Martha Jabo may come off as a reserved young woman until you bring up her favourite topic, fashion.
At 24, Jabo, who grew around art and fashion, could be the next big thing in Uganda’s fashion industry. Jabo drew her inspiration from her mother, who was into art and fashion.
Unfortunately, mum is not around to see her daughter represent Uganda at international fashion shows. She died when Jabo was six.
The last born among six brothers and a sister, Jabo was raised by her father, Henry Obbo, a former minister, politician and head of the civil service.
How was it like being brought up by a father surrounded by six brothers and a sister?
Our dad has been there for us throughout though I must admit it was difficult talking to him about some things. Some issues were not easy; so, I had to teach myself some things or find my way around them.
Growing up with boys is something you get used to. My sister had developed tom-boy tendencies but she outgrew them. Right now, it is hard because my only sister is out of the country for studies.
Your father served as an ambassador to Egypt; how was it spending the early days of your life in Cairo?
We spent three years in Egypt and I loved the country and culture though I was little. It was a nice place and everybody was friendly. I could go back if it was not for the war.
Tell us about your education.
I started at a kindergarten that was located in Heliopolis, a suburb of Cairo, Egypt’s capital. I then went to Namugongo Girls for my primary education then to Trinity College Nabbingo and Gayaza High School for Ordinary and Advanced level, respectively.
That is when I went to Makerere University and graduated in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in Industrial and Fine Art, majoring in Fashion Design, and that is the year my designs were first showcased. It was at the African Walk Fashion awards.
You have not showcased much in Uganda, especially in clubs where budding fashion designers start out. Why?
Most people who showcase in clubs are boutique owners and not designers; that is why I cannot showcase there because it would be like downgrading myself.
The revellers just look at the models. If you are trying to let your designs speak for themselves, the night clubs are not ideal.
Which international runways have your designs rocked?
I was the first Ugandan to showcase at the recently concluded first edition of Strut It Afrika Fashion Week held in Nairobi. They loved my designs.
They made me close the show, which is the highest honour a fashion designer can get. I also represented Uganda at the Swahili Fashion Week last year.
How does it feel flying your country’s flag at such events?
It is a challenge because you feel you need to represent your country to the fullest. That comes with a lot of pressure but it’s a great feeling once the mission is successfully accomplished.
Who do you look up to?
Locally, no one because I believe and know that I am the best at what I do in this country. Internationally, I look up to Alexander McQueen and French designer Stéphane Rolland.
I work with fabrics like wool, sequin, chiffon, lace, gabardine and kitenge to make both formal and casual wear for both women and men. I also make bridal wear and all kinds of costumes.
How do you define your style?
My style is contemporary heritage; it’s a mixture of different world cultures. I blend Victorian and Edwardian styles with Egyptian history staying in touch with my African heritage.
What is your take on Uganda’s fashion industry?
There is hope. We just need a proper strategy like a fashion week to bring together all the designers. This way, we can get inspiration from each other and the top designers.
We also need to find a solution to the expensive fabric and Ugandans’ love for the cheaper downtown clothes.
Any Ugandan designer we should look out for?
Look out for Raphael because his creations are really nice; their finishing is good. He also uses good material so his work is not substandard.
Any future plans?
Currently, my studio is in Luzira; so, I plan to set up near town. My clothes are stocked at Bold in Kisementi but I want more stores in Uganda and Kenya soon. I also plan to venture into shoes and bags.
Leave a comment or write to me at at firstname.lastname@example.org . This article was also published in The Observer.