By Florence Kyohangirwe
Photo editing by: Jamie Sprout
Video by: Megan Lee
Videographer: Dorian Goerke
Burundi designer Juan Nsabiye of Style by Juan is a force taking over East African fashion. Currently based in Rwanda’s capital Kigali, Juan is steadily rising up to become one of the most sought after designers, known for his timeless, tailored suits.
The EA Scene sat down with him for an interview.
Who is Juan Nsabiye?
Juan Nsabiye is a 26 year old Burundian living mostly in Kigali and sometimes between other East African cities. He designs tailored suits and on many days, will be found wearing suits apart from a few exceptions like now.
He enjoys everything about style and trends, what he wears is influenced by timeless and classic touches.
How long have you been designing?
Officially it has been about three years doing it full-time and professionally but I can’t remember the exact time I started playing around with outfits, accessories, prints and creating looks using what I already had in my wardrobe. I would say as early as I can remember. Since I was a kid I always enjoyed dressing up and having fun with outfits, I was putting on unconventional and unexpected style even as a ten year old. I was wearing styles you wouldn’t expect from a ten year old kid. On moving to Kigali, I was working first as a stylist that was between end of 2014 and early 2015, then I became a designer full time in 2017.
How would you define fashion?
Fashion for me is a way of expression and is also a lifestyle. It is undeniable. It can be good or bad but it has to be there. It’s all fashion. You may disregard it and wake up every morning and throw on whatever you want without a care, that’s how you are expressing yourself and presenting yourself to the whole world, so you can have fun with it or you can just have it as a necessity.
What was your experience like moving from Burundi to Rwanda and making strides for your brand?
When I moved to Rwanda five years ago, i wasn’t even thinking about the fashion, I just wanted a fresh start away from Bujumbura and Kigali happened to be the closest city.
I wasn’t planning yet to start a fashion brand. I was rather just exploring the possibilities around Kigali. My fashion didn’t really blend in with Kigali scene and the trends at all. I was wearing tailored fitted suits, a style you will not find a 21 or 22 year old wearing Monday to Sunday. That was attracting a lot of attention. It was strange at first but that’s how i discovered the need and an opportunity to bring the trend to Kigali streets.
What inspires your designs?
My personal style is my first inspiration, then my love of combining colors. I love prints.
I love cuts, details, figures, patterns. all those, you will find on my suits.
Why did you choose fashion as a career?
I didn’t choose fashion as a career, it found me. At first I was doing the designs for myself, then it went from that to me designing for my close friends that liked it, and later people I met would ask me where I buy my suits and wanted the same, and I would tell them, “Oh I made it myself“, then they would ask me to make for them. That’s how it started. I then started making accessories and adding them to these suits, then moved on to creating small collections, and now here we are. I have come from just loving fashion and being passionate about arts to becoming a designer.
What’s your favorite part about designing?
My favorite part about it all is seeing the satisfaction, connection and reaction from my clients or the people who experience my designs. Seeing their face brightening up
when i deliver their orders gives me an unexplained amount of joy. When someone loves how they look in their clothes, it will impact her mood and her attitude, how they do their job and what kind of day they have. So for my designs to be able to create that makes me feel successful as a creator.
Do you stay on top of trends or trend-jack whatever is popping?
I don’t try to stay on top of trends because my pieces are timeless. They are pieces you could probably put on 10 years ago and can probably put on 20, 30 or more years from now. I’m not worried about new trends even though they are very fun and and exciting and I can play around with them. I especially love trending colors since I can play around with them and create timeless pieces. I don’t consider myself very much of a trend follower because I’m very specific about what I like and want to see.
What does the future hold? What should we expect from the suit guy?
I’m a very spontaneous person and so is my artistic side so I don’t worry much about where I see myself in the future and what to look forward to. I’m just excited to see what comes and whatever will happen in five, ten, or 15 years. I enjoy every step of my journey. Right now I compare myself to how far i have come. I compare what i was doing 5 or so years ago and I’m grateful for how far i have come.
There are many young designers trying to have a break through, what tips can you offer them?
I believe in consistency. For every young talent or anyone looking to pursue fashion, not just as a designer, it can be as a model, stylist, influencer and others, the most important virtue is persistence. The more you do, the more you practice, the more and the better you learn. You will go from mediocrity to being perfect at your craft, so be consistent and believe in yourself.