Meet Uganda’s finest fashion export and mastermind behind Kampala Fashion Week
Fashion has always been part of Gloria Wavamunno’s life. Hailing from a family who ran a successful textiles business in Uganda, she is now feted both for her minimalistic, exquisitely structured womenswear and for spearheading her country’s fashion scene as founder of Kampala Fashion Week (KFW). The designer’s vision is to transform Ugandan fashion by not only carving out space for herself as an artist, but also making room for others to thrive.
Wavamunno studied fashion at the American Intercontinental University in London and cut her teeth by interning at brands including Ozwald Boateng. She returned home to launch her eponymous label in 2009, which has garnered growing interest having shown in Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, the UK and beyond. Often she is her own muse by using her life and preferences as a point of departure for designs. What also remains consistent is her approach to the craft of garment construction. “I want to be ethically and environmentally conscious, but because I come from a background of tailoring, I also keep the detail. It’s always been about pieces that are made well.”
Her latest collection ₩ (a reference her surname as well as womanhood, womb and witch) features a range of jersey dresses with braided rope detailing in forest greens, deep greys and rich blues. “The ropes act as a metaphor for how we’re always chained as women, but let ropes be our power. I was very much inspired by female dominatrix and bondage,” she explains. She wants the versatile, flattering collection to allow women to reclaim their bodies in an African culture that can “sometimes deny a woman of her sensuality because men own it.”
Building a brand within Uganda’s under developed fashion industry has not been easy. The business requires commitment, which is something Wavamunno doesn’t shy away from. “If you can’t find people who have already been trained, train them. When there are challenges, find the solution!” She addresses the lack of fabrics available locally not by importing them from China or elsewhere, but by finding artisans who produce textiles close to home. “I know what the possibilities are for me as a Ugandan, so it’s about finding out what this place is capable of offering.”
To the same end, Wavamunno established KFW in 2014 as a showcase for regional talent and support network for nurturing upcoming artists. Since its inception, she and her team have hosted numerous seminars and workshops in addition to the annual catwalk event. The 2017 event took as its theme ‘less is more, community is key’ and the line-up of 12 labels, including Catherine & Sons, Kahvarah, Katungulu Mwendwa and Kasoma Ibrahim, was hosted in a forest setting. Vogue Italia described KFW as having an “underlying sense of commitment to developing and sharing a cross section of fashion and craftmenship… firmly rooted in an African context.”
The designer is also responsible for Salooni, a multidisciplinary project she cofounded with fellow female artists Kampire Bahana, Dr. Aida Mbowa and Darlyne Komukama. Together they host pop-up installations that explore the politics and collective histories that have been woven into black people’s hair. Supported with a grant by the British Council, the Salooni experience has travelled to Chale Wote festival in Accra and Africa Utopia festival in London and continues to spread self-love around Uganda.
With thanks to the British Council’s East Africa Arts programme