’m hoping to open an online store soon so that everyone around the world can be able to purchase AE clothing pieces. Also, I’m hoping to showcase my collections at different fashion events around the world next year.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I would like to thank BVU for giving me incredible opportunities and would like to thank my professors for always pushing me to always work hard, above and beyond. Without the education I got at BVU, I don’t think I would have been brave enough to pursue my dream of being a fashion designer.

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Photos courtesy of David McIntyre

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