The year 2014 was a thrilling one for Aggrey Twinomugisha, the fashion designer behind Shuba Wear. In that year, he won the inaugural season of the SEED (Skilled Expressive Entrepreneurial Designer) Show, a collaborative effort between Kas Wear and the US diplomatic mission to Uganda. In the same year, he also won a fashion award as Upcoming Designer at the Abryanz Style and Fashion Awards (ASFA).
The Seed Show is a competition among budding fashion designers under the mentorship of Ras Kasozi of Kas Wear and hosted by the US mission in Uganda. Aggrey Twinomugisha was born in Nyabushozi to Geoffrey Tushabe and Rose Kitungirwe in 1992. He is the second born of their three children. Unfortunately, their father passed away when he was still in kindergarten. Their mother brought them up as a single parent. She is a businesswoman dealing in fruits. “Challenges were there, but most importantly, she managed to take care of us and put all of us through school. Our last born has just completed senior four,” says Twinomugisha. He went to Kazo West primary school, then Naalya SS, Namugongo.
During his senior six vacations in 2011, he studied fashion designing at Latif Madoi’s Latif Academy Talent School before it was renamed Latif Militarty Academy. He later joined Ndejje University and studied Industrial Art until 2014.
After his one-year stint at the academy, Twinomugisha stayed on to work with Latif Madoi and eventually became his personal assistant while finalizing his degree course at Ndejje.
“Working with Madoi for two years gave me the experience, much needed exposure and recognition in the fashion industry, even before I started doing my own thing,” he says. He weaned himself from Madoi in 2013 and started the Shuba Wear label. Shuba is an acronym for ‘Strong-Hearted, Unconquered Black Africa.’
His vision was not just to do fashion as a business. He also wanted many people to benefit from his talent. Already, the label is giving back by training upcoming designers at his Kawempe base, albeit without much funding.
“Fashion is my identity, but at the end of the day, it is how people are benefiting from me as a fashion designer that counts for me” he says, explaining his dream of leaving a legacy.
ROLE MODEL IMPORTANT
His mentors, Latif Madoi and Ras Kasozi, have so far helped him a great deal in pushing his career. During his preparation for the Vancouver Fashion Week in 2012, Kasozi needed an extra hand in order to beat the deadline. Madoi recommended to him Twinomugisha, and the budding fashion designer instantly added another mentor to his rising career.
Twinomugisha recalls that way back, tailoring was a woman’s occupation. It was also synonymous with broke and uneducated people who sat at shop verandahs, pedaling their manual sewing machines, largely mending low-income people’s clothes.
“But having the two as my mentors gave me a whole different perspective of the industry. It was definitely an eye-opening process in my life,” says Twinomugisha. “If you don’t have people you look up to, you may not get that zeal and energy to stay the course. A mentor helps you to believe that your dream is quite valid,” he adds.
Ras Kasozi speaks highly of his protégé.
“He is a super fashion designer. He is a tailor; a Stylist; quality controller and a pattern maker. A person like that never fails. He can guide someone to do exactly what he wants, which means he cannot lose his identity,” he says.
Kasozi believes that Twinomugisha’s determination, eagerness to venture into new ground ‒ like the latest eco-fashion ‒ and willingness to teach other people, especially children, will take him and the industry to another level. Teaching is something many designers are hesitant to do, but Kasozi believes that the mentor also benefits from the learners’ questions and individual approach to design.
DESIGNING FOR US AMBASSADOR SCOT DELISI
Twinomugisha believes it was a great milestone in his career when he won the ASFA and Seed Show awards in the same year.
“This is when I actually got to understand that we were still way behind, compared to countries like the USA. I also got to deeply understand the business of fashion designing,” he says. He reckons that participating in competitions helps one to gauge oneself and also learn from the rest of the competitors.
Having won the Seed Show, he got a once-in-a-lifetime chance to design an outfit for the then US ambassador, Scott DeLisi.
“Dressing the ambassador was like dressing the president. It was so life-changing. I got to know the likes of people at such a level,” he says, with evident elation.
Before the photo shoot with the ambassador, they had to do fittings three times to get to perfection. This opportunity brought many corporate clients to Shuba Wear and Twinomugisha admits to learning a lot about handling high-calibre clients and a whole new approach to the business side of fashion.
He has also made outfits for international artistes such as Busy Signal, and more recently, Ne-Yo. His growing local clientele boasts of big names like Maro, Radio and Weasel, Coopy Bly and Ray Signature, among others.
“I thank God that 2014 changed my life. Now I cannot simply step out and showcase without a story, theme or trend. People expect a lot from me. If I am to showcase, I need something that can sell me for a year,” he explains.
He calls upon fashion designers to believe in themselves and also search for knowledge about the industry to enhance their passion and talent.
Going by Twinomugisha’s assessment, the fashion industry in Uganda is set to pick up because there are so many talented designers out there who are coming up. He believes this vibrancy will take the industry to the next level, like it once did for the music industry. But, he says, fashion designers first need to understand the business of fashion.
A PEEK INTO THE FUTURE
Shuba Wear plans to set up a big store in the city centre to showcase and vend Twinomugisha’s designs. In addition, he will continue to mentor young fashion designers, a project that will fully take shape once he has the required financial support. The project with the children kicked off early this year after officially registering the community-based organisation. Ten children, between the ages of 10 and 15 years, are already learning the skills he is offering.