Jane Nansubuga is one of the most influential hairstylists in the city. Commonly known as Maama Muteesa, Nansubuga launched her own hair care product Mukuza hair food, and runs two salons in Kawaala and at Prime Complex in Kampala. She exudes authority, confidence, charm and humility; a recognition that things could have easily turned out differently.
She boasts of celebrity clients she refuses to name at her state-of-the-art salon in Kawaala but she handles most clients herself. When she passes an attendant, she is apt to ask them to step aside and let her take over the client.
“This is a delicate industry. If someone gets a problem with their hair you would have lost them and their friends forever,” she explains her need to attend to each and every one of her clients personally.
Nansubuga is clearly in her element in a salon because she knows her trade. For years, she laboured to teach herself because she did not have money to attend fancy hairdressing schools.
Getting into hair styling
The second born of 11 children, Nansubuga was born in the fishing village of Nakiwogo in Entebbe. Her father, Vincent Mubiru, a former doctor at Entebbe Grade I hospital ,died when she was still a child while her mother, Ruth Nakimera, still practices as a traditional birth attendant at Abayita Ababiri in Entebbe.
But when her parents separated, she moved to Nakyenyi in Mbiriizi Masaka where she dropped out of Senior Three at 16 years old. At home, she helped her family farm the garden for food and extra money.
At 16 years, she got pregnant and went on to live with her boyfriend Michael Ssaawo Kiggundu in Butenzi Village, Buwunga Masaka.
Although she had big dreams of becoming a fashion designer, hair stylist, nurse or hotelier all she had was a metal hot comb that she used to work on her own hair and that of fellow village women.
Kiggundu, who was a driver of former minister Bidandi Ssali, moved with her to Kampala in Mengo, Kawempe Zone where now Rwandan president Paul Kagame and the late Fred Rwigyema lived.
There she often went to present-day Gazaland with friends to buy Ultra Sheen conditioner to treat their hair. What would be left would be used on other women who did not have money to buy their own.
“As a woman, I was into my own hair since childhood and knew that great hair gave me confidence. I am also a very visual person,” Nansubuga explains.
As she was getting used to her new home, her mother in-law summoned her back to Masaka, following a strange illness that attacked her first born child. She started living in a village called Butale from where she walked seven kilometres every Saturday to church in Nyendo.
“I felt insecure and wanted to stay with my man. Fortunately, after some days of prayer and fasting, he finally came for me and I returned to Kampala in 1992. We started living in Luwafu in Makindye Division.”
The conditions, she said, were harsh. “I had no job but since my passion was in hairdressing, my husband connected me to his friend a one Nuuru in Kireka who had a salon, and I stayed there learning for one month. Since I had a child, it was not manageable and I left,” Nansubuga relates.
Kiggundu had by now accumulated enough money as a taxi driver and bought a plot of land in Kawaala. Around the same year, they started a retail shop.
“He (Kiggundu) bought produce direct from the farmers which we sold at half the market prices which made my shop so popular in Kawaala,” she relates.
In addition to the main produce, she sold charcoal, chapattis and any other household items including, vegetables.
Along the way, her husband was involved in a serious accident at Kyengera in which the money he had earned from selling his car was burnt to ashes.
He was hospitalised for almost a year at Mulago hospital. It was at this time that she opted to shift from their rental to their incomplete house as the business collapsed.
“During his sickness, the supply was cut off yet when people from the village came around, they stayed for long and took free merchandise while going back. This crippled the shop,” she says. The stock had dwindled so much that when moving, everything was taken by wheelbarrow to their home in 1994.
Saying yes to opportunity
While she did many petty jobs to earn a living including making chapattis and selling charcoal, she still dreamed of owning a salon. She moved around Kawaala looking for a job and finally got one at Super Carol Salon in Kasubi as an intern.
But she did not have the Shs70,000 tuition fee. She borrowed Shs35,000 from Bob Male a brother-in-law. From 1995, she worked at the salon and the owner, Carol liked her. When she saved enough money to buy some essential equipment, she left to start her own salon.
Finding a place to set up her salon was another battle.
“My neighbour let me occupy an incomplete shop. I took the two stools I had at home into the salon and a bench as well as my dressing mirrors. My first day was the happiest day of my life as I worked on six customers,” she recounts.
Business was booming until she decided to move to her new permanent home opposite Pastor Yiga’s church at Kataka stage in Kawaala.
“As a stylist, I do not ask for a lot of money, because I value the art of hair styling. I seehow hair can transform people and give them confidence. And you cannot put a price tag on that. I always do it for the passion, money comes as a bonus,” relates Nansubuga.
Her salon, which is also a beauty school, is quite busy with two retained workers and a number of interns.
Many women desperate for long hair throng her salon where she choreographs nearly every step of the process.
“Teaching is something I see myself doing more and more. I want to teach people what I have learned about hair and what I love about hair. I know that everyone deserves great style. I have taught my children too although they opted for other professions,” she says.
“I am happy in my own skin. As long as my kids have everything they need then that makes me happy. I want them to study at the highest levels to compensate for what I could not achieve,” says the proud mother.
Of her five children, the first born Ponsiano Muleke is a Russian trained architect, while the second born Angel Muteesa Nakanjakko, whom the salon is named after is an Indian trained doctor. The third born, Allen Nantongo is an orthopaedist.