By Carol Natukunda
Studying in schools like Nakasero Primary School, Namilyango College and Makerere College School, Emmanuel Bagwana seemed set for courses like medicine or engineering.
Moreover, his father, George Aligawesa, was a doctor, while his mother was a nurse.
But to everyone’s surprise, after A’level, he opted to enrol for a fashion course at Evelyn College of Fashion and Design in Nairobi.
“Some of my friends thought I was joking, but my parents did not see any problem.
They knew this is where my heart was,” he says. Bagwana grew up around relatives who loved knitting and tailoring.
He remembers that most of the people around him had a sewing machine. “Maybe designing is in my blood,” he says.
Yet, he had not been keen on fi ne art during school. If anything, he dropped the subject in S2, but he loved sketching things on his own.
In 2002, shortly after he had completed his diploma in fashion, he returned and started his own label, Eguana.
It grew to become one of the most sought after fashion brands in Kampala.
He designs women’s wear, menswear, children’s and even bridal wear. Most of his clothes have an African touch.
“I started by designing clothes for my relatives. You are my cousin and you want a nice dress, I would design it for you at home. I worked with a parttime tailor to do a good job,” he says.
Eguana soon started getting about two customers a month and those customers did a great job to market him, because they often appreciated his work.
Today, Eguana boasts so many clients.
His works feature a lot of designs, from shirts, dresses, blouses and trousers. They are made out of linen, silk, satin and chiffon, among others.
Each of these is accentuated by an African fabric. “Most times I buy some of the fabric like kitenge from Kiyembe (downtown Kampala),” he says.
Often, he says, a design begins with a simple sketch, while he is listening to music.
“If I am listening to Brazilian music, I try to think of the colours that Brazilians love and try to design something in that line.
Sometimes, it depends on the client’s choice. But if they come with a design that already belongs to another fashion designer, I sit down with them to come up with something unique,” Banagwa says.
Designing a dress could cost up to about sh60,000. But if a client does not have their own fabric, it might cost twice the amount.
“We can finish the dress in only a week. For a bridal gown, it could take a month, but we advise clients to come three months before the wedding to allow opportunity for fittings,” Banagwa says, adding that a good bridal gown could cost up to about sh900,000. He also designs men’s suits.
Bagwana is largely a reserved person, yet, behind this calm demeanour lies a man with many achievements.
In 2003, he made his debut show at the Uganda Fashion Week, which gave him exposure.
He never looked back. In 2004, he participated in the Redds Designers competition. But the biggest break came last year in September 2013, when he was invited to participate in another fashion week in Maryland, US.
“This gave my brand name mileage,” he says. Bagwana is also slated to take part in the Mobasa City Fashion Week during the Easter weekend in April.
“I still work from home, in Makerere. The only difference right now is that I have had to move away from part-time tailors because they are a headache.
I have three tailors, who are my permanent staff and I pay them a salary,” he says.
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Bagwana designing his way to greatness