Ugandan fashion designer based in Paris, Stella Atal, been at it for over 10 years. She is a professional artist, a painter and self taught fashion designer. She describes her trade as making “wearable art”. “Professionally I am a painter. I decided to make my art wearable and that is how the fashion designer in me was born,” she says.
While the fashion industry may be making big strides now, things were different 10 years ago when she started.
She reveals that even the teaching/learning of fashion was not fully encouraged. “People thought no one would make it successfully as a designer. Every one wanted their child to be a lawyer, doctor or perhaps run a family business. Now there are many designers coming out of universities, establishing their brands and going on to do successful business.”
“Back then.” she says, “there were only two names, Santa Anzo and Sylvia Owori. There was nothing much to show of or say about fashion. Things have since changed.”
Lucky for her, Atal comes out of an artistic family that was very supportive. Her mother had machines at home and the children got involved in art during their early stages of life.
Her identity is printing on fabric. In addition to designing clothes, she is also a painter, an interior designer and now fashion teacher holding master classes in different fashion schools in Paris with a focus on African fashion and heritage.
Atal is inspired by fabrics and the situation around her. The more she looks at the fabrics and their different patterns, the more ideas spring into her head. She collects a lot of fabric and then a collection can be created out of the prevailing humanitarian or political situation. “I create the outfit but what completes it is the painting which demonstrates the situation or my feelings.” She puts her personal touch to any fabric whether western or African and is not limited to African fabric. Her proudest moment is seeing Ugandans who value her work and will go along way including paying deposits until they acquire the piece.
Last year an opportunity presented itself to move to France and she grabbed it with both hands. She looked at it not only as a chance for herself but also as a gateway for fashion designers here. “All I am doing is making my country known. Many people are getting to know Uganda because of me. Whatever I can borrow to help grow the industry here, I will.” She describes the industry in the world’s fashion capital as “organized and respected.”
A fantastic 2017
The last year has been a major turning point for Atal. She got her license and recognition that allows manufacturing and selling of her branded clothes and copyrighted art pieces in France and Europe at large. She did two showcases including Africa UNESCO week in Paris before heading to the UK for Kitenge Festival. Her American tour took her to San Diego and Vegas before holding more shows in Paris, Prague and Amsterdam.
She also works with refugees in camps, art therapy for children with mental problems and rehabilitation centres.
Her next step is to find ways of helping budding Ugandan fashion designers to make it to international levels.
“I will do whatever I can so that Uganda gets more recognition on the world fashion map. Whatever I can get from Europe to impact here, I will. For now South Africa and Nigeria are the most known fashion countries on the continent,” she says. For now she advises designers to take time to figure out what makes them unique and standing out from the crowd. It is only identity that takes a designer to the next level. She also calls upon people not to assume the grass is greener in Europe. She says clients there are more inclined to people or brands they know than fresh faces in addition to high taxes and difficulty in accessing fabrics and other materials. Have confidence in what you are doing and you can make it here,” she says.