In Summary

DESIGNER. Martha Nankanja seeks to recycle old clothes into new fashion styles

There is something refreshingly original when you watch how a young person’s face lights up as they talk about their dreams and how they are going to make them work despite the huddles life throws up.
As Martha Nankanja talks about how she wants to transcend what the current crop of fashion designers are doing, you just have to admire her optimism. The 24-year-old only began seriously designing clothes last year, after she graduated with a degree in Procurement and Supply Chain Management.

“I have been sketching since I was a child,” she says, adding, “I would make little things for paper dolls. I would also try to make clothes for normal dolls but that was difficult. With time, I have grown to love the feeling that comes with creating something from nothing. With designing, there is so much to work with, from the material to the colours, to … (she pauses and looks up, trying to find the right word), everything!”

Clearly, Nakanja is in the throes of her passion and it is infectious. For a girl who spent six years in a conservative school – Mt St Mary’s Namagunga – it is amazing that her life is taking an artistic direction. “If I had the option, I would have studied design at university. But, sometimes, you just have to do the degree for the parents and get them off your back. After I graduated, they allowed me to do whatever I wanted. They understood that designing is what I want to do and now they even encourage me.”

Unique attempts
Working out of her bedroom, under her budding label, Origins53, Nankanja’s designs are unique because she recycles old clothes into new fashion. “I use my mom’s old clothes. Some of them were cool designs back in the day. In fact, someone can still wear them.

If the material is still good, I repurpose them. But, I also make designs for brand new material. Mostly, people come to me to sketch for them some designs. After, I buy the material and get someone trustworthy to do the sewing.”

Although she can use a sewing machine, Nankanja is not yet a professional tailor. Until she perfects her skill, she only tailors her own clothes. For clients, she uses a professional tailor. She also makes ready-to-sell clothes that clients can order on her social media pages.

Cashing in and the challenges
After a year in business, Nankanja is cashing in on her passion. Depending on the type of material the client desires, Nankanja charges between Shs50,000 and Shs80,000 for dresses. For combinations of blouses and skirts or pants, she charges Shs70,000.
“I have always been inspired by stories of fashion designers such as Chanel. I was nine-years-old when I first realised I wanted to do fashion. My sister made me watch a Miss Uganda show and when the people (contestants) were walking down the runway, I said to myself, ‘I want to do clothes that people are going to model.’ At that time, I did not think of making clothes for people to wear. I just wanted to see my clothes on the runway.”

So far, the designer has not yet realised the dream of having her own runway show but she is working towards it.

In a country where most fabric shops only stock silk gomesi material, shopping for the right cloth can be challenging and tiring. “We do not have serious fabric stores in Kampala so there is little to work with. Besides gomesi material, the other common material available is kitengi, which is not so unique.”

Like any clothes maker, Nankanja has to deal with clients who see her clothes on social media, get excited, order for them, and then, take long to pay for them. Besides, fashion conscious Ugandans inspired by Western reality TV shows prefer to buy imported labels.
“The problem is Ugandan designers have over-priced clothes yet they do not use exceptional material,” Nankanja reasons, continuing, “For a client, it is not really worth the money. The designers also use African fabric but copy Western designs. People can really see through that. I want to be different by giving people value for their money.”

Juggling passion and profession
On Saturday March 25, 2017, Nankanja will join other young designers to showcase her clothes at the Misono Hub. The event will take place at Yasigi Beer Garden in Kololo. “In the next five years, I will be an established designer like the people I look up to – Martha Jabo and Latif. Latif is so original! I really admire him.”

Besides design, she wants to maintain her place in the procurement world by working as a consultant. To up her skills, she took up an accounting job for a few months and also does procurement errands for different people.