Journalist and freelance writer, Brenda Ibarah talks with Nuba Elamin, co-founder of Buqisi Ruux, a Ugandan shoe-maker with a mission to share a piece of Africa with the world through its unique high heels.
We’re a chic African shoe brand based in Uganda and Kenya that designs bold and colourful African print high heeled shoes for the go-getter African woman. Tetsi and Lynn (Bugaari) and I launched Buqisi Ruux in 2014. With barely any entrepreneurial skills but lots of passion and guts, we set out to build brand that uses women’s love of shoes to celebrate stories of successful African women who inspire other African women. The name, Buqisi-Ruux, means “Queen of the Village”. Buqisi comes from an ancient Egyptian word meaning Queen while Ruux represents our home-town Rukungiri in western Uganda. The name symbolizes our African heritage and sense of royalty and pride we want women to feel when they wear a pair of our shoes.
What inspired the Buqisi Ruux idea ?
We were living in Nairobi when we came up with the idea. We had recently graduated from college and were looking for jobs, but the process was not as easy as we expected. One day as we were sitting around the house and talking about why we needed to wait for someone to validate our abilities and rather would we not start a business that combined all our interests: Lynn is obsessed with shoes, Tetsi has a creative brain and is good at designs, and I like trying out new things. I was excited to learn anything I could about the business. We did a lot research and eventually came up with a business plan. The initial loan to launch and manufacture came from family, but over time we have reinvested back into the business to grow it as necessary.
Why African print shoes? What makes you stand out?
We love African prints and saw there was a gap in the market. Most people do cloth or flat shoes but we had not come across many people doing quality high-heeled shoes in kitenge or other African prints, so we went for it. What sets us apart is the fact that our shoes are made from scratch. Tetsi, our creative director, comes up with the design and concept. The shoes are also named after African women who we believe are making big moves. We sit down with these ladies and create a shoe based on their personalities. In this way, each shoe has a personal story that inspires other African women. For example, our latest collection is called “Ainebyona” named after Hilda Ainebyona Kabushenga. This young lady is a go-getter and trailblazer who’s extremely smart and focused. We named the shoe after her because she truly is an inspiration at such a young age having achieved what she has.
“We are, first and foremost, a footwear brand that celebrates African women and all they represent: diversity, vibrancy and boldness. Our shoes are more than just a fashion statement, they are wearable pieces of art; each high heel is an expression of gratitude towards the women closest to us, the women who inspire and move us to be better.”
How has the market received you? And what are some of the challenges you have faced so far?
There’s been a lot of interest – women love the shoes – but we’ve also experienced highs and lows just like any other start ups. When it comes to Uganda and Kenya, the government is not very supportive of startups. There’s too much red tape so it’s not easy. Also, we’d love to manufacture locally, but we have to identify a company that can produce the variety of heels we design. It’s our dream, so we’ll work to make it happen. But in the meantime, it’s not just about the shoes. There are so many African women doing amazing things, but they are hardly recognized and there’s no excuse because now we live in a global village. And so we are telling stories of different African women because we want to inspire the next generation of women and that is coming together well, so far.
There are many African print brands on the market today, how do you stay ahead of the curve in this business?
By being innovative! We also watch the trends and stay in constant collaboration with our clients to know what they want. There are very many African fabrics to play around with, so we never run out of ideas. More than that, we make sure to be authentic with our products so as to avoid being like every other African print brand.
Many women desire to have businesses of their own but very few have the guts to start out. What advice would you give to anyone interested in starting their own business?
It is not easy starting a business, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. Take the risk because it is worth it. However, situations vary for different individuals. Some might worry about job financial security and others might be held back by other demanding responsibilities. Personally I didn’t have a demanding job or family to worry about. This is the only time I can do something for myself. But whatever your situation is, I say try it out. It’s really worth it.
You don’t need a diploma or a degree for that matter. They can be helpful, yes, but if you don’t have one, you shouldn’t worry about it. If you’re passionate enough about something and are willing to work hard, you can be successful at it. This goes for any other interests, not just business. All you need is passion and the desire to see it through. Also there are very many business workshops and short courses out there. If you really feel like you need some training, you can do one of those.
But at the end of the day, all you need to do is to start and not stop.
And in case you are wondering … you can order these fabulous shoes from anywhere in the world!
Watch this short introductory video with the BUQISI RUUX founders:
Brenda Ibarah is a passionate multimedia journalist, freelance writer and creative entrepreneur living and writing in Kampala. She has previously worked in television and radio and is currently pursuing her long life dream of filmmaking. You can find more of her work in AfroElleMagazine. You can connect with Brenda on Twitter @Ibaraherself