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Four One One

Asha paid her tuition to realise fashion dream

What started as a small hustle in a university hall has grown over the years and birthed Tesi Fashion School, an institute that offers fashion and design short courses.

By the time Fatumah Asha made six, she was already stitching her doll’s clothes. But her parents had different plans for her. They wanted her to complete her studies and get a white collar job. Fashion and design is not a career they envisioned for their daughter.

When she joined university in 2009, she enrolled for human resource management. But it was not long before she realised she was in a wrong place. Her passion for fashion and design kept haunting her until she switched to industrial art and design.

But this is not news that Asha’s parents would welcome with a smile. Changing a course at university meant that Asha had to pay her tuition fees for defying her parents’ wishes for a course in human resource management.

Driven by passion, Fatuma started looking for gigs and she later landed a stint with Britannia. The money she earned every month would pay her tuition.

After some months, with help from a friend, she secured a sewing machine which she used to tailor clothes whenever she had free time. She would sell these clothes to her friends and other students.
Starting out, Asha needed money to stock enough fabric and other materials.

“Whenever I got some money, I would go to Owino market and buy one or two metres from which I could make two or three tops. The money I made from selling tops would be used to buy more material,” she said.

By the end of her third year, Fatuma had established her business in town and she had transitioned into tailoring bridalwear. The money she got out of clothes helped to build her brand and make more clothes.

Starting professionally in 2009, Asha reveals it has been a roller coaster. While she has used the Internet to leverage her business, boost sales and get new customers, it is also where many people copy her designs and use them without paying for them.

While she likes creativity, giving in to a client’s demands, especially when they need to duplicate a certain design from the internet messes things up.
“This limits my creativity as a fashion designer. I call this plagiarism and it is unethical. You cannot ride on a design that was invented by someone else,” she says.

Whenever she gets such clients, Fatuma advises them to allow her to draw inspiration from that partcular design and generate something new in order to personalise the style. Over the years, Fatuma has learnt that the price people are willing to pay for her outfits does not come close to the expenses incurred in acquiring the material and tailoring.

“If a client orders for a certain design and what they are willing to pay is not commensurate with the input, I politely decline the job offer or give them an alternative,” she says.

Fatuma says Uganda lacks quality fabric and the fabric available on the market is expensive. In instances where she has has imported material, the taxes imposed have chocked her business, making it difficult to price her final products.
“When you buy material worth Shs400, 000, you pay almost triple that amount in taxes. ,” she says.

Since the taxes determine the price of the product, many Ugandans opt to buy ready-made clothes because they are affordable.
Fatuma envisions a world where fashion designers in Uganda will unite and support one another.

Fatumah, a designer, tailor and mentor has been at it for 12 years and now owns a clothing line called Asha.
One of her biggest achievements is that she takes care of more than 20 people and she believes nothing is more rewarding than reaching out to others.

What started as a small hustle in a university hall has grown over the years and birthed Tesi Fashion School, an institute that offers fashion and design short courses.

“There is more to fashion than just sitting on a sewing machine. You have to acquire a skill through studies, venture into entrepreneurship, manage employees, learn the art of marketing your products, among others,” she says.
Fatuma believes in the power of networking and says there is a lot one can learn from peers in the same industry.

“Be patient and consistent. You cannot be like someone who has been in business for years in just days or months. You must walk the journey. There will be bad business days. Days you will have to borrow money for rent. If you give up, you may not make it to where you want to be,” she says.

She adds: “Never give out your knowledge for free. There are people I have trained from scratch and before I know it, they are reaching out to my clients and giving them half the price for what I charge them.”

Fatuma tailors all type of clothing for women save for suits and uniforms. She does casual wear but her niche is working on bridalwear. Her business pays salaries for employees, utility bills, rent and she saves the rest. Asha rides on referrals and social media to market her outfits.

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