Fiona Mapengo- Selfless Fashionista

Fiona trench

There is always more to the story than meets the eye. Last March I received an award from Alliance Francaise and International Women’s Day Uganda for being the Most Supportive and Outstanding Designer. Behind the scenes though I stood on the shoulders of giants. Today I would like to introduce you to one of those Giants. Fashionista Fiona Mapengo is a recent graduate of the Makerere University Industrial Arts program. She is technically brilliant regarding pattern making and extremely diligent with garment construction. She is continuously up grading her knowledge and learning new techniques. And most fascinating of all- she is a master at beading and embellishing evening wear garments- by hand. She does it with such speed and efficiency yet produces the most beautiful results. I was blessed and honored to have her support creating a collection I dedicated to my sister who passed away in February 2012. Fiona spent hours at my workshop helping me problem solve and construct garments. She was there for me when I had an emotional break down minutes before the fashion show. She was there for me right after the show when I had orders I needed assistance filling. And generally she does all this with such humility and selflessness. There is still heart and soul left in the fashion industry and I am blessed to have connected with Fiona.

Fashion’s Crying

Skirt lengths will always be a debatable issue when it comes to fashion. Every season designers get inspired by different silhouettes and likewise different lengths of skirts and trousers. There is a huge difference between debating an issue and setting a law that prevents us from even broaching the topic in our design aesthetics. Do I advocate for skimpy clothing and supposedly immoral dress? NO. Do I believe in freedom of speech, choice and dress? YES. Now upon my return to my beloved country, about half my wardrobe will be illegal. And mind you my shortest skirt is just above my knees. My shorts are mostly not even Daisy dukes but modest and acceptable. So what of those other fashionistas who occasionally like to wear something that reveals their knees? FASHION is crying because when did style and self-expression become criminal?

Fashion’s Learning

Style is an attitude. It is not about a dress, shoes or earrings. Do you ever meet someone and find their outfit breath taking but not know what exactly makes it so? For instance did you ever see someone in a white t-shirt and cut offs or jeans looking sublime? That is a matter of style. Wearing your clothes and not letting your clothes wear you. Today I am introducing you to Doreen Lwanga. A uniquely stylish young mother, academic, activist and marathon runner. What I a admire about this fashionista is the fact that she has held on to her individuality even after becoming a mother. And she stands strongly by what she believes. For instance her son follows a strict diet of no fast foods and no artificial juices. He is also on a tv diet. And let me tell you he is the calmest toddler I have ever met. We at LULU are proud to be part of her wardrobe.

FASHION’S BURNING!

FASHIONS BURNING! As a Ugandan designer I have a love hate relationship with the second hand heaven commonly known as Owino market. On the one hand I agree that fashion should be available and affordable for all. On the other hand it pains me that imported used clothing are more revered in our beautiful country than clothes produced by our amazing local talented Ugandan designers. All this said I have great admiration for the stall owners in the Market. These are good men and women who wake up at the crack of dawn everyday to sell clothes, shoes, scarves, bags, accessories, you name it, if it’s FASHION- you will find it in Owino. They have school fees to pay, sick children to heal, Jaaja’s/ grandmas and grandpas to take care of, food to buy, kwanjulas and weddings to contribute to, dreams of finally saving enough money to complete their undergraduate degree, boda bodas to buy, land to buy, houses to build. You know- all the regular things we all aspire to and strive for every day. These men and women continue to exist in their very fragile existence which can be shaken in a single act of evil.

Yes, I said it- evil. Every time Owino market burns down, my heart breaks just a little bit more. My faith is restored every time these courageous men and women rebuild their market and reclaim their precious space in this world. Because as Ugandans we have one thing in common- we are RESILIENT, built of strong stuff, comeback KINGS and QUEENS. I SALUTE my Owino Brothers and Sisters. And I know this too shall pass…

SYNERGY

Creativity

This summer a group of creatives got together to shoot the Lulu Anime African Samurai Campaign. Members included: the PHENOMENAL Mys Natty- life coach, barrister and jazz vocalist extraordinaire of the BUSH FIRE RECORDS group, Oscar Kibuuka Mukisa the magical photographer, Gasuza the aweSome shoot director, rap artist and photographer, Nina the assistant and some incredible models- Ras Kana, Becky Mundit, and Leo Musiga. What started as a couple of sketches and a yearning for some Afro-Asian fusion in my designs turned into an entire day from 8am to 6pm of synergistic goodness. The light was perfect, the group was energized and the ideas kept flowing freely.

I have always believed in the power of the creative team. This day solidified that belief. This image was taken at the end of the day. From left to right:
Oscar, Mys Natty, Lulu, Gasuza, Nina.

