News & Runway

Get the Scoop on Fashion in Africa from Designer and tFSer Urban Stylin

Members of the invitation-only The Fashion Spot forums are well-known among other fashion lovers for their enthusiastic reactions to new runway collections and fast sharing of new pictures and scans. Some have already made a name for themselves in the industry and some have all the potential to become part of the fashion elite in the future. In our continuing series, we are spotlighting some of the most outstanding and interesting contributors to the tFS forums and giving a peek inside their offline lives.

Emmanuel Bagwana, known as Urban Stylin on the tFS forums, is one of those members who have already established themselves in the fashion industry while still remaining active on the forums as a valuable contributor. Emmanuel not only designs for his own fashion label, Eguana Kampala, he also works as a photo editor and as a freelance fashion writer and has dabbled in commercial modeling. His broad interest in fashion related subjects becomes apparent in his contributions to the forums also. Emmanuel has been a forum member since 2003 and he is active in all sections of the forums, posting information and opinions on collections, models and visualized fashion, as well as keeping us up-to-date with fashion news, especially about fashion in and coming from Africa.

Emmanuel is 33 years old and is based in Kampala, which is the capital of Uganda. His résumé is impressive, to say the least. He says he always knew he wanted to be a fashion designer from a young age due to being inspired by the stylish females in his family. He went to fashion school in Kenya and started his own label — for which he designs womenswear, menswear, childrenswear and even bridal fashion — soon after. In addition to that, he also works for a photo studio called Glamour Images in Kampala and he specializes in retouching wedding photos. He has also landed many commercial modeling gigs, starring in campaigns for various banks and telecommunication companies in Uganda.

children wearing pieces from the Eguana Kampala kids line

Children wearing pieces from the Eguana Kampala kids line

To learn more about Emmanuel's projects you can follow him on his Facebook page. In our interview he tells us more about his various projects and gives us insight into the fashion scene in Africa.

The Fashion Spot: You are one of only very few active tFS forum members from the African continent, and although Africa is underrepresented in the forums, we do have great topics about African designers, magazines and models, most of which you have started. I love that you draw attention to fashion in Africa by starting these discussions. What is the one thing you think every tFS reader should know about fashion in Africa?

Emmanuel Bagwana: In my opinion, every tFSer should experience the real African fashion industry which is developing at a very fast pace and has evolved for centuries inspiring different artists, musicians and designers. The African industry has a continental network of fashion and accessory designers, modeling agencies, fashion related media, boutiques and all other elements of fashion which provide something different from what the rest of the world is used to seeing.

tFS: How would you describe the fashion scene in Uganda where you live? Do you think fashion and models from Africa are underrated in the rest of the world?

EB: The fashion industry in Uganda is in its developing stage, especially compared to its counterparts in Western and Southern Africa. It is growing at a very fast pace but just needs to establish its own identity since it's still very West African/Western influenced. Ugandans are also still afraid of expressing themselves through fashion and will go for safe options a lot of the time, especially the men, though the younger generation is changing this. The good news is, nowadays many people will have something designed rather than go to a boutique to buy something ready-made especially when they have a special occasion.

As for the African fashion/model industry being underrated in the rest of the world, I think that happens quite a lot. The recent showing by some of the continent's top designers in New York brought out some amazing trends but the global coverage was limited and mainly one note, yet some of the collections were probably better than some from mainstream designers. African models also barely get opportunities to model abroad since many designers only use a limited number of black models while others look for a particular look of a black girl depending on the season. Things are changing now though, the fashion industry is accepting diversity more while African agencies and designers are also setting their standards to a world stage. Hopefully fashion will be one of Africa's top exports in the near future.

tFS: Two and a half years ago you posted the news on tFS about Condé Nast saying no to Vogue Africa. What is your opinion on it now? Do you think it could have worked, and do you see potential for the idea to be picked up again?

EB: In my opinion a Vogue Africa would have worked if it was a more continental glossy. Most African businesses don't have the budgets to afford the advertising rates for a magazine like Vogue let alone the clothes sold by some of the major brands that advertise in Vogue. However, countries like South Africa and Nigeria have a growing luxury market as well as a presence of some of many of the worlds major brands. They also have a local fashion industry that can afford to advertise in a magazine like Vogue. When you combine these with other countries like Egypt, Kenya, Morocco and the like who also have a market for luxury items, a Vogue Africa makes perfect sense. The local modeling, accessory, art and lifestyle industry, as well as a huge expatriate and tourist presence also add to the demand for such a magazine. Seeing that some countries with smaller fashion industries than the likes of South Africa now have their own Vogues, I think a Vogue Africa is long overdue. The only thing they would need to desist from are reprints since many of the international editions of Vogue are already available here, thus reprints would only make people refrain from buying something they already have.

tFS: You work as a fashion designer and have your own label, Eguana Kampala. Tell us more about it. How did you establish the brand? Where do you sell your clothes? What inspires your designs?

EB: Eguana Kampala is a fashion label I started in 2003 after fashion school. Eguana is a fusion of both my names Emmanuel and Bagwana and does mens, womens and childrenswear. I like to fuse both African and Western-inspired design and accessories which is important if we are going to show the rest of the world that Africa is not just a one-season trend.

I sell to a cross section of Ugandans as well as people in the diaspora who come across my designs on my Facebook page and website. I design office wear, bridal fashion, cocktail/dinner clothes, as well as casual wear on a to-order basis and also do corporate orders once in a while.

I am inspired by my location in East Africa whose culture, landscape, music and people are a daily inspiration. I am also inspired by international trends as well as designs and movies from past eras, music from around the world especially jazz, soul and South American music, and in some cases pop culture.

tFS: What are your favorite threads or section of the tFS forums?

EB: It always depends on the season, during the collections its Designers and Collections, then during the Ad campaign season I like to visit the ad campaigns thread more. I also frequent the Magazines and ETC's of the Modeling World threads. 

The Workshop – DIY – Do it yourself forum is also quite handy for those of us in the industry. Many of my workplace dilemmas have been solved there, be it how to cut a certain skirt or how to apply certain tricks to retouching pics.