By Seruhungo Ndagijimana
Imagine escaping war at the age of two and spending more than 24 years in a camp. For many, this would be a challenge. For Antoine Mugiraneza, this circumstance pushed him to think out of the box.
He credits his childhood for the entrepreneurial spirit that drove him to start a successful clothing business that combines screen print T-shirts with multi-color designs.
The roots of Antoine’s entrepreneurial journey started in 1996 when he was forced to leave his native country - Republic of Congo - and settled in Rwanda. While living in the Kiziba Camp, he dreamed of becoming a businessman. With this goal as a driving force, he finished his initial schooling at College Amahoro/Rwanda and then graduated from ULK (Universite Libre de Kigali) in 2019 with a degree in accounting.
Antoine was excited to start his business, but needed initial money to get started. His older brother loaned him $20. Antoine bought one T-shirt. On the back of it, he designed the flag of the Democratic Republic of Congo. “It was looking exceptionally nice,” he said. “I posted it to my social media accounts and shared that I plan to create similar T-shirts that others could purchase. Many responded positively by asking to buy the T-shirts.”
This ultimately led to the formation of the Ingenzi-Art-Collection. In addition to having two stores in Kigali, he is also selling shirts abroad to individuals in the USA, Netherlands and Denmark.
“The company objectives are to sell globally and become a significant player in Rwanda’s design industry,” he said. “We are currently engaging 17 brand ambassadors and have plans to expand this number as our business grows."
KEYS TO SUCCESS
I asked Antoine about how he has been able to succeed in building a business so quickly. Here are some of the keys he noted.
Loss is a lesson. Like numerous businesses around the world, the company confronted unprecedented challenges due to COVID-19.
“I depend on imported items from China to make our clothes,” he said. “This became problematic when China closed its borders due to COVID-19 and halted our supply chain. In addition, I had to close stores amid the lockdown in Kigali and this affected our income flow. Instead of dwelling on this, I focused on how we could innovate for the future. This led us to buy the Brother GTX T-shirt printing machine that enables us to directly create shirt designs much more quickly on our own. I have opened a new shop in Remera/Kigali.”
Invest in your interests. Antoine is clearly passionate about clothing and design. When you really love what you do, you are more likely to succeed.
“When people invest in what they like the most, this helps them to stay focused on their dreams,” said Antoine. “It is better to invest in what we are passionate about as it can help us get through challenging moments.”
Work with integrity. Being honest is always important. “A client cannot pay upfront money if they don't believe that you will deliver the product,” he said.
It was interesting to hear from Antoine how social media can be so impactful. Nowadays, so many of us are dependent on social media. Rather than wasting so much time looking at posts on Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook, I can use this opportunity to generate revenue by publicizing and posting items I would like to sell. This is particularly applicable to me as I am planning to open a coffee shop.
I learned from Antoine that we have to value what matters most in our life, not what others require from us. We are not born to fulfill others’ expectations of us. We do need to be grateful and open to others who invest in our goals, like Antoine’s brother who came along and provided the initial loan to credit one shirt.
I was also able to see that one of the keys to Antoine’s success is putting clients at the center of business as their satisfaction leads to credibility.
Antoine serves as an example of someone who didn’t let a difficult upbringing deter him from following his dream. He thought outside the box and is now an entrepreneur. In the process of doing so, he also provides a source of inspiration for others like me.
Antoine is founder of Ingenzi-Art-Collection. Contact him via email@example.com.
Seruhungo Ndagijimana is a student at Kepler, Southern New Hampshire University, Global Education Movement in Rwanda. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.