What teams are you part of and how have the team members influenced your life?

Lulu at the LABA Festival in June 2012

The theme of this years LABA festival was liberation.

I strongly believe liberation begins in the mind.

Chiika_3

The whole concept behind the Gulu Loves Hip Hop Lulu collection was to change the mindset and prevailing myth that Northern Uganda is still in conflict and a place of sadness and desperation. I was chatting with my friend Burney MC one day at National theater and thinking about how cool it was that the youth in Gulu had embraced Hip Hop as a means of self expression. Music, dance and art have such healing qualities and I think that as artists we have a responsibility to create conscious art. That day at National theater in January was the first spark of an idea. The phrase Gulu Loves Hip Hop came to me instantly after that meeting. Next I started thinking about how fashion and Gulu could be linked to Hip Hop. Initially I just thought I could use the phrase as inspiration but later on a chance visit and tour of Phenix factory – I learnt that most of the cotton and all the organic cotton at Phenix comes from Northern Uganda. Phenix is perhaps the only factory in Uganda that takes the raw product- cotton and spins it into yarn, dyes it, produces fabric and then produces final products such as shirts and t-shirts. It also does awesome printing. So the next stage of the idea was to re-create a mini Phenix and use organic cotton and printing with Lulu designs. I also wanted to incorporate Graffiti. I love sketching and graffiti is the aspect of Hip Hop that is closest to my heart. So I contacted Spray It Uganda and we took several months coming up with ideas for t-shirts. It was very cool going through the entire design process even with all the stumbling and road blocks. We finally got a product that we were happy with. I am proud to say that it is 100% Made in Uganda. Cotton from Gulu, design by Ugandan designers, and Printing by fabulous Ugandan screen artists.

Combined with the t-shirts I also designed Lulu swim suit shorts and basket ball shorts from Kitengi fabric. I was looking for graphic black and white prints. And Then I concentrated on three main looks for the Laba Evening fashion show. For this I used denim and black and white Kikoyi. My inspiration came from those powerful female MCs like Eve who lead a troop of male MCs. I designed a jumpsuit from jeans and Kikoyi with a jean cap lined with Kikoyi, a mens tracksuit with Kikoyi detail for men- inspired by early 80s Addidas tracksuits, and an overall with Japanese overtones and Kikoyi detail for men.

Finally I looked for models. I decided to use a group of bboys who would dance on stage wearing my clothes. This was a two-fold decision- I have been dancing with the bboys and was so inspired by them and their service to the community- please check the BPU website http://voiceproject.org/programs/breakdance-project-uganda.php
secondly I wanted to show that my clothes are for active people and that they are wearable art!

Next I imagined what people from the North of Uganda look like. The image that came to mind was tall, dark African beauty. So with the help of Crystal Model Agency I identified some awesome Basketball players. They were tall and dark and athletic! YES. And finally I looked for my leading lady. I found an awesome leading lady who unfortunately left the country one day before the show. I was so sad but – she was kind enough to introduce me to the perfect replacement. I found my tall dark, athletic leading lady and was blessed to work with such a talented super model.

On another chance meeting I met the co-founder of Grass Roots Reconciliation Group – GRG
http://grassrootsgroup.org/ – a Gulu-based NGO that trains former child soldiers in farming and gives them skills to empower themselves. I thought it would be awesome to collaborate with a group that has such a positive message and has been doing such amazing work for the last 5 years.

So now I had almost covered all 5 aspects of Hip Hop – I still needed to find a Gulu based MC.
The 5 aspects are: MCs, Graffiti, Bboys, Djs and Knowledge. The knowledge part was sorted out when GRG agreed to bring a representative/ former child soldier to the festival and have him share his story and GRG information with the public. I found a perfect MC from Gulu but unfortunately he was not able to perform on the day as he was delayed in the North. So we had Bonfire Uganda in our tent instead playing Ugandan Rap. And we had a live DJ too.That happened purely by chance so really I must say thank you to God for bringing this whole thing together. We had live graffiti, bboys dancing, MCs, Knowledge flowing and just general happy vibes- most of the day.

The day of the show was so hectic. I had been away for 3 weeks and did mostof the planning via facebook and phone calls. It is actually the first time in my life I have put a show together like this. I learnt to trust the process and also to stop micro-managing every last detail. God was also teaching me patience and faith.
I hope in my small way, my team and I have helped start a new trend in collaborative art and spread some well needed optimism for Uganda.

So the journey has just started. These are the first few baby steps. Professional pictures and video will be posted as soon as possible but for now I leave you with this…

Proudly Ugandan
Anna-Clare Lukoma
Lulu Fashion House