Milan, Tokyo, Wandegeya, Los Angeles. To Daniel ‘Navio’ Kigozi, the rap sensation, Wandegeya has earned itself a place with other overseas destinations and he wears it on his chest.
It is in Wandegeya where many campus girls got their first makeover; it is home to rolex – that chapatti, eggs, meat and onions rolled up into a meal. Young hip Ugandans have embraced Ugandan made and branded t-shirts designed by Def.i.ni.tion Uganda. Forget the fancy, imported T-shirt souvenirs; in with ‘Kyaba too Much’, ‘Kasooli’, ‘Matatu’, ‘Katogo’, ‘Nasheka Munonga’, ‘Pothole’ – all things that Ugandans identify with.
Many young people prefer imported clothes with foreign slogans that they probably do not understand, some written in Chinese or Spanish. Just the other day a young woman walked into a salon with big bold golden words Gold Digger strapped onto her bum and back. The Made in Uganda t-shirts have made a breakthrough and Def.i.ni.tion’s biggest success is the reception from the hippie class.
The name Def.i.ni.tion comes from the company’s idea of defining the slogans down to the phonetic. Like Kawa, to the generation Y, is used to express agreement in a discussion. Or Matatu. A bold picture of the minibus is printed on the front with a definition: “A form of shared public transport along a semi-fixed route. He takes a matatu to work”. It may mean a local card game.
Def.i.ni.tion was started last June before the world cup. Olga Mugyenyi says that the idea behind Def.i.ni.tion is to try define local experiences of Ugandans that people will associate with and be proud of. The company received a good number of orders for t-shirts with the first slogans specifically targeting World Cup.
During the games the Tokyo, Milan, Wandegeya, Paris tees sold beyond the young women’s imagination. Then they came up with a Banange O.M.G t-shirt, a Luganda slogan Ugandans of all intellect and social class like to use to express surprise or stress. The t-shirt also captured children and Keza Namazzi of K-Planet on NTV has in fact modeled one.
The Uganda brand also made it to the London Fashion Week where designer Gloria Wavamunno incorporated it into her collection. The pothole t-shirt is especially characteristic of Uganda because potholes have become part of who we are.
Mugyenyi, who is related to Works and Transport Minister John Nasasira, does not shy away from poking fun at the latter’s roads. One of the designs has a car plunging into a pothole.
“People have value for foreign things. It is strange that Uganda exports cotton which comes back with a label and we think it is higher value yet it is made from our cotton. We are trying to emphasise and change people’s perception on how to value Uganda in a cool trendy witty way that engages people. It doesn’t have to be made in America, it has to be relevant to Africa,” says Mugyenyi.
About 95% of the products used to produce Def.i.ni.tion products are locally sourced.
“We are coming up against the perception that foreign is better. There are not a lot of local trendy cutting age t-shirts. To look for nice fabric people fly to Dubai or China. With us all the fabric, cut, colour, design and printing is made here. People are excited to see a reflection of their lives on our t-shirts,” Mugyenyi says.
The idea started when the two young women Mugyeni and Nahida Bhegani worked together. In her free time, Mugyenyi leisurely fiddled with her iPhone writing funny one-off statements. Over time, she accumulated quite a number and Nahida who had made t-shirts for the Uganda-Nigeria football game asked they experiment with the slogans.
“I didn’t think of it as if it would have come to light that the slogans would be printed on T-shirts. To me it was a game like a pet side project, but we were surprised by the response from people,” Mugyenyi says.
They then came up with a few designs which they posted on social network Facebook. It was cool for Uganda to be represented at an international event like the World Cup. With their savings and earnings from the sales, the women injected back into the company, not once taking a loan for capital.
“We started with people we know but now the fan base of Facebook is nearly at 3,000. We have created a culture where people let us know what they want and we make it,” Nahida says.
Youth on board
The youth who they otherwise thought would give them a cold shoulder have, in fact, been their easiest demographic to break into. Now the company has attracted Ugandan celebrities like Navio, Denis Obua, Duncan Mugabe and Lilian Mbabazi. However, it is increasingly difficult for them to convince local manufacturers to give them export quality cotton. They triple the prices for cotton sold locally because the producers would rather sell abroad.
“Suppliers that should be supporting us don’t, which kills business that supports them. We [Ugandans] are shooting ourselves in the foot by just not being organized; if anything happens on the international market, people in Uganda will continue to buy,” Nahida says.
The company stocks Sylvia Owori boutique in Garden City and they are soon starting an online shop for the international market. Each t-shirt costs Shs 35,000.
When Mugenyi received an order from South Africa and Cuba, she couriered them as soon as she could.
Then one day, the Cuban purchaser sent her a photo of the t-shirt making a debut in Cuba. As if that was not exciting enough for her seeing a Uganda product proudly worn in Cuba, the South African buyer sent another photo sky diving in a Banange O.M.G design. Another man sent one from Germany playing his guitar in the snow, one from Serbia, not to mention USA, Canada and UK.
This is all the advertising that has made Def.i.ni.tion popular. In the Not a Dream, My Soulmate Collection at the London Fashion Week, Wavamunno blended the Def.i.ni.tion brand with her designs to make a classic African print with a western twist.
“Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safes, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary,” writes Melinda Ozongwu about the final product.
Lilian Mbabazi and her band Enigma wear the Kawa design. The company sponsors events that are in line with the company’s energy and what Def.i.ni.tion fans are all about. They have designed a t-shirt for Cedric Babu and Duncan Mugabe for their tennis games.
They also have a line for Friday Night Lights basketball tournament at YMCA. They have sponsored IMPIS rugby team in 2010, designed for International Women Organisation for Women’s Day at Emin Pasha. The company also dresses Mr Deejay who plays at Ibamba Restaurant and Bar. They have Nile Breweries, Radio City, Stanbic Bank on board too.
The company is looking at allowing creative talented people come up with their own designs and whoever has the best concept will get something.