African Heritage, American Home

For many people, fashion is a powerful means of self-expressiona way to make a statement. 

Clothing has long been tied to identity for me, though not always in the most positive sense. 

I immigrated to the United States from Africa with my family when I was a little girl, and initially, I felt out of place. I was unfamiliar with the language and the culture. In my desperation to fit in, I grew ashamed of my heritage, afraid to let it slip outside the comfort of our home. 

When we would go shopping for new school clothes, my mother would wear her traditional African outfits, and I would feel like hiding. The vibrant colors and bold patterns drew attention to us, and I wished I could melt into the floor or disappear between racks of sweaters at the mall. 

I was embarrassed and a little bit scared for her. I felt people staring at her outfits, and I worried about what they might be thinking.

Not my mother though. She wore her traditional clothes with pride and often said to me and my siblings, “Never be ashamed of who you are or where you come from.”

My mom (left) has never been afraid to be herself.

She urged us to wear our own bright and bold pieces, but I always responded, “I just want to fit in.”

It took me a long time to come around to her way of seeing things. From peers at school and shows on television, I learned which styles were deemed cool, and I diligently molded myself to melt into the crowd, safe from the possibility of judgment.

But from the day I moved to America I knew that, like it or not, my identity would be of two worlds.

With the help of my loving parents and our caring church family, I grew comfortable in the United States, and it became my home. Still, my African heritage is an undeniably beautiful part of me.

My heart has always beat to the African drum, and as I’ve grown older, that beat has quickened and become louder. I began dreaming of ways to bring the American and the African cultures together in one harmonic tune. 

Looking back, I realize that the people in the mall or the grocery store were in awe of my mother’s confidence. They were intrigued by the designs and the outfits, and it took me until I was in my late twenties to realize that they were simply curious about the beautiful clothing.

For a long time, I imagined this dream as my own women’s fashion boutique. It couldn’t be just any boutique though. It would have to represent who I am, fully. 

This inspired me to create a boutique that could bridge western and African styles. My goal with Ubwiza is to bring two cultures together, and I’m so excited to be launching that journey.

While it might seem like “just clothes” to you, the pieces I’m bringing in from my home country of Rwanda mean the world to me. Clothes may seem like a small aspect of our identities, but sometimes all it takes is one small element to spark a conversation and build a lasting relationship. 

Through these clothes, I am redeeming years of leaving part of my identity folded away in a drawer, gathering dust.

Through these clothes, I hope to share my culture and my story with our community. 

Through these beautiful, colorful clothes, I am embracing both my African heritage and my American home. 

Will you join me?

Ubwiza means “beauty” in my native language, and beauty is for everyone. Follow along with us as we continue to build this dream. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses cookies to offer you a better browsing experience. By browsing this website, you agree to our use of cookies.