BEHIND THE SEAMS: Uwi Twins
Every piece of clothing tells a story about the designers and their journey. Reuben and Levi Uwi, collectively known as the Uwi Twins, draw big inspirations from their birthplace of Rwanda, using their mother’s perseverance to leave the country when they were only seven years old. Having some stability in Vancouver, they explored their creative side and got into fashion, acting, and even music. Having already conquered Canada, the Uwi Twins are making their way into the United States, having the tenacity and talent to take over this country as well. Drawing inspirations from their love of hip-hop music, their hometown, and day-to-day life, the Uwi Twins are leaving their mark on the men’s fashion world.
Having talked to Reuben and Levi before their debut at NYFW, we realized that while identical, they have their own unique personalities which can only add to their clothing line. We spoke about men’s fashion faux pas (socks and sandals should never happen), Drake, and the current twins in the fashion game that inspire them. Look out America, Reuben and Levi Uwi are going to take over before you know it.
Labeling Men: Tell us a little bit about your journey. How was the move from Rwanda to Canada? How did you get into design?
Reuben Uwi: We were fortunate enough to come to Canada when we were 10 years old, in 1998. Originally we were born in Rwanda, so when 94 [the 1994 genocide] happened we left and moved to Kenya for four years. Then we moved to Canada in ‘98 and started going to school. Right after high school, back in 2006, we started a clothing, t-shirt brand called “R&U Styles.” With that brand we were fortunate to get picked up by one of the biggest retailers here in Canada called Hudson Bay, and this gave us a name in the industry. From there we did about four or five seasons with distributing our brand to Hudson Bay. Eventually my brother and I thought it’d be great to have a brand that represents Levi and I. A brand that tells the story of who we are, where we come from, and to share with everyone that no matter where you come from, you can achieve and overcome no mater what circumstances you go through - that’s what the brand is about. Right now we’re very excited we’re about to release our second collection for Uwi Twins Fashion Label SS 2016. It’s been a long journey and we’re still on it. We hope to keep it going.
Labeling Men: Awesome, what a great story! So you guys are showing in September at NY Fashion Week, right? [Editor’s note: Interview was done prior to NYFW. We attended the Uwi Twins show after this]
Reuben Uwi: Yes, we’re very excited to be showing in NY! It’s going to be our first time working with Nancy at Bubble Fish Media and our first time with Fashion Week. It’s a privilege, we’re very happy they were able to reach out to us to be showing in NY and then LA in October. It’s a really interesting time for us coming into the US market. It seems like timing is lining up for us.
Labeling Men: For your collections, do you have any inspirations from your hometown?
Levi Uwi: This new collection that we’re releasing for SS 2016. We had the privilege of traveling to Kenya in February. That trip was our first time being back in Africa in seventeen years. So we took that opportunity to draw inspiration from the time we were there, and this reflects the way that we took this design process. This new collection that we’re about to release is inspired by Africa in terms of the fabric patterns that we went with and in terms of the overall vision for it. This new collection is Africa. One of our tag lines that we have for the collection is, “I left my heart in Africa.” We want to tell the story of where we come from, to tell the story through our clothing. The stories are very important to how we design our collections.
Labeling Men: How does your collection differ from other competitors?
Reuben Uwi: The design aspect is very much different. With clothing and with young brands, in order for you to stand out you have to have great designs. I feel we’ve been able to manage that. With us launching our first collection last year and getting the attention we got, I think that solidified that we were on the right path. Instead of doing the same patterns as the previous collection, every single detail that we did in this collection is new: new pattern, new design. We’re also trying to push the boundary on some of the fits, making sure that all of our pieces are reflective to the modern, regular body types that are in the world. So our designs are not boxed into the “model” type fit. We also differentiate ourselves in wanting to stay ahead of the game. Being original is the key to our success. We never really followed a particular trend. At this time, for us, it feels like if you're doing the right thing then the right people will eventually pay attention.
Labeling Men: Absolutely. Looking at the collection, it’s definitely your voice. You can’t mistake it for another collection.
Reuben Uwi: Exactly, and with the clothes we make, they’re reflective of our styles and our tastes. When we’re creating a collection we’re essentially sharing a piece of ourselves. It’s art; the clothing we create is art. We want to share it with those that will appreciate it. If it sells, it sells, but at the end of the day what we make has to come from a natural, organic place.
