Reflections With Edi Muyishime

Nairobi, April 2022 

I stumbled across Edi Muyishime’s work in 2020, right in the thick of the pandemic. What struck me the most was how beautiful and effusive the pieces in a year that felt bleak and stagnant for all of us. Colour, volume and extravagance are hallmarks of this stellar designer’s work, and I was eager to have a one-on-one with him and get into his mind.

Edi describes himself as not just a designer but a creative visionary and a scholar because learning never ends. He spent his childhood in Kigali, Rwanda, and his memories of Kigali are a big part of his inspiration. “My childhood was light and beautiful; I vividly remember these flowers we called Saint Joseph’s, a type of lily – my mum had planted so many of them in her garden. I can almost smell these flowers when I think of Rwanda”. This resonated with me so much because we carry little elements of our formative years without even knowing it, and just like those Saint Joseph lilies, Edi’s work has a youthful exuberance to it that is framed by these childhood images. 

His mother was a seamstress, and she had an atelier and hired tailors to work in it. She learned  from her father, a skilled coat maker who was an apprentice to French missionaries in Rwanda. So naturally, this lineage influenced his interest in garments. “I love my mum to bits; it was pretty strange for a young boy to want a doll, but she gave in and got me one, and I made gowns with scraps of fabric from her atelier. Soon enough, the girls in the neighborhood brought their dolls, so I also made little gowns for them”.

An essential facet of his creative process is wistfulness; when he meditates and thinks ahead, images of abundance permeate his mind, and aside from being present in his design, it’s how he lives his life. “When I wish for things in life, I never aim for the bare minimum; I’m always open to the most that the universe can give me”.

Edi completed his secondary school education and immediately knew he wanted to go to fashion school. Initially, his parents weren’t convinced. “I told them I wanted to be a fashion designer because the President (Uhuru’s) son was a designer, and they lightly reminded me that I wasn’t the president’s son”. We all know that African parents have a fear of arts degrees and I know that it stems from them seeing that people in the arts aren’t often appreciated or able to make a sustainable living.  Luckily, things have been changing and Edi made a statement that felt like such a positive challenge to myself and any other creatives and it’s to make art so good that your parents are proud of it. This isn’t to say that we need parental validation, but when you do your thing and enjoy it, they just might understand and respect your process.  

His parents eventually agreed (yaay!) and he began his degree at Kenyatta University, Nairobi. Many opportunities came up for Edi to use his design skills in school, and he took each one, from making dresses for the university pageant queens to outfits for the university cultural weeks. His designs stood out through all of this because they were so unique, and he became the go-to designer on campus for gowns that make a statement.

Whenever his mother sees him hard at work, she’s amazed. “It’s truly in your blood. I never knew that I would have a son who would take this path as well”.  These words ring true because each piece he makes speaks back on two generations worth of creativity in design, and he’s taking it forward. 

Trying to be seen and understood as an individual designer is difficult, but what makes it more so is putting creatives into boxes. As Edi tackles a new line for 2022, we reflect on what it means to be an African designer and all the expectations that come with that designation; “If I use something that’s not African fabric, I’m termed as not African enough. Me being African is  enough”. 

 For Edi, it’s not about pleasing people but about what inspires him as an individual and as an artist.  “I design according to how I feel, good or bad, and I will make something breathtaking out of it. My environment influences my design, and I love elegant silhouettes and volume. Many local designers’ are sparing with fabric but I’m the opposite. If my idea is to do a stunning ball gown, I will use up to 20 meters of fabric”. The fact that Edi creates through the bad moments as well reinforces the fact that creating even through the hardship can be not only rewarding, but also a form of catharsis. 

Some of his influences are Alexander McQueen, John Galliano and Christobal Balenciaga, the trifecta of memorable, avant-garde fashion (at this point in the interview, there’s a lil’ intermission because now we’ve gone ham and are even exchanging book recommendations and analyzing shows and patterns). His choice of influences are all big designers in haute couture; they’re larger than life. Pandemic fashion, sweatpants and matching sets have brought minimalism back, but as a self-confessed maximalist I deeply appreciate the theatre of a big, dramatic showstopping garment.  

Edi is done with school now and things are looking up for the designer who stands at 6’5 (You better be laughing hehe). He has several series and collections to his name and was featured in Vogue Italia and at the Arise Fashion Week in 2020, and he is still consistently pushing the limits in his imagination. “I’m currently studying medieval paintings and the Fulani and Rwandese cultures. I don’t want to talk about it too much Crystal, but there’s something cooking, sis, and it’s different”.