For Josephine Kabagema, a Rwandan model based in France, hard work, perseverance, and positivity has resulted in three decades of success in the fashion industry.
Despite all the discouragement from her parents, Kabagema, also known as José, managed to defy all odds and make a successful career out of an industry commonly deemed as “unfruitful,” particularly in Africa.
In a recent interview, the beauty recalled how her parents tried to talk her out of the idea of joining the fashion industry.
“Before I thought about doing it or not, my parents were against it because they didn’t understand how someone could make fashion a career. They told me to first finish school, get a real job, and then do it on the side,” Josephine said.
Josephine and her family were forced to flee to neighboring Uganda following post-colonial unrest in Rwanda. After a few years in Uganda, she and her family moved to France, where she began modeling in 1980 after completing her college education.
“I started modeling in 1980 in France. I’ve always been passionate about fashion, but I didn’t know I could make a career out of it. But many people, photographers and even designers told me that I could be a model,” she said.
It was after she graduated from Universite Catholique de Lille in France that she decided to make modeling her career, even though she used to model for different designers and photographers as a part-time job in her college years.
Kabagema has had a successful career in the fashion industry, modeling for internationally celebrated brands, such as Givenchy, Patrovitch, Pierre Cardin, and Robinson.
She has also appeared in numerous high-profile fashion events around the word, including New York Fashion Week in 1990.
But beyond modeling, Kabagema has also been involved in several initiatives to uplift marginalized communities.
In 1994, after the infamous Rwandan genocide, Kabagema started a project called “Alliance Pour Le Rwanda” (or Alliance for Rwanda) to unite Africans in speaking out against what had happened in her homeland.
In addition to creating awareness about the horrible genocide, Kabagema also used the project to influence popular designers, such as Givenchy and Cardin, to help her construct a water facility in Kayonza, located in eastern Rwanda.
She has also been involved in various fashion projects in Rwanda, including the Miss Rwanda 2016 Beauty Pageant, where she appeared as a member of the jury.
Although the fashion industry in Rwanda has not been particularly successful, Kabagema serves as an inspiration to young Rwandans looking to start a career in fashion.