Mille Collines: Barcelona-Kigali fashion connection

Mille Collines Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa

Mille Collines Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa

Renzo Russo Founder of Diesel “I think working in Africa is both brave and smart: Brave because we are currently investing our time and money in building know-how in these parts of the world; and smart because Africa is the next big market, as the Chinese have already understood before anyone else. I don’t feel I am doing it because of philanthropy. We are doing it to generate sustainable development.”

Inés Cuatrecasas and her business partner Marc Oliver come from one of the European design capitals: luminous Barcelona. Nevertheless, their professional career made and unexpected turn: a 5,588km one to be precise, and now they are leading Mille Collines fashion brand from Kigali, Rwanda capital city. Thanks to it, they hope to contribute to the development of the country and to how African products are perceived in other countries.

Their way of looking at things is local and global at the same time, artisan and avant-garde, a spirit rooted in capturing the best of different worlds, just the kind of vision that we admire in Dragonfruit.

Mille Collines Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa

Mille Collines Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa

Last October they presented their latest collection in Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg: “the adrenaline rush that it means to our team, the experience, the mind opening… it’s priceless”. This year they hope to increment their presence in the fashion hub of the continent (Johannesburg, Laos, Angola…). Despite they are busy with the first steps of their online shop and designing their first male line, Inés spared a little time to tell us about their adventure:

African fashion is greatly unkown in Europe. How come a catalan girl gets interested in it?
Because of personal reasons I have had a strong bond with African continent since my childhood and I have been able to travel there may times. In my career as a designer, Africa has always been my muse. Fashion appeals me because of it’s sociologic side, as a tool to change the consumer’s mind and to fill in an unkown necessity.

I arrived to Rwanda for the first time in Summer of 2005, in coop with a Fundation. While I was there I met a rwandese woman, -Antoinette- strong, passionate and a fighter. We connected very quickly. She had worked her whole life in couture, and now she teaches sewing, as well as many other things. Inspired by Antoinette I came back a year later with Marc, my business partner, and we piloted our first collection. The result was much more positive than we had expeted. After successfully testing the outcome of the colledtion, a year later we founded the brand.

What new things has African fashion taught you? Why does it inspire you?
Because of the access it grants us to artisans and artisan techniques, very hard to find in Europe nowadays. Rwanda has allowed us to create a structure where we participate in the whole process. Africa is inspiration. Besides the less tangible feelings that made us fall in love with this continent, this place drags you to the essence of creation. As it used to be in Europe during the ’50s, were you were part and witness in every step of the process of developing a product. As designers, it is a privilege.

What defines Mille Collines’ style? What does it borrow from each place?
Mille Collines speaks of contrast. It feeds from two very different and strong influences. It dresses a woman who isn’t afraid of a changing world, who believes that through diversity we get closer to a more sophisticated kind of richness. A woman who values a high quality and unique product: every piece is handmade. Mille Collines woman feels connection with Africa. Be it because she is African and this brand speaks to her about her land, where she lives and her home is, or be it because she is far away and she feels a poignant longing. In an ever more global world there is room for a product that fusions and makes those influences get closer, that is, the mirror of the historical moment we are currently living in.

Why Rwanda? How did you get to live and work in there?
We get asked this question often. Africa and fashion are almost antagonic concepts currently. In this country we have set up an able team, there is a very high number of qualified professionals that don’t have many opportunities. We have discovered an unexplored territory to create items that, to many people’s surprise, are made in Africa and are sophisticated. Besides, Rwanda is a “kind” african country, that turns the day to day into a pleasent routine devoid of unpleasent surprises. It’s small size allow as to work with people located in very different parts of the country and not losing control of the productions.

If entrepeneurship is not specially easy for the young people of today, the few news about Rwanda that reach western countries paint a mental image full of bloody conflics and insecurity. I ask Inés if this was a hindrance to them. She denies it:

We arrived to Rwanda with more information than that appearing in the press or TV. We had travelled the country before to visit the projects of an NGO founded by my mother, África Digna (Dignified/Worthy Africa). Rwanda is much better than imagined, there have been many changes in the last years. In fact, the country is known as “the African Switzerland” because of the degree of security and stability it offers to foreing investors.

The media stresses out so much the negative side, that when you land here you become very surprised at all the good things they never tell you. This helps adapting faster. Today, in our experience, we can say that these many preconceived ideas about African reality are unfairly exaggerated.


