NEW YORK -- Fashion designers Levi and Reuben Uwi, survivors of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, said they looked to Africa for inspiration for their latest collection, which debuted Friday at New York Fashion Week.
The brothers, 27 and known as The Uwi Twins, unveiled "I Left My Heart In Africa!" at Gotham Hall and said they returned to the continent after 17 years to design their clean and simplistic ready-to-wear 2016 spring-summer collection.
"It was a huge contrast from the last time we were there. We were very fortunate enough to be in a position where we had a lot of opportunities ahead of us and so, when we were designing the collection, we definitely felt very blessed and very humbled," Levi said backstage after the presentation.
The brothers relocated to Vancouver, Canada, after escaping Rwanda.
They kicked off the fashion show Friday with traditional African dancers working the runway and two drummers playing lively and loudly. Models confidently wore trendy designs that ranged from fitted black and white T-shirts to bright pink shorts to semi-loose blazers. The highlights: a soft pink blazer paired with pink shorts with large black lines on each side, and a black and white shirt with a splash on pink over the shoulders.
Some models wore shirts with the twins' faces as kids blended with the year 1987, when Levi and Reuben were born.
The Uwis know their story is remarkable, but as designers, they want people to look at their clothes first.
"Of course the story's great, but the clothing has to speak for itself," Reuben said. "So, if you love the clothes, please talk about that."
Their overall goal is to give young artists opportunities to live out their dreams -- like they have done.
"This brand is about inspiring the underdog and with this collection, yeah it is inspired by Africa, but it's also for anyone who feels like they're down," Reuben said. "Look at us -- we've been down multiple times. You can get back up."
"If anything, it should inspire and give you more ambition," Levi added.
The twins said they'd love celebrities to get on board with their brand, namechecking Rihanna, Beyonce and Drake as their top picks for collaborators.
"We're shooting high," Reuben said, laughing.