Lack of sponsors leaves Uganda’s fashion industry on its knees

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There was time the fashion industry was vibrant in this country. Not a month or two would pass without a fashion show/event worth talking about. Club Silk had its monthly Fashion Night showcases while Bukoto based Cayenne Bar and Lounge chipped in regularly. A couple of events also had a fashion angle to them. But the tide seems to have turned. The last time we had an exciting new talent coming through was Olivia Nanfuka who won the 2015 edition of the Skilled Expressive Entrepreneurial Design (SEED) show. Her showcase at the MultiChoice – sponsored Africa Day and Kampala Fashion Week last year won her a fan base and clients her latest being the US ambassador Deborah Malac.

Now there are some few names like Fatumah Asha, Zeal Clothing cropping up mainly in the bridal business.

Sheebah Karungi is one of Kasule's regular clients
Sheebah Karungi is one of Kasule’s regular clients

All a fashion enthusiasts can look forward to is the Bride and Groom Expo which has a runway showcase, Kampala Fashion Week happening in September and the Abryanz Fashion and Style Awards in December. There have been a few events in places like Cayenne but more or less like fillers. They have not got the attention of enthusiasts, bloggers or even editors. Multi award winning designer Raphael Kasule of K-Rafael says shows are stressful and costly to pull off. With sponsorship getting increasingly hard to come by, many have resorted to using social media. “We need to think of doing less staged fashion shows and go more online and virtual presentation,” he says revealing that he is working on his website. He has also shifted focus to designing costumes with Sheebah Karungi being one of his regular clients. Previously he designed Sauti Sol for their performance held at Sheraton Kampala last year.

Joram Muzira of Joram Model Management (JMM) modeling agency says the biggest problem is finances. For him the struggle to get corporates to believe in and open their deep pockets for fashion initiatives is something the industry continues to grapple with and that is why he is looking beyond Uganda’s boundaries. “The best way to break these boundaries has been targeting the international markets since they appreciate and value the beauty that we have more,” he says adding that while high fashion models in Uganda hardly get booked locally, they are getting paid top dollar for international gigs. His agency has since got Aamito Lagum, Patricia Akello, Paul Mwesigwa and the latest Sarah Aliet signed to international agencies. For him, its a breakthrough international that can easily get a fashion entrepreneur local support. A representative of one of the luxury brands that has supported a couple of events spoke off record said the biggest challenge is the failure to put the said fashion initiatives on paper. “Some people have goo ideas but they cannot put them on paper. No budget. No documentation. When they try, they cannot give you rationale or why you should invest in the idea and the projected returns on investment,” she said

AKELLO | PAUL | CHERIF | AAMITO under JMM 

Fashion designer Santa Anzo of Arapapa by Santa Anzo, who is also the chairperson of the Uganda AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act) Exporters Association and Uganda’s representative at the Commonwealth Fashion Council offered a sneak peek into that a lot is being planned for the sector but did not give specifics as the plans are yet to be unveiled. She said however that fashion a huge potential that should not be ignored. “ Fashion is considered a priority sector given its huge supply chain. It also epitomizes 100 per cent value addition. We shall be rolling out our plans shortly,” she said. Could that be the much-needed intervention for sector?

Meet Samson Baranga aka BigSam. He is a passionate photographer, writer, blogger, biker and his passion for fashion knows no boundaries. He is also a fashion columnist in The Observer newspaper.