This is Rwanda : Bernadette Umunyana & Dokmaï

Today I am glad to present you an other made in Rwanda brand that I really like a lot. Dokmai offers beautiful bags and accessories made in leather or vegan leather, mixed with wax . The workshop is in Kigali and give jobs to very qualified artisans. The collections change on a regular basis, and Bernadette is full of creativity. You can also make you own customized bag or any others accessories like a colorful laptop bag or wallet . I have few pieces and the quality is quite impressive, she also made for us the menu holder at the restaurant. Now I let Bernadette tell you more about her brand !

Could you tell us a little bit more about you ?

My name is Bernadette Umunyana, I am married with 2 children. I am a trained primary school teacher and I have worked as such until 2014 but much earlier I have started to work in the fashion sector probably as result of my husband who worked in several countries of Africa and Asia and we had always moved together from one country to another. I started some fashion activities in Burkina Faso where I had learnt tie and ye batik techniques and I started to convert my fabrics into fashion articles like dresses, blouses or shirts. I also participated in some small fashion shows in Ouagadougou.

When we moved to Laos I started first to appreciate the beauty of Lao silk and when I got the opportunity to take over a small silk manufacturing in 2007 and exporting company I engaged myself in this field working with several women cooperative covering the entire value chain from raising silk worms, to dyeing of threads, weaving on handlooms and producing traditional silk products but also fashionable silk accessories like scarfs or home decoration (curtains, bedcover, table cloths, etc.). This company called DOKMAI Export (Dokmai being a girl’s first name given to someone to whom you wish luck and prosperity) was an acknowledged Fair Trade company). Over the years Dokmai Export also started to produce mulberry paper for the bags in which we sold our products

Coming back to Rwanda in 2014, I was looking for some similar activities and after a market assessment I saw that the leather fashion sector offered opportunities for a newcomer.  I convinced my family and in Dec 2014 I founded Dokmai Rwanda Ltd.

What inspire you in general and what was the inspiration for your different collections?

When carrying out my market study I saw that leather products in general were of low quality and not very attractive for fashionable Rwandans who preferred to buy imported fashion accessories and I decided that I would try to substitute imported goods with my Made in Rwanda collections being fully aware that I would have to produce a better quality and an attractive design with a touch of colorful Rwanda, so I mix leather with Kitenge. I also realized that people are willing to pay a premium for top quality so my daily focus is on reminding my staffs that our customers expect only the best.

I constantly observe what is going on in the African but also international fashion world and I try to change my product lines (patterns, colors) to the actual trends

I have also started a product line using a vegan leather alternative for those clients looking to be trendy but worried of animal welfare

We also work with canvas as this material is also animal free and allows to make all kinds of home decoration or sturdy backpacks and computer bags

Do you consider Dokmai as slow fashion brand (Slow Fashion is an awareness and approach to fashion, which considers the processes and resources required to make products, particularly focusing on sustainability.)  Do you try to use specific ethic material?

Dokmai as woman owned, woman managed is dedicated to assume its social and environmental entrepreunarial responsibility, to empower women, to promote Made in Rwanda worldwide (we export to the USA, Europe, Asian continent  and of course to African countries . Dokmai tries to make best use of local materials (unfortunately until today leather is not available here, nor are domestic colorful cotton fabric for lining, or haberdashery products… So for the moment my efforts are on in-house, on the job training of jobless young people to generate at least some added value. When the local market for leather is developed and the quality is convincing and acceptable for my customers I will surely buy domestic leather and reduce imports

With regard to ethic material we use some sisal and also some cattle horn for decoration purposes and we have included Tanzanian batik fabrics in some of our product lines.

Designers on the African continent are more and more recognized in the different part of the industry, do you follow some others Africans designers?

One of my sources of inspiration is “AMINA”, evidently I also follow what the Rwanda fashion market offers but many of my leather goods are made for people who look at long lasting quality and not necessary  at short term fashion articles (my products are in fact rather expensive and made to last and not for only one season as I use full grain leather (the top leather quality and not some bonded , reconstituted leather or even leatherette (we have some leatherette products in our collection but these items are rather for office use like desk pad, mouse pad etc). So my role models are rather traditional leather manufacturers in England, Spain or Italy known for their uncompressing   quality.

The Dokmai shop is located at the Lemigo Hotel and Bernadette also is often present at the different fairs organized in Kigali. You can follow Dokmai through Instagram.

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