There is so much talent bursting out of our beautiful continent and today we chit chat with one of Africa’s rising stars.
One thing we know for sure is that you can never stop a person on a mission to succeed and Tania Habimana, a Rwandan born entrepreneur, television personality and tailor is definitely a girl with a plan.
Having lived in Europe for quite sometime, Ms. Habimana seems to be doing a great job at settling in the vibrant city of Johannesburg, South Africa.
Today we chat all about her life as an African entrepreneur, her setbacks plus her new show Tailored Business which not only chronicles Tania making suits for elite business persons but also seizes the opportunity to interview and gain insights from successful Africans.
Let’s get chatting…..
—–What inspired your decision to relocate?
I’ve always wanted to live in Africa, but to be honest; my heart was set on Nigeria. To this day, I’m still not sure why but I always felt a strong affiliation with Nigeria.
—–How did a Rwandan girl find herself living in the vibrant city of Johannesburg?
I was running the operations of a Dutch men’s fashion brand, Suitsupply, for which their first African brick and mortar location was Johannesburg. They’d done a few pop-up shops before on the continent, and had even been shooting all of their marketing campaigns in Cape Town for the past 10 years or so. But really for the brand, the best for a first city location was Johannesburg, so off I went to set it up.
—–Still on the topic of Rwanda, have you ever been to your country?
Yes of course, it’s my second home! I’m there whenever I have time, usually every 2 months.
—–That’s good to know, Now tell us all the scoop about your new show Tailored Business?
The show basically follows me as I attempt to build my pan-african tailoring business. I’d discovered whilst working for Suitsupply, that the nature of my job (making luxury tailored suits) led me to meet very influential and established businesspeople, and of course, because I spend hours making a suit for them, I really got the opportunity to get to know them and even learn from some of their business wisdom. So during the show, I use my “client”-network to gain access to prominent businesspeople whom I interview, gain tips and insights on how to grow my business. And then, well, with the tips, I go and try to apply them.
So the show is like a double secret-door, one into the life of a starter entrepreneur, and the other into the learnings of established businesspeople.
—–How long have you been in the creative industry?
I want to say my whole life really. I feel like from the moment that you’re attempting something new, you’re in the industry of “creating”.
—–Let’s go back into time, could you describe the life of little Tania?
Little Tania, haha… well, she certainly was entertaining.
As a little girl, I was a bit of tom-boy, no barbies or dolls for me, I was more interested in hustling (in French we say more elegantly, “marchander”) I loved finding ways to make a profit and was very skilled in talking and storytelling. By 6 years of age, I could speak fluently Rwandan, French and English, and had lived in 4 countries, Rwanda being one of them. One day, my parents were at work, I was about 7 years old and I took a look at our house and judged that we had too many items we didn’t use. So I spontaneously put all these items in the garden, placed price tags, and then drew a giant sign that wrote “Car Boot Sale” and put it at the front of our house. A neighbor saw this and tried to discourage me, he was British so way too polite to force me to stop but was very concerned about what I was doing without the permission of my parents. In the end, I negotiated that I would stop my business if he gave me another job to cover my so-called losses. We agreed that I would work in his garden for £5.00 that afternoon. We still laugh about that today.
But that was basically me, I liked being a merchant and a storyteller, I really loved to tell stories: some real, some totally made-up, but I was so wrapped up in them that no one would tell the difference. I dreamed of 2 careers : a writer or an MTV presenter, that was back in the days, when MTV, had shows like “the real world” etc. Though I actually saw myself presenting (and organising, note my 9 year old self, wasn’t aware that these are 2 different jobs at the time) the MTV Music Video Awards. When the MVA were on, the whole house had to stop living and follow it with me. I even made an event out of it once, and charged my friends 2 football stickers to come watch it at my house, which I’d obviously marketed as the coolest house in the neighbourhood
—–That’s quite a story. Now do you think living in Europe has influenced your current lifestyle?
Of course, yes. I’m an Afro-pean, it’s the only way I can accurately describe how I think, feel, act….basically who I am.
I am a mix of both my cultures, and I love it. I don’t want to lie, it took some getting used to, I was never really Black/African enough among the black community in my area, and I was not European enough among the other community. For a (thankfully) short-period, this put my self-esteem down and I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere, but very quickly with the help of my family, I realized this was a blessing and I learned to embrace it.
—–What are some the challenges of being an entrepreneur living in an African country?
There are too many to list to be honest, there’s the general ones that you’d face whether you were in Africa or not, and then there are location-specific ones.
—–How about the perks of being an entrepreneur?
Total control. I have total control of my mind and creative direction. When you work for a company, you need to seek approvals, sometimes from several people or departments, you need to justify the steps you take and to a certain extent are limited in the amount of risk you can take.
As an entrepreneur, this doesn’t exist. You are in control.
The backflip to this, is that it’s your name if that risk doesn’t pay off, but then that comes with the territory.
—–What should we expect from the show Tailored Business?
Expect to learn about entrepreneurship, be surprised and discover a new facet of African business from the show. That’s all I can say for now.
—–Please pick one and tell us why
—–Having Money or Influence?
Money. 6 months ago, I would’ve replied Influence, but I recently saw a Muhammed Ali interview where he said something very smart.
Having influence, a.k.a, being a voice, doesn’t necessarily guarantee change. Muhammed Ali was world boxing champion already, he was one of the most talked about athletes in the world, so one would consider him to be of influence, right? Yet, when he returned to the US after fighting in the Congo, he was still a “negro” and denied access to a restaurant, he didn’t have the influence in that particular area of life and thus change couldn’t be driven. He then consciously decided to use his money to solidify his influence and be able to drive change.
Money on the other hand, is a universal currency, it’s a bit weird to say out loud but I do think Money can get you further than influence. Money can give you the means to make progress happen. Be it your money or someone else’s (Sponsors, Donors, etc.)
—–Being a tailor or a TV personality?
Tailor. 1000% The look on my customers eyes when they try on that suit for the first time, nothing beats it!
—–Chilling in Rwanda or Johannesburg?
Ouch.. that’s a hard one. I can’t pick. But if I stick to the word “chilling” then it’s Rwanda. I can’t “chill” in “Joburg”, no one can, can they? It’s so vibrant, there’s always a million things happening all the time.
—–Finally do you mind spilling the tea on who was your best and most awkward guest on the show?
York Zucchi wins both categories here. The day we shot the interview and I made him a suit, was the first day we’d both seen and spoken to each other ever. I was already quite nervous as this was my first experience on camera and to add to that, York was so out- and well-spoken, it was quite intimidating for me, which of course made me act awkward. The interview is completely unscripted, I didn’t have a specific agenda and York wasn’t handed any pre-determined questions, so it could really have gone anywhere (or nowhere, which was my fear – you know, like those awkward dates where the conversation is going round in circles and you’re just trying to make time pass so you don’t leave after one sip).
In the end, from the minute we sat down and starting the interview, it all worked out perfectly, his tips were genius, he’s a great businessman and had lots of insightful, practical advice to offer. He was a great start to a series of wonderful business leaders that I would meet on the show and learn from. I truly feel so blessed to have been able to meet with such incredible businesspeople, and I can’t wait to share it with all of you
A big thank you to Tania for being such a great sport. Check out episode 1 of her show and don’t forget to subscribe for the upcoming episodes on Tailored Business.TV
Big shout out to our reader Fola Olaitu for giving us the lead on Tania, if you know of any rising African star you would love us to profile hit us up via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or tag us on social media