Kampala: Fashion capital of the world?

Fashion capitals of the world: New York, London, Paris … Kampala? Well, if Santa Anzo has anything to do with this, it’ll only be a matter of time.

She is the brains behind the first-ever Uganda Fashion Week, which wrapped up this weekend in the country’s capital. The event, inspired by fashion weeks held elsewhere in the world, attracted 30 exhibitors — of whom all but three were women.

As Anzo tells it, the idea for the four-day show came to her two years ago, but it wasn’t until this year that she could implement it. Her attendance at Kenya Fashion Week, in June, helped stiffen her resolve to get a Ugandan equivalent up-and-running.

“We should have been there to participate,” says Anzo. “I was embarrassed, and thought I should do something about it.”

Markets in Kampala and elsewhere are currently inundated with imported fabrics and accessories. Local designers struggle to find the funding that would allow them to set up their own companies, and this translates into a general lack of motivation in the fashion sector.

Uganda Fashion Week is intended to change all that by giving exposure to local designers and models, and encouraging the use of fabrics that are made in the country.

“We hope this event can … encourage creativity, and personal initiative as a tool to create more employment opportunities and eliminate job-seeking tendencies,” says Anzo. “I [think] we have so much talent in Uganda, and I don’t think the government is doing much in that area [of fashion].”

When she started tackling the project in earnest, Anzo didn’t expect more than 10 exhibitors to sign up.

“Even when I went out for sponsorship, people just laughed and said ‘There are no fashion designers in Uganda’,”she recalls.

But the French embassy stepped in to help, and the response from designers was overwhelming -‒ no small achievement, given that each exhibitor was obliged to present at least 30 different designs.

Damalie Etidau, director of the Marantha School of Fashion Design in Kampala, was one of those whose work was on show.

“The exhibition was an eye-opener … Ugandans should take time to know what kind of standards our designers [have] … Now we are receiving many calls from people, all asking to join the college,” she says.

Her words were echoed by Angella Kyomukama, of Glamour Hats: “Although it was the first time for such an event, all the designers have benefited. We are going to work at making it better next year. I think now we have showed what we can do with our talents.”

While the emphasis was clearly on local talent, designers from further afield also made the journey to Kampala -‒ including Senegal’s Oumou Sy and Mustafa Husanali from Tanzania. The exhibition is intended to become an annual event.

Fashion Week has made Santa Anzo the darling of Uganda’s newspapers, and radio and television stations -‒ something assisted, in no small part, by her history.

While she currently heads her own fashion consultancy, Anzo started her working life as a waitress in a Kampala casino -‒ and she has also worked as a sales assistant in a bakery. None of these jobs were in the least glamorous, but she needed the work.

“I did not have the guts to ask my parents for assistance. My father had just retired from the civil service and was heading for the village in Moyo district. I just thought I had to stand up, do it for myself,” she says.

Setting up the consultancy presented its own challenges, especially in a society where women entrepreneurs are the exception.

“But, I had to forget that I was a young woman,” says Anzo. “If I kept thinking I was a woman, then I would need a shoulder to cry on all the time, asking for help, protection -‒ and become dependent.”

Her strategy for success even included a name change. Santa’s original surname is Anzoyo, which -‒ in the dialect of the northern Madi tribe -‒ means frustration, depression and unhappiness. Anzo, on the other hand, means happiness, success and prosperity.

“The names from northern Uganda are very negative,” says Anzo. “Someone can be named Asilaza, meaning ‘heartache’ or Atuku, meaning ‘I will never prosper’. We have names that [refer to] poverty, laziness, oppression and depression. Some names even call for infertility.”

“My children will never be called by such names and I have told members of my family to shun them too,” Anzo adds.

Uganda Fashion Week 2003 was opened by Prime Minister Apollo Nsibambi, on behalf of Vice-President Gilbert Bukenya. If Anzo has her way, no one less than the president himself will be cutting the red ribbon come 2004. — IPS

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