Meet one of Rwanda’s most creative behind one of the country’s most admired hand-made brands.
Please introduce yourself to our readers
My name is Bernadette Umunyana, I am founder and CEO of Dokmai Rwanda Ltd, a private, family owned, small handicraft manufacturing and exporting leather handbags/accessories for men and women. With a workshop in Kacyiru, Red Cross compound and a show and sales store at Lemigo Hotel.
What does your day to day job entail?
As Dokmai Rwanda is still a small company I am kind of a “Jack of all trades”, in charge of the overall management of the company. With regard to our products I screen constantly the web to keep myself informed on fashion trends and colors in order to design products for my clients with a touch of Rwanda. But most of all I supervise the quality of products as I am convinced that top quality at affordable prices is the key to my company’s success.
Dokmai is a brand known around the world now, how did it start, how were your early days?
I had gained experience in managing and producing fashion articles during my many years in countries outside of Rwanda, I started the production of clothing using my own, home produced batiks (in Burkina Faso), and produced and exported hand-woven silk fashion items in PDR Laos where my company was Fair Trade recognized. Coming back with my family to Rwanda in 2014 I decided to continue previous activities by identifying the leather fashion sector as most promising. Consequently I convinced my family to invest in this sector and in December 2014 I started DOKMAI Rwanda Ltd (DOKMAI = a Thai/Lao word for success had been the name of my previous company already)
With two skilled leather workers. Today I employ 16 people permanently of whom 60% women, mainly trained in-house and on the job and I continue to offer job opportunities for young women and men starting as trainees in my company.
How’s the brand perceived on the local market?
Dokmai Products (the name Dokmai is now a registered trademark) are well received in Rwanda as well by better off Rwandans as by expatriates in the country. I must admit that my products – being of top quality by using best raw materials and haberdashery – are rather on the upper price scale and I am assessing alternatives to offer fashionable products at budget prices to more customers as I feel that all Rwandan women have a desire to be chic and trendy.
What the philosophy behind your business model?
My philosophy can be resumed in one word “no compromise in quality” which is reflected in my choice of raw material, workshop equipment, staff motivation. A business can only be successful if it is able to obtain highest customer satisfaction and I have so far observed that word of mouth recommendations of satisfied customers are more efficient than google ad campaigns.
Tell us more about the community that you work with and the role they play in bringing each one of your product to life?
Dokmai Rwanda is not a cooperative or NGO but a commercial enterprise working with highly skilled and motivated and consequently well paid employees. I adhere to the principles of women empowerment, Fair Trade and entrepreneurial social and environmental responsibilities. Consequently I also assume some responsibilities in my village being in charge of women affairs.
What’s your take on the “Made-in-Rwanda movement”?
The “Made in Rwanda” movement is for me the best way to promote local production and to create local, sustainable jobs, Projects come and go and often have little lasting impact whereas the private sector and in particular business women are the key for national economic development core for successful Made in Rwanda is however “quality”. Competing with imports is only possible when locally made products equal or even exceed the quality of imports. It will take some time to convince local consumers to accept that domestic products can fulfill all expectations.
Is there a future for handcrafted products made by locals for the local market?
In the broader fashion sector there is always room for a local handcraft manufacturer as they are the one which can customize their product to the requirement of their clients. Evidently such a service and the deriving product will be more expensive than an “off-the-shelf” products. But Rwandan women and men are fashion conscious and most likely willing to pay for the extra of having something unique.
Where do you see Dokmai in the next five years?
We just have developed a five year business plan focusing on an increase of domestic sales through diversification of our products line and to an intensification of exports thanks to all efforts and support provided by the Rwandan Government directly and through partners like Minicom, ITC, GIZ, and DHL. Dokmai offers also Dokmai Rwanda also offers ODM manufacturing (Original Design Manufacturing) for other domestic and foreign companies.
Imagine you are a customer and walks for the first time in a Dokmai store, what would you buy?
When looking at all the marvelous exhibits in my shop I would not really know what to chose, it all depends on your current needs, if you need a handbag you will find one and if you do not see what you want to acquire, have a look at our printed catalogue or at the “Gallery” in our website where you may find products from previous production years. And finally, ask me and maybe we can customize a product for you. In fact, Dokmai Rwanda is able to produce customized products within reasonable delays even if not existing pattern is available. This is one of my skills to develop a product for a customer from the scratch. Smaller customizing issues can also be solved e.g. to get your company logo or name on a product. Don’t hesitate to ask me.
Anything else you would like to add?
Key issues in particular for the export of products which need to be solved are
- The absence of a payment gateway like PAYPAL
- Tax refund for foreign (tourist) buyers of domestic products at the airport (like in Kenya)
- A national label of trust for exporting companies similar to the Alibaba Gold seller badge providing trust to e-commerce customers who have no chance to check a domestic company and who are obliged to pay already for their products when ordering without having seen the product.
Explore the creativity of the Dokmai Team!