Amza Niyonzima (26) originally from Rwanda is a millennial designer known within the fashion industry as Eli Gold Niyonzima started off with his own clothing line called MA CASI and has a new Afri sport luxe brand called Masa Mara.
The town of Gisenyi is flanked by beautiful lakes and hills and is found on the north shore of Lake Kivu, in the North West, Rubavu district.
Rwanda is famously known as “Pays des Mille collines” that loosely translates into the “land of a thousand hills” in French.
I remember being surrounded by beautiful palm trees with leaves that dripped like fallen tears as though they mourned a young warrior leaving his homeland.
Every Time I wander down memory lane, I see little Amza in his colorful Rwandan outfit waving goodbye to his siblings, seeing my pain mirrored in their eyes.
I remember looking through the window of the bus, and seeing the worry etched on her face. My mum.
I can recall her fragrance to this day…
I don’t know how I survived the month-long bus ride. Stopping in 7 different countries- Burundi, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, with South Africa being my last stop.
I travelled this gruelling journey, a young Amza not knowing any of the languages spoken.
I remember finally arriving in Cape Town. I was terrified of everything – the unfamiliar faces, the tall buildings, and the traffic jams. People looked right through me, with cold, blank eyes. Everything was so vastly different from my life back home. It was sink or swim.
Millions of questions whirled through my mind. The biggest question of all being:
Why would my loved ones send me here knowing I would experience such terrible heartache?
I almost gave up at the age of 17. I had been robbed of all my belongings. I had nothing to my name. I felt hopeless and abandoned. Then miraculously, I received the love and care that I longed for – from total strangers.
They had absolutely nothing to gain from welcoming me into their homes and hearts. Their kindness rebuilt my trust, and renewed my faith in humanity.
Now I realize that I was never abandoned. I believe that someone or something was watching over me; that I was cared for and protected by a Divine presence. I understood that I was never alone. That’s how the man, Eli was born. Amza became a brand new person after what felt like a lifelong storm.
I was finally able to see the sun. The heavy stone on my chest was finally lifted, and I basked in the warmth of hope. I realized that there was love in the world after all, to focus on the positive, and to be grateful for it all.
My journey is inspired by my life’s purpose. Although I never imagined I would be in fashion, now it makes perfect sense. I always grew up around colourful fabrics and prints, and I was quite the fashionister back in the day, but I was in my last year of business management that I fully embraced my personal legend.
To me, fashion is more about a story rather than being simply, clothing. Fashion is emotion and passion, and with every garment I sew, I remember my story. I become that hopeful Amza, that little boy all over again.
I remember that strength comes from pain, that joy comes from sorrow, and that rivers flow through the highest mountains.
My spirit recalls the exquisite African sunset, the irresistible desert flowers, the wild animals, the deepest jungle, the fathers, mothers, sons and daughters of Africa…
…and I see the warriors, the Masa Mara.”
Amza Niyonzima developed a love affair with fashion at a young age. Even as a young boy, Niyonzima meticulously put his outfits together, and used his clothing to express his culture, personal taste, and his zest for life.
Niyonzima decided to formally pursue his passion for fashion design in 2012, during the last year of his marketing management diploma at False Bay College.
Niyonzima began by creating and printing T-shirt designs, and also educated himself about patterns and sewing. Fashion design became a way for Niyonzima to personalize his look and customize his fashion to suit his personal style. Soon, his friends began to take an interest in his designs and requested creations of their own.
His works represented more than fashion; they became works of art, which is friends proudly wore. It didn’t take long for Amza’s creations to pique the interest of students around campus and requests for his clothing grew.
This propelled Amza to seriously consider the development of his own clothing line in 2013, which he proudly named MA CASI (pronounced: Makasi), which means strength in Lingala.
The name MA CASI was inspired by African strength, which is exemplified by our formation of powerful empires, and our ability to conquer our struggles victoriously. MA CASI honours our freedom to go anywhere and to be anywhere in the world by our own will.
December 2014 marked the inception of a new collection called MASA MARA. This new collection captures Amza’s ever-evolving nature, and represents a new direction for his business aspirations.
MASA MARA captures the harmony that can exist between the past and the present; the traditional and the modern. Designs honour the cultural wear of various tribes while blending these elements with urban active wear, with the aim of introducing traditional values to today’s generation, while celebrating their innovation.
After two good years of learning and finding his signature and niche in the fashion industry, Eli Gold created the active range called Afri sport luxe and he became the first African designer to ever do African print activewear.
Eli Goldand his team are currently working on launching their Masa Mara online store soon. The details will be released soon.
Stories of Hope is a partnership between TYI and TPA
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