Mille Collines, a Rwandan fashion house, is planning to open more shops in Kenya to serve the growing fashion-conscious customers.
Three months ago, Mille Collines opened a new shop at the Nairobi’s Junction Shopping Mall and is planning another one in Yaya Centre.
Its first shop is located in Nairobi’s Village Market which was set up three years ago and now with growing customers, it is seeking to position itself as a high-end African fashion house.
“We have had a great response from the Kenyan market which makes us feel very optimistic about Africa. Kenyans have a good sense of quality and fashion trends and the industry is growing very fast with a very mature customer that is becoming more and more demanding,” said Inés Cuatrecasas, one of the founders of Mille Collines.
Authentic African fashion
Mille Collines was started in Rwanda, Kigali in 2007 by Ms Cuatrecasas and Marc Oliver from Spain.
They started as an authentic African fashion house but faced challenges as many customers had a perception that African clothes were of poor quality.
Their entry in the African market coincided with a period when African prints were dotting influential fashion cities like Paris, New York and London.
However, the designers that were trend-setters were not based in Africa. But tables have changed as the world wants more African designed and made clothes and accessories.
“Fashion made in Africa is evolving very fast. It’s no longer just the image the West has of African inspiration; vibrant colours and ethnic prints. It is clothing made by professional fashion houses that are looking at Africa for inspiration and grounding,” said Ms Cuatrecasas.
Mille Collines brands are currently sold in two markets through multi-brand shops like Macy’s in the US and Anthropologie —with a presence both in US and Europe. In Spain, the firm has struck deals with several stockists selling its jewellery.
“We have done collaborations with several brands since we started. We have just signed a second deal with Anthropologie and our brands will be available in its stores by spring 2014. Customers will find a selection of our dresses and a capsule collection made for the American brand,” Ms Cuatrecasas said.
Thanks to the growing appetite for African fashion, locally and globally, its workshop located in Kigali now has 35 workers in production compared to 2010 when they had 10.
Mille Collines still works with craft co-operatives to help in embroidery and to fix accessories like buttons. Previously, the founders were heavily involved in production to maintain desired quality but they now have hired a team with their focus shifting to retail and expansion.
“We define our brand for being elegant and timeless. Our customer values the versatility of our products that can easily be styled to be used in very different occasions. We are inspired by Africa, its culture and origin. Our woman mixes western styles with traditional cultures she encounters on her journey,” said Ms Cuatrecasas.
Mille Collines launched a new collection for the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Africa 2013 that started this week. It will be the first time that the fashion house showcases menswear as well as a print made by the designers.
“This is the first collection for which Mille Collines has created a unique print. The graphic etching usually used on the traditional silver jewellery has been blown up into large, hand drawn motifs and then printed onto sheer fabrics. The whole feeling is of a modern expression of an ancient art,” she says.
The collection comprising the latest international trends is inspired by the Tuareg tribes of North Africa. The collection has a new line of jewellery and accessories.
“This season we have taken the classic Tuareg shapes, retaining their strength but simplified them and then infused them with vibrant colour. Materials include glass mixed with pewter. Glass is decorated with hand painted motifs,” she said.
The first capsule collection with the new print will be in the stores at the end of the year.
Throughout the year, Mille Collines releases new designs to not only respond to market needs but also give customers something fresh.
The fashion house uses its website to reach more shoppers with its online store using Spanish, English or Swahili languages—showing its customers diversity.
Having established a good physical retail presence in Kenya, the designers are not looking to stock any other brands.
“For now we are only stocking our brand. We are concentrating all our efforts in building our brand which is still fairly young,” the Mille Collines founder said.