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Get to Know House of Tayo’s Matthew Rugamba

July 21, 2015

When I sat down to talk to Matthew Rugamba, the upcoming star of the Africa Channel series House of Tayo: Journey of a Rwandan Designer, I expected to speak to an upcoming fashion designer about the typical topics: inspirations, background and how being from Rwanda inspires his designs. But what I found is probably what most people find when they talk to him – do not underestimate this 25-year-old.

First off, Matthew’s journey to becoming a Kigali-based designer is fascinating in its own right, and the plans this young man is drawing up kept me wanting to hear more. One thing is for sure: He is one to watch.

Matthew is way more than a fashion designer. He has designs on creating a lifestyle brand, reaching far beyond his current successful line of bow ties and accessories. For him, it’s just his start.

“Deadlines rule my life,” Rugamba told me via phone from Kigali, where he was managing his line, special events for clients, future travel plans to the U.S., investors, and future plans to Sweden. He recently returned from China.

It’s clear he needs deadlines to get it all done.

“Kigali is my hometown now, but I grew up in many different cities.”

That’s an understatement. Try to keep up: Rugamba was born in London, moved to Uganda around age six, and then, at about 12 or 13, went to boarding school in Kenya for three years. Then it was off to Swaziland for two years, and back to London for a gap year.

During college in the United States, House of Tayo was born in August 2011.

“It just happened. It wasn’t something I really sat down and planned. While I was in college my family was living in Rwanda and I came home for the summer. I did some pieces and the popularity picked up, so it just happened. I didn’t want to sit back and let someone take my idea or I’d regret that for my life.”

“I had a summer job and made a bunch of money and went on holiday with friends,” Rugamba said. “Then I came back to Kigali, and I said I want to do a lot more than just use the money to buy books. I wanted to invest in something and do something with the money left over. I went to the market and bought fabric, then I met a lady who could help me with the sewing maching. Then it happened.”

Yes, he is ambitious, and also humble. It’s as if he is amazed at how that simple desire is leading to the empire he wants to create.

Though he has lived around Africa, in Europe and in the U.S., be assured that it is Africa that is his chief inspiration. He is using fashion to try to inform people about Africa.

“When I moved to the states it was a culture shock, people didn’t really know about Africa, and Rwanda in particular. They just knew about the genocide; it frustrated me my first two years in college, really. I raised my hand and tried to talk about how things were different, and there’s a limit to how much you can do that. My opinion has been changed more by things that are emotional. So if I create something with an emotional connection, it can change people’s opinions. Even if I don’t know the facts and hear about fashion in Iraq, it changes my mind.”

But really, I had to know: How did the bow ties become his thing?

“In my studies I read about pan Africanism,” Rugamba said. “And I read about Patrice Lmumbda, and Patrice Lmumbda always wore bow ties. And I’ve always liked bow ties. I just felt they are a symbol of dignity. You think about important dinners, black tie affairs, professors. It’s a small piece of clothing, but there is a lot attached to it. Sunday’s best in church.”

Yes, Rugamba is a man who knows where he is from, and he is looking to where he wants to go.

“I’m looking to do things that are different. House of Tayo needs to be more than just fashion. I’ve been developing House of Tayo aesthetic and philosophy and I want to be able to publish books and curate art exhibits and exhibitions, I want to be able to do a lot more.”

And we all can’t wait to watch. Check out House of Tayo on The Africa Channel website starting July 31.


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