Ode to elegance: Meet the 'Afro-dandies'

Story highlights

  • Rwandan student was living in Portland, U.S. when he came up with the idea for House of Tayo
  • An accessories brand that accentuates African color, textiles and fabric into Western pieces
  • Despite no formal business training, Rugamba has struck a chord with the fashion fans
Every week, African Start-Up follows entrepreneurs in various countries across the continent to see how they are working to make their business dreams become reality.

Kigali, Rwanda (CNN)The dandy look has long been associated with the style of the quintessential gentleman. It's elegant and sophisticated with sharp lines and immaculately tailored suits. But certain gentlemen in various parts of Africa have now taken the look to the next level.

These dapper dressers can often be seen strutting down the streets of Kinshasa or Brazzaville, as is the case with the Congo's "sapeurs." And now, thanks to up-and-coming "Afro-dandy" designer Matthew Rugamba, the look has also emerged in the Rwandan capital of Kigali -- but with a more local twist.
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Classy and elegant, Rugamba's label House of Tayo combines bold African patterns and textures with western accessories to produce wax-print bow ties, colorful pocket squares and infinite scarfs for "Afro-dandies" in Rwanda and beyond.
    We sat down with sartorially chic Rugamba to chat all things dandy: how to get the look; African influences; style icons and who he'd most like to see don his designs.
    CNN: Tell me what you mean when you describe the House of Tayo style as "Afro-dandyism?"
    Matthew Rugamba: It hits the nail on the head for my style and what I try to do with my pieces. The additional use of color, patterns, texture -- it's uniquely African. Then going to boarding schools -- you had to have your shirt tucked in, tie done. So many different influences have had an impact on me and helped me deliver my personal style which I have integrated into House of Tayo.
    CNN: And what's this different side of Africa that you want to show?
    MR: One of the reasons I started House of Tayo was because I was actually going to school in the United States, and I had so many questions about how life is in Rwanda. Many people had these negative assumptions. They had notions of how bad life was here, poverty, war. And it used to bug me a lot.
    CNN: So you got sick of telling your friends they were wrong all the time?
    MR: Not necessarily my friends because I talk to them all the time. Just different people. It could be as random as the coffee shop conversation while you're waiting in line, those were the bits and pieces that would get under my skin. At least with my friends i could say, "Guys, come on! Let me show you pictures. You could visit me."And it was just this other ... you sit in a classroom and there is a limit to the amount of times you can correct people or even just if you are meeting someone for the first time, you're not going to go into this tirade of why you believe that their perceptions were wrong.
    CNN: Fair enough. Well what about House of Tayo showcases the styles and influences from Rwanda, then?
    MR: I think it's not necessarily Rwanda alone because I also lived in a couple of African countries, but I feel like general use of color, variation and also the presentation. Also the fact that its made in Rwanda and I'm using bits and pieces that are sourced locally. One of the things that I started doing, the sliders and the hooks for the soft tie bow ties, are made out of cow horn for my newest collect. Cows are a big part of our culture here in terms of dowry and sustenance and history.
    CNN: Style icons?
    MR: I'd say Ozwald Boateng. Reading his story, it's just fascinating and he's also African, originated from Ghana. His unique use of color while intertwined with his personal experience and history with British tailoring -- he's up there for my style icons.
    CNN: With you being a new startup, which designer label would you most like to emulate?
    MR: Burberry. They remain contemporary and release collections like every other designer but there is a strong sense of heritage and history there that I really admire.
    CNN: Do you have a favorite piece from your latest collection?
    MR: I've been figuring out how I can recreate the experience of going to your tailor and having something made for you and recently I partnered with a company called "Full Circle" based here in Rwanda and we've been developing an app. There's a special collection of bow ties I'm making right now and what will happen, the box will have a QR code and when you scan the QR code you can see your bow tie being made.
    CNN: Cool combination of combining tech to the label.
    MR: It's also bridging that gap between the customer and the person making the product in a way that I haven't really seen being done before. And for me that's really amazing that half way across the world my customers would be able to see the working conditions, be able to almost have a personal connection with both the brand and the person that made the product. I think it will be really cool.
    CNN: So who'd you most like to see wearing your designs on the red carpet?
    MR: Celebrities who are bold. Celebrities who are fearless and have a real sense of self. A few of the names that come to mind are; Pharrell, Janelle Monae, Samira Wiley, Idris Elba, Serge Ibaka, Tinie Tempah, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lupita Nyong'o, Michael K. Williams.
    CNN: Right, last question: what advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
    MR: You have to take that leap of faith, if you feel so strongly about it then do it. I feel like if you feel strongly enough about something you will do it. It doesn't matter if you're an extravert, introvert, you will start something.