Saturday July 6 2013

I’m going to be rich and famous just like Oprah Winfrey

Josephine Nakafero is the face behind Fashion

Josephine Nakafero is the face behind Fashion Runway night, a monthly event showcasing upcoming designers’ works.  

By Ivan Okuda

Josephine Nakafero is a rising woman, at least by Ugandan standards. She may not be a household name yet, least scooped a headlining fashion award thus far. Her name may not ring a bell as loud as that of Santa Anzo, Stella Atal or Sylvia Owori in the minds of those who keep a keen eye on Uganda’s fashion wall, but you just cannot write off this brain behind the Fashion Runway Uganda and Omusono, a premier Luganda fashion show aired every Sunday on NBS Television. That is if the path she has treaded so far is anything to go by.

Nakafero’s ultimate dream is to “become the next Winfrey Oprah. I just admire her personality. I want to be the voice of the voiceless; I am going to be the next Oprah. I will make it.” Now, for a woman aged 27, that can only sound as ridiculous as it is over-ambitious. It comes off as sheer fantasy that would not even make fodder for the most loud-mouthed childhood romantic. Not that she cannot make it.

Nakafero, a single mother of one son, may be aiming her stone at the stars, but she is sure it will land somewhere. Perchance on the moon. Perhaps far below. Only fate has the prerogative to tell. However, rather than talk her down, it can only be safe to say in advance, go girl, do! And this is why.

In 2008, while at Makerere University pursing a degree in commerce, the calling to tread the fashion path came ringing with irresistible vigour. Matters were not helped that her best friend, a student of Fine Art, was commonplace in her hostel room, always knitting awesome designs out of pieces of cloth and, as a consequence, constantly itching Nakafero’s urge to do fashion.

For a girl who used to stand before the mirror, speaking to and immersing herself in fantasies of a fashion show presenter, this urge needed a resting place. She walked out of Makerere gates, straight to Record TV and with no job experience, asked for a segment. “I was very smart and confident, the manager assigned me a cameraman to do my first shoot,” she reminisces, the mellowness of her eyes popping noticeably to paint a graphic impression of the same.

Trekking the television stations
Fashion designer Stella Atal had always been her icon and here she was, doing her first interview with the woman she admired immensely. “I still wonder how I made it. I think that is why I am going up; I started big,” she says. But what she attributes to office politics had a rude shock for her. She was frustrated and the show hit a snag. But she was not bogged down a single bit. A few days later, she walked to Top TV and requested for a similar show. The programmes manager gave her the benefit of doubt to present the show this time dubbed NEXT.

For the year she was at the station, she claims to have become, “famous and a household name.”
That, of course, can go for nothing but overstatement, especially for someone who claims to have aimed big but hardly set her foot on the country’s genuinely big television stations. For a university student, especially one with humble beginnings, the temptation to lie on her laurels was one to fight. She did by seeking not just greener pastures but a “bigger” station that guaranteed a wider audience and increased the surface area for opportunities.

She walked to Kiira Road, this time to NBS TV, and the cycle was repeated. With no single hustle, she scooped a show, Omusono, a Luganda connotation of fashion, style and beauty. In a society where people do all it takes to get to the top, to the point of putting their dignity and conscience on the line, it can only be logical to take with a pinch of salt, what she calls “a meteoric rise. After all, at first impression, she hardly strikes one as your typical girl with “a wow factor.

Two years later…
Today, with a relatively thick profile up her sleeves, she was inspired by the global fashion brand show, America’s Next Top Model, to “give a platform to whoever has talent to showcase and brings out creativity.”

Thus far was the birth of the Fashion Runway Uganda, a monthly event hosted in Kampala’s top night clubs. Miss Uganda 2007-2008, Monica Kansiime, who provides her attires for the events from her (Kansiime’s) Ipigogo House of Fashion, says of a woman she has closely worked with: “Josephine is a go-getter and full-spirited woman. With her hard work, I am sure she will go places.”

Nakafero has since set up Extreme Modeling Agency to “train and nurture Ugandan girls into fashion.” Some of these upcoming fashion designers showcase at her events at a fee. Alongside that is the J-Magazine, a fashion magazine with the backing of Jose House of Creations that manages her other business interests in fashion.

For Nakafero, her success, if success is the right word to use here, is all but a fruit of prayer that has turned her life around. She frequently makes reference to God passionately, which obsession with religion she defends with one event last year at Le Beaujolais night club in Kampala.
The artistes were craving to tear her into pieces. The venue was unpaid for. Everybody wanted their dues cleared, dead or alive. Yet her purse was bleeding with unforeseen losses. It is then that, “I turned to Pastor Kakande who prayed for me and trust me, life has never been the same.”

Those prayers, however, may not necessarily have broken the walls of what she calls, “Uganda’s biggest fashion problem” that she says is a lack of originality and a copy and paste culture.”

This, the daughter of a business man and medic in Mpigi asserts, has chewed the fabric of creativity and matters are not helped that there is unregulated competition between Ugandan products and imported fashion artifacts. That conversely, is not the reason she wants to cross borders and hit the international stage.

That is her ultimate dream. Whether this loud spoken and self-styled fashionista whose style is defined by t-shirts, jeans and tops achieves the dream remains a question of time. That in itself, critics will say, has its pointer for a woman still struggling to make a mark at home.