She came, we saw and wondered. Now the question isâ€”did she really conquer?
She came, we saw and wondered. Now the question isâ€”did she really conquer? When Sylvia Owori announced late last week that she was giving up organising the annual Miss Uganda pageant, it marked the end of something really remarkable. Or was it?
â€œIt really was a remarkable last four years for us,â€ Miss Uganda Ltdâ€™s Public Relations Manager and herself a former Miss Uganda, Jessica Kyeyune, said.
â€œIt might be difficult for someone, who was not part of it to really appreciate it, but what Sylvia has done for Miss Uganda pageant is something of a milestone. We had a great team and essentially brought beauty pageants out of the back streets and made them one of Ugandaâ€™s biggest social activities.
Unlike in the past, there were no misunderstanding amongst the organisers and definitely no money squabbles. Now itâ€™s over and we all have to move on. Sylvia definitely changed the face of fashion beauty in Uganda.â€
She has come a long way. When she showed up in Kampala in 1997 and invited the press to a luncheon, nobody knew who Sylvia Owori was. She organised the Red Rat concert at Lugogo Cricket Oval that got washed out by the rain. Then she opened up a shop on Wilson Road, and got Eva Mbabazi, dressed in all kinds of slinky wear, to stand outside it.
That was when the crowds started coming and taking notice.
In 1999, she showed up at the Rock Gardens with Eva Mbabazi in tow, wearing nothing, but a fishnet dress, and caught the attention of the country. Who is she, everybody wanted to know. Some girl out of London, it was said.
That same year she met with Face of Africa chief scout Jan Malan and as a result got invited to design for that modeling contest the following year. The finals were in Cape Town, South Africa and she was there.
On her return, she teamed up with a very young and slender fashion-school graduate named Santa and soon launched the Ziper Modeling Agency.
Owori had been to several international fashion shows all over Europe and the United States and tried to bring that glitz and glamour to Kampala.
â€œIâ€™ve been there and wanted Uganda to share with me what the best in high society can be,â€ she said at one time. â€œWhy canâ€™t we have what New York, London or Paris has? What does it take?â€
In 2001 she decided to organise the Miss Uganda contest. The story is told how she went to meet the board of directors of MTN dressed in torn, though fashionable jeans and a skimpy top. How did she convince a bunch of stuffy executives, all dressed in sober suits, to put so much money in her effort?
â€œPeople think Sylvia is all hype, short skirts and skimpy clothes, but she is a very hard-nosed businesswoman and has some very good persuasive skills,â€ a confidant said.
â€œShe is very focused and has a very strong drive. If she sets her mind on doing or getting something, she will do it whatever it takes. She never gives up.â€
According to that person, who did not want to be named (many of the people that worked with her were unavailable for comment), that drive and focus was one of the reasons the Miss Uganda pageant has been a success the last four years.
Miss Uganda Ltd was essentially a partnership of three, according to Kyeyune, Miss Uganda 1990. While she dealt with the girls and general administration, Mukasa Nseera dealt with the production. Sylvia dealt with the financial side and general operations.
General operations included making sure the stage was built the right way, and the lights were adequate, or firing anybody, who did not shape up. In the last two pageants, she also designed all the clothes the contestants wore on stage. She also designed the gown the winner wore at the Miss World competition.
But it was getting the corporate world involved that was Oworiâ€™s major coup. Before she took over the Miss Uganda pageant in 2001, it had not been held for over three years. With a tradition of money squabbles and all kinds of scandals, nobody wanted to touch it.
â€œSylvia convinced the corporate world this was something they wanted to be involved in,â€ Kyeyune said.
â€œOf course, we had to make sure it was worth it. 2001 was a sort of dry run after that, it got easier. The fact that she had Pir Munk-Nielsen for a fiancÃ©e did not hurt, either.â€
MTN Uganda and Uganda Breweries were the original main sponsors, with Sudhir and Jyostna Ruperelia also participating.
Uganda Breweries withdrew after two years and Nile Breweries joined in. After MTN also withdrew, Nile Breweries became the major sponsor. Along the way, Total and Fair & Lovely also came aboard.
The finals at the Speke Resort Munyonyo were always the high point of the year and became the climax of Ugandaâ€™s social calendar.
It also generated several copycat events, but somehow these never quite got the same shine. Cash problems, unpaid performers and general mayhem reigned, again.
So, with Sylvia and the Miss Uganda Ltd team gone, shall we go back to that kind of thing?
â€œWhat we showed, mainly, is that it can be done and properly,â€ Kyeyune said. â€œWe may not be involved in the organisation, but we shall always be around to give help or advice. Iâ€™ll tell you, it is a difficult thing to actually let it go.
We shall all miss it very much, even Sylvia herself.â€
While we knew Owori because of Miss Uganda, many overlooked the fact she was a fashion designer of some repute. According to her friends, the reception she received at last yearâ€™s Kenya Fashion Week was the turning point.
â€œShe really raised some dust at the Kenya Fashion Week,â€ one said.
â€œThere she was, with her designs on the front pages of three of the biggest newspapers in the region.
Then she got invited to participate in the Cape Town Fashion Week, Africaâ€™s biggest and we knew the writing was on the wall for Miss Uganda. There was no way she was going to find the time for it.â€
Sylvia Owori bows out