APiF: Please introduce your business and your designs.
Matthew “Tayo” Rugamba: House of Tayo is a fashion label that aims to showcase African sophistication, style and flavor through contemporary, locally made clothing and accessories. With style influences ranging from the Motown era to the works of Ozwald Boateng we seek to combine elegance and class with a strong sense of African heritage and iconography.
APiF: When and why did you start designing with African Prints and Fabrics?
Matthew “Tayo”: As the Summer of 2011 was winding down, I ventured into the bustling marketplaces of Kigali, Rwanda, with no clear description of what I wanted, but a very clear vision. I had recently completed my second year of college in the United States — yet another year of questions about the food, music, style, culture and the history of my home continent Africa. Dispelling myths and sharing anecdotes of life growing up in various parts of Africa has been an equally enlightening experience for me and for those I share my stories with.
My appreciation for my culture and history became something that I became particularly keen on sharing through pictures, dance, cuisine and anecdotes. The only area I had not touched on was the clothes. And my word do we have such a distinct flair and flavor for fashion! Bright colors and rich fabric with poise and elegance to match—definitely something that you do not see every day elsewhere. One only needs to attend Sunday Mass to get a dose of brilliantly crafted headpieces balanced gracefully atop a woman’s head, or to witness a gentleman waltz through a gravel road as if to test whether a speck of dust has the audacity to rest upon his shoe. So I started to brainstorm ways of capturing African style and iconography in a way that wouldn’t be too overwhelming for people of other cultures to embrace and that’s how I came up with my first pieces—the unisex snood and bowtie combo.
APiF: How do u feel about the new African Prints/Fabric trend? Is it here to stay?
Matthew “Tayo”: I would like to argue that it is not a trend because we have been doing it since the early 1900s, but the reality is that on the global stage it is. Louis Vuitton is using vibrant ‘Maasai’ colors of the ‘shuka’ for their Menswear spring/summer collection for 2012, and Burberry is using African Print for their Spring/Summer 2012 collection, too. I think that this is fantastic and as African designers and Africans in general we should view this is as window of opportunity. We need to create pieces that will make the fashion world realize that African print is something that should go beyond Summer 2012. It should never be considered “sooo last season”. So in short, whether it is here to stay or not depends on our ability to innovate while simultaneously showcasing our rich African culture, heritage and history.
APiF: What inspires u?
Matthew “Tayo”: I get inspiration from all over the place, from Markets, to blogs, to issues of GQ to gallery art but my primary source will always be history and culture. I have an obsession of late with the style of the Pan African movement of the late 1950s and 60s. It was the perfect blend of classic western style and African traditional clothing at a time when leaders were trying to stimulate a feeling of nationalism and appreciation for Africa, much like I would like House of Tayo to do. I frequently go through history books to look at how Patrice Lumumba would combine fine tailoring, a bowtie and traditional leopard print accessories, as well as iconic pictures of Kwame Nkrumah in Ghanaian Kente Cloth.
APiF: Fashion Finds: What is your favorite piece in your closet or of your collection and why?
Matthew “Tayo”: At the moment it is a combination of a deep red/navy blue/yellow snood and a brown bowtie, both made from African Wax Print. Firstly, they are very versatile pieces and I can easily throw onto many different outfits. Secondly, the colors are very rich, bold and are staples of traditional African clothing. Finally, those were some of the first samples I did, so there is a bit of an emotional attachment.
APiF: How do you market your designs and how do you make them accessible to a global audience?
Matthew “Tayo”: Social Media and word of mouth have been my weapons of mass attraction. Tumblr, facebook, twitter are great inexpensive ways of creating a presence and reaching a wide audience. Also, I have used my network of friends and acquaintances to help me create a buzz for House of Tayo.
APiF: Any tips for new designers/startups in the fashion industry?
Matthew “Tayo”: Well, to be honest I’m a very new designer myself so I am still learning a lot. But from what I have experienced so far, it is very important to have a clear vision and goals for the brand that you are trying to build. If you can articulate what you intend to do and what you expect your brand to communicate, then it is easier to share this vision with others. By starting with the “why” I am doing this rather than the “what” I am doing. I have also created something that I feel a real personal connection to. Whenever I hit an obstacle – as most startups do – I am less likely to bend over and accept defeat.