Sunday March 4 2018

Ochola on campaign to style up Kampala

Sue Ochola de Roy mission style Kampala culture

Ochola competed in the Miss Kampala contest in 1997. Although dark-skinned girls were not favoured then, she won. Today, she explores her talent at designing clothes at her studio and Champagne bar in Kampala. Courtesy Photo. 

By Tony Mushoborozi

Sue Ochola is as passionate as she is classy. Not only is she an avid art collector and a respected fashion designer, she is also a champagne connoisseur. The 41-year-old former beauty queen (Miss Kampala 1997) is pursuing all three passions seamlessly under one roof at Casa De Roy.

There is a warehouse on Seventh Street Industrial Area, Kampala that on the outside, is as grey and impersonal as all the other structures around it. But on entering, it is not the industrial machines or heavy equipment that meet your eye. The unassuming building on Plot 110 is home to Casa de Roy, the pioneer Champagne bar in Uganda.
While it is unimpressive on the outside, it is breath taking and cozy on the inside. On entering the space, it gives the sense that you have entered an art gallery.

Everything from the décor to the furniture, to the wall-hangings and the carpet is art. The bar stools, the display for the champagne bottles, the lounge for the champagne lovers and even the lighting fixtures on the ceiling and the walls is artistic. The ambience suggests originality and class.
“My husband and I fell in love because we both loved art,” Ochola says. “We met in 1999 and I soon found out that he was an art collector interested mostly in art pieces from Congo, Nigeria, Cuba, and a few other African countries. It turns out that I was in love with this kind of art as well. When we got married, we started collecting the art together and what you see here is some of it.”

Art spills into fashion and design
The art lover in Ochola comes out in her clothing which are made of mostly African fabric. To say that Ochola is a great designer is an understatement. From the colours to the designs, from the carefully selected material to the rare patterns, everything points to a creative mind. The dresses, the tops, the shorts, the blouses, are anything short of top quality.
“This is not kitenge for big mamas, like it has always been the case in Uganda. No one decreed that kitenge should only be worn at funerals and traditional ceremonies. This is kitenge for the modern times, it’s a garment for classy people. It’s the kind that you wear to office, even to the most important business meeting.”

Ochola has been designing her own clothes for close to 20 years now. “For as long as I can remember, I would design it (the outfit) and take it to the tailor for sewing. Early last year, I decided to start designing for the public, and that is what I did. I launched my collection last August at the UK Kitenge Festival.”
She says she was inspired by her aunt who used to own a clothes shop on Kampala road when they were growing up. “I was always in her shop, helping out here and there, and was slowly developing an interest in fashion. Then one day, in 1997, she asked me to prepare and compete for Miss Kampala. At first, I was not sure this was for me, because very dark girls were not considered pretty at the time. And I was really dark-skinned. But at her insistence, I entered the competition and won. All of a sudden, my passion for fashion exploded.”

Most people know Casa De Roy as a champagne bar though. And on closer investigation, one will find out that there is as much passion in the bar section as there is in her fashion and art collecting businesses. Ochola is a champagne lover of the highest degree indeed. Of the 10 champagne brands on sale here, one brand, S.A. de Roy, is one that she originated herself.
“I have loved champagne almost all my life and for so long, I dreamt of creating a sparkling wine brand of my own. So one day, I got off my bottom and went to South Africa on a hunt for a preferred vineyard. I moved from one vineyard to another looking for a very specific colour and specific sugar levels of the champagne until I was able to find a perfect one in Durbanville, Western Cape. In 2014, S.A. De Roy Champagne was born.”

Ochola says that her drink is one of a kind in Uganda and one of her major customers is the Kampala Serena Hotel. She says that she has sent the brand to champagne lovers in the UK and the US, and the reports were more than encouraging. The branding is classic royalty that champagne ads and branding have always done for centuries. It bears the famous mask of the Queen Idia of Benin from the 16th Century.
“I am on a mission to class up Kampala culture. We do not have to wait for a big event to pop champagne. It is high time we lived the high life in Kampala. We should drink champagne in the same way beer is drunk. Life is for living.”
By June this year, Champagne lovers will be able to enjoy all 10 major brands of the world in Casa De Roy.

S.A de Roy: Ochola’s one-of-a-kind sparkling wine
Born in 2014, S.A de Roy is a sparkling wine originated by Sue Ochola de Roy following a search for the perfect vineyard in South Africa. She found one in Durbanville, Western Cape. The wine is branded with the famous mask of the Queen Idia of Benin from the 16th Century.

Casa de Roy: Artistic lounge
Ochola de Roy and her husband are art collectors. Their collection is displayed in their lounge; Casa de Roy, a place for people who love art. The couple collect art pieces from across Africa.
Everything in their Champagne bar-cum-art gallery is a work of art.

Kitenge designs: designer par excellence
Ochola was inspired to design clothes while working in her aunt’s shop straight out of school. She has been designing her own clothes for 20 years. Last year, she launched her collection at the UK Kitenge Festival.