Paris-based Ugandan fashion designer, Stella Atal, has dominated the industry for at least 10 years.
A professional artist, painter and self-taught fashion designer, she describes her trade as “wearable art”. “Professionally I am a painter. I decided to make my art wearable and that is how the fashion designer in me was born,” she says.
While the fashion industry may be making big strides now, things were different 10 years ago when she started. She reveals that even teaching/learning of fashion was not fully encouraged.
“People thought no one could make it successfully as a designer. Everyone wanted their child to be a lawyer, doctor or perhaps run a family business. Now there are many designers coming out of universities, establishing their brands and going on to do successful business.”
“Back then,” she says, “there were only two names, Santa Anzo and Sylvia Owori. There was nothing much to show of or say about fashion. Things have since changed.”
Atal comes from an artistic family that was very supportive. Her mother had sewing machines at home and the children got involved in art early in life.
Her identity is printing on fabric. In addition to designing clothes, she is also a painter, an interior designer and now fashion teacher holding master classes in different fashion schools in Paris with a focus on African fashion and heritage.
Atal is inspired by fabric and situations around her. The more she looks at fabric and different patterns, the more ideas spring into her head.
“I create the outfit but what completes it is the painting which demonstrates the situation or my feelings.”
She puts her personal touch to any fabric, be it Western or African. Her proudest moments come from seeing Ugandans value her work so much, they will go to all lengths to acquire an Atal piece.
In 2016, an opportunity presented itself to move to France and she grabbed it with both hands. She looked at it not only as a chance for herself but also as a gateway for local fashion designers.
“All I am doing is making my country known. Many people are getting to know Uganda. Whatever I can borrow to help grow the industry here, I will.”
She describes the industry in the world’s fashion capital as “organized and respected.”
A fantastic 2017
The last year has been a major turning point for Atal. She got her license and recognition that allows manufacturing and selling of her branded clothes and copyrighted art pieces in France and Europe at large. She did two showcases including Africa Unesco week in Paris before heading to the UK for Kitenge festival.
Her American tour took her to San Diego and Las Vegas before holding more shows in Paris, Prague and Amsterdam. She also works with refugees in camps, art therapy for children with mental problems and at rehabilitation centres.
Her next step is to find ways of helping budding Ugandan fashion designers make it to international platforms.
“I will do whatever I can so Uganda gets more recognition on the world fashion map. Whatever I can get from Europe to impact here, I will. For now South Africa and Nigeria are the most known fashion countries on the continent,” she says.
She advises designers to take time to figure out what makes them unique, and make their impact on Uganda, first.
“It is only identity that takes a designer to the next level.”