Uganda’s Fashion Designers & How (Not) To Get Their Clothes

Though one cannot claim that the Kampala fashion scene possesses the levels of saturation in terms of fashion designers that cities like London, Paris and New York do, we cannot deny either that we have enjoyed an influx of designers that call Kampala home and make ready-to-wear pieces for the home market.

Gone are the days when the likes of Sylvia Owori and Santa Anzo were the only names that came up when one mentioned fashion design in Uganda. In fact, those two, at least for me, aren’t the first to come to mind when I’m talking to someone about amazing designs by Ugandan fashion labels. They haven’t been for a while.

But, almost in sync with my growing interest for home-based designers and what they can deliver (you can truly thank Diana Opoti for that), is the realisation that it is very difficult to  buy outfits by even the more popular design houses. In fact, it’s almost 2X easier to just get a trusted neighbourhood tailor to replicate/design an outfit for you.

I guess you could say I first got a glimpse of this when I was writing a post leading up to last year’s fashion week. I don’t know if it’s the (lack of) marketing or the lack of interest in the general public, but there’s hardly anything written about the fashion industry or the fashion weeks in Uganda by the media houses. Suffice to say, I had to do a lot of digging for any information besides the dates the shows are held on. It is then that I realised finding reliable contact information for the fashion houses is quite a feat, one’s better off just going to BOLD. Most everyone says BOLD stocks their pieces, right? Well….yes, and no.

boldkla

I passed by the BOLD shop in January to check out the clothes on display and (fingers crossed) purchase something from my favourites from November’s fashion week . To my disappointment, there was nothing. Kona and Buqisi-Ruux complimented the dresses & kaftans on display, but nothing recent. I asked the attendant when they expected the designers to have their collections ready to shop and I got the Kampalan “soon”. You know that soon. So, I decided to pass-by Definition Africa since it was in the same mall and ask after the Cirra-Sue collaboration that they showcased at fashion week. I got a “check back in a month or so” kinda-soon.

Fast-forward to this May, more or less 6 months since KFW happened, and a friend of mine is looking to buy a dress for an event. She wanted to spend the money she had on a Ugandan designer. Why not, you know, we’re always lusting after Kwesh and Wavamunno’s dresses after all. The friend, let’s call her L, gets to BOLD and there’s nothing fancy enough on the displays that one would wear to her dinner. She calls me in a panic asking whether I know where Kwesh’s showroom is or where else other Kampala-based designers stock ready-to-wear pieces. Cue a google search that had me thinking we really do need an up-to-date directory of Ugandan-based clothes and accessory designers. And, if you hadn’t guessed already, no Google wasn’t that helpful. Kinda but not too helpful.

But, let’s cut to the chase, what I’ve been trying to lead up to here is that:

  1. It’s unnecessarily difficult to get information on the Ugandan fashion industry, be it the designers, the stockists or even the bloggers. It all seems to be held in a circle of inside information.
  2. What it takes to get contact information and then actually manage to get through to fashion brands requires one to expend a certain amount of energy that the common citizen will not.
  3. The designers and stockists need to do better. Why showcase ready-to-wear clothes and then not have them available at your listed stockist? Why allow to only stock last year’s season pieces when you know the designer has new stuff out?

Unless of course, the designers don’t see the industry having that much of a demand yet outside of the custom gowns that we see on socialites’ instagram pages every so often. Personally, I think that they should take the ordinary Ugandan shopper who likes to get ready-to-wear boutique-style outfits as a big potential market. Friend  that I referred to earlier eventually ended up at a boutique in town to get her dress, especially because she’d need a fitting-in session at the designers she managed to get to, and the dress still wouldn’t be available in a day.

PS: The Uganda Fashion Directory is now live on this blog. Follow this link to get there.

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What do you think?