Do you collaborate with local artisans?
Yes, there are 270 local artisans collaborating with our brand today. In the raffia, tin, horn, embroidery, cristal and aluminium cooperatives.

But entrepeneurship in Africa today is not only based in tradition but also in the new technologies:

We use them a lot. We work a lot with social networks, we connect every shop and every team through Facebook. It’s important that all of them are exposed to what is happening at the other end of the chain, that there is a space where they can generate projects with each other, were they can chat and contact, social networks have helped greatly altough there is still a barrier to be overcomed face to face, we solve this issue with regular meetings.

The tin atelier

The tin atelier

How do you see Burberry and other prestige brands’ appropiation of African fashion elements?
Communicating Africa is always interesting, but in many cases it’s just a trend, and that has an expiration date on it.

Is there an “African fashion”or are there too many differences among the different countries?
Undoubtely, there are common patterns. More than the traditional fashion, currently we can talk about a professional and exportable fashion: Globalization has provided the African people with tools for creating a product that can compete with the rest of the world. I’d want that it would be known what is Rwanda and Africa today, the many opportunities that are unfolding. Many people would get surprised.

The office

The office

We’ll keep an eye in Mille Collines’ challenges for this year. Whoever who wants to join, can follow their blog. Shortly, clothing items will be available as well in the online shop.

9 Responses to “Mille Collines: Barcelona-Kigali fashion connection”

  1. Amaia says:

    Lo cierto es que estas iniciativas animan a superar barreras, porque parece que cuando hablamos de proyectos internacionales miramos siempre “hacia arriba”. Un descubrimiento de marca que voy a seguir a partir de hora. Gracias por la referencia!

  2. Raúl says:

    Interesante proyecto. Tanto por el diseño novedoso,como por contribuir al desarrollo de una región siempre necesitada de iniciativas como esta.

  3. Itsa says:

    Gracias por descubrir un proyecto tan interesante: en un momento en el que nadie arriesga, conocer proyectos innovadores aporta esperanza y es un soplo de aire fresco en el panorama de la moda, donde prima el marketing y la copia, por encima del diseño y de la calidad del producto.

    Merece la pena dejar los trapos en las perchas del señor Amancio, e invertir en el trabajo bien hecho, con tradición, calidad y amor; sabiendo que tienes colgado en tu armario una pequeña joyita, un pedacito de África en este caso.

    Gracias por este tipo de posts, esto sí que es un blog de moda con mayúsculas!

  4. me gustó el post.Lo seguiré por rss. Enhorabuena

  5. A.Kenya says:

    I have become familiar with this brand since moving back to Kenya from the U.S. This brand appropriates the culture of Africa for its own monetary gain. And nothing more. This brand cannot be considered a social innovation: it employs local artisans for their LABOR. And what is worst, they put white models in their clothing for sales abroad. It is shameful esp. since they say that they want to change the perception of Africa to the world!! But who are they to validate the culture of Africa to the outside world? Go back home. We don’t need your foreign investment. We do not need youre validation.

    • admin says:

      A. Kenya, I am not related to the brand and I can see your point: you think a European bran is appropiating African culture and profiting from it.

      I have some observations:
      -for what I know (although I’m not related to the company) Mile Collines have their atelier and HQ in Rwanda. Local people are not only labor but part of the team in every other department.

      -Of course African culture doesn’t need to be validated by anyone, but spreading the knowledge and appreciation to those unfamiliar with a culture, to me, is never bad.

      I’m all up for mix and match. I think the best ideas come from blending. And I would love to see African brands playing with European traditions.There’s a time for purity and respecting traditions and another one for culture mixing.

      Thanks for you comment.

  6. Dolors Rocafull says:

    Estoy interesada en comprar unas piezas de collar redondas que vi en una tienda.
    Quería comprar una cantidad, es posible?

    • admin says:

      Dolors, Yo no tengo contacto con los pedidos ni soy de Mille Collines. No obstante, como les conozco, les he remitido tu consulta.

      Saludos y gracias

  7. Maria de Fátima Barbosa says:

    Onde puedo comprar esta ropa?

    Esto si que es um proyecto con maiúsculas !!!!!! Felicidades

Leave a Reply to Raúl