Labeling Men: Speaking on your personal style, do you guys have similar or different individual styles? How would you label your style? Levi Uwi: A lot of the times we have similar tastes in clothing, but we have our own personalities. I’m more of the type to wear more dress shirts and dress shoes. Reuben is casual. I would say our style is similar because a lot of the time when we were growing up our mom shopped for us and filled our closets with similar pieces. So when one of us would dress up and come out we would say, “Hey! He’s wearing the same thing I am,” and this would happen unintentionally. Being twins we have different personalities. Those individual personalities inspire you to question, “How do I change up this look to embody me, not my brother?” Because at that young age I wasn’t really able to get pieces that were completely different from ones in my brother’s closet. But I do remember dyeing and painting some t-shirts at home in our backyard. We’d put garment paint on our clothes. Just being original with the pieces that I have on me and making it my own.
Reuben Uwi: With my style, Levi is a little bit more dressy, while I’m more casual. I like my ripped jeans and casual t-shirts. If I want to be more laid back, I put on the hat. Our styles are similar and I think they complement each other more than anything, too.
Labeling Men: That makes perfect sense. So do you guys have any favorite designers?
Levi Uwi: The D Squared twins, Dean and Dan. They’re designers we’ve studied and we continue to look up to them. Marc Jacobs is one we definitely admire as well. But as much as we love fashion and follow it, we try to always focus on our own originality in terms of taste. Even though someone might inspire us, we always want to be coming from somewhere where it’s our own vision. It’s always interesting to see how fashion is moving, but the way that we’re going to stay ahead is to be the ones setting the trends.
Labeling Men: That’s the only way to do it. Do you guys have a favorite color that you go back to or are inspired by?
Reuben Uwi: Red. Red is also a color that is apart of our logo, the Uwi Twins Fashion Label logo. We do like to use pink, though we only have about one piece in the current collection that’s pink. Pink and purple, too. But we also like the classics: black and white. With the pink, back in the day when we were in high school, no one was wearing pink. Then this one day we go to the mall, Levi buys a pink shirt, and he goes to school wearing this pink shirt and everyone goes, “You’re wearing a pink shirt? What’s going on?” Within a week, all the other guys were wearing pink shirts. That’s when we knew we had a bit of influence when it comes to fashion. Everyone goes, “Oh wait, that kind of does look good!” So we always try to push the unconventional colors. When someone says, “That’s too girly, men can’t wear pink,” we want to push those stigmas away.
Labeling Men: That’s definitely the way fashion is going. Now if you were to choose one or two celebrities to wear your line, who would it be and why? Reuben Uwi: One of the big celebrities we always bring up in interviews is Drake. We think he would encompass our brand well. He’s Canadian, was born in October, and has a certain style just like us. I would also say Rihanna because she's so versatile with anything she puts on. Those two would represent our clothing line well, though I’m sure there’s a lot more.
Labeling Men: Is there a fashion faux pas that you think men are making today that you wish would go away? Reuben Uwi: We don’t really concentrate on that. I can’t think of one right away.
Levi Uwi: I haven’t seen it too much, but when I do see it it’s during the summer when someone wears sandals and socks at the same time. Labeling Men: [Laughs] Yes, that’s a classic. So you guys are based in Canada now. How similar or different are American and Canadian styles?
Levi Uwi: It’s super different. We live in Vancouver on the West Coast. People there are super laid back in terms of their style. But if you go to the East Coast, like Toronto or Montreal, people are more trendy, more fashion conscious. In the States people are more in tune with fashion. North America, in general terms of fashion, a lot of the times you can find the styles that usually make their way to North American after Europe already had it for two or three years.
Reuben Uwi: I find that America compared to Canada has a lot more choices compared to fashion. You guys have an advantage to being more styled out. Labeling Men: Do you guys have any future plans?
Reuben Uwi: Fashion is our number one love. Coming to LA is going to give us the chance to touch into the movie and acting business. If there are opportunities there we’d love to be involved in that industry as well. With our brand we are also creating a fashion film.
Labeling Men: We’ll be on the lookout for that! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Levi Uwi: Our whole message and our end goal with this brand is to inspire the next young entrepreneur, the next person who doubts themselves, and the next person who asks, “Should I take the risk to go after my dreams? Should I start this great idea or this great company?” We want to inspire the underdog no matter what you go through, the ups and the downs. We had to start from scratch in our personal lives and with our business, starting that second brand. No matter what happens you have to keep going, keep pushing, and that way you’ll always persevere. We want to put out that message to always keep going. Talk that talk and walk that walk.
Labeling Men: Looking forward to seeing your stories come to life!
Written by Nisim Frank
Photograph provided by the Uwi Twins