It is a hustle. Sometime in 2017 as he strolled on Kampala Road near Mapeera House, he saw a model-thin girl riding on a boda boda.
Sarah Keji Angelo had amazing features and looked like one of Uganda’s best export Aamito Lagum.
Suddenly the boda slowed down and she jumped off to leave. “I went chasing this girl and a car almost knocked me down. I reached the girl, introduced myself and gave her my business card. I told her I manage models and she had what it takes to be one. She stared at me like I was a thief because I was distractive. I told her Google my name, check my Instagram and Facebook,” narrates Muzira with a hearty laughter.
As luck would have it, Angelo called after two days, and she joined Joram Model Management (JMM) shortly after. Two years later, she is destined for Paris following intense training. It is the eye for talent, determination and persistence that has enabled Muzira reap from an activity regarded as pastime.
Upon completion of Senior Six in 2004, Muzira got a job as a waiter at Design Agenda, a restaurant located at IPS building.
His first pay was Shs100,000. As he rose through the ranks of a cashier, public relations officer and then events manager, the remuneration increased to Shs400,000. He balanced the job and his pursuit of a Bachelor of Urban Planning. In order to pay his hostel fees, the ambitious Muzira doubled his efforts to earn more. He worked with different designers as a volunteer; working backstage, dressing up the models, oiling them and putting the clothes on the racks.
“I wanted to be a fashion model, but it never happened. I had drawn inspiration from my elder sister Druscilla Muzira who had represented eastern Uganda in Miss Uganda 2002. I tried Sylvia Owori’s Zipper Models and Santa Anzo’s Arapapa, but both agencies turned me down because I was small and too skinny. However, I was determined to find my way into the fashion modelling business,” Muzira recalls.
After seven years at Design Agenda, he quit and joined Talent Africa for a two-year stint as a part time administrator and casting manager. “Working with Aly Alibhai, the CEO, I learnt how to be smart, business savvy and value money. Through his high end events, I created a network. Alibhai was paying me Shs500,000,” discloses the 30-year-old Muzira.
In 2012, he met Sylvia Owori through a one Danze. The guru of fashion was planning a fashion show dubbed ‘Forever Love’.
“When I met her, I cried because I could not believe my eyes. She was hard to reach. Owori was like a fashion goddess. With her I definitely knew my dream would come true,” he smiles.
Owori tasked Muzira to scout for her models, and produce the fashion show with high standards. The models at the casting kept gazing with awe at the new kid on the block.
“They thought I had been flown in from South Africa. Little did they know I was a hustler who had borrowed tactics from the pageants and American Next Top Model I had watched on television,” discloses the chatty award-winning model trainer.
The birth of JMM
Owori appreciated Muzira’s passion with a token of Shs300,000. During the project he had met models such as Aamito Lagum and the generation of girls that would later make a mark on modelling. “They requested me to manage them, but I had no experience. By then a model was paid Shs50,000 per show. Aamito, Vanquisha Eyapu and Anna Kwagala suggested I establish JMM. It was like a dream and a joke. We began by opening up a Facebook page,” he divulges.
After some time, the Paris Vogue editor Franca Sozzani (RIP) requested me to represent her at ‘Vogue is Coming to Africa’ function hosted at Charles Mbire’s house.
While there, I met Adele Dejak, the wife of the Italian ambassador. She believed in my vision and showed support,” reveals a beaming Muzira. Meanwhile, Sylvia Owori recommended me for different gigs and the girls started to earn. “Through Sylvia, we did 13 shows in 2012 including the East African Fashion Extravaganza which featured Mustafa Hassanali of Swahili Fashion Week. It was my time to learn more and implement. We also showcased at the launch of Kori house, and Adele Dejak at Serena Kampala where for the first time ever, a model was paid Shs100,000 and I received Shs350,000,” says an excited Muzira. Later that year, the bubbly creative director joined Miss Uganda. CEO Brenda Nanyonjo had noticed his social media buzz as he supported Miss Uganda contestants.
“Brenda tasked me to look for girls who could contest. I became the official scout for Miss Uganda in 2012, 2013 and 2014. The years brought forth names such as Leah Kalanguka, Anita Fabiola and Stella Nantumbwe. This role fetched me Shs500,000 per season for three years,” he reveals.
Africa’s Next Top Model made audition calls in July 2013. Joram encouraged his models to participate, but they were laid back expecting the scouts to come to Uganda. It was unfortunate that among the 12 African nations, Kenya was their only East African destination. “I advised the girls to take a bus to Kenya for the auditions. As the days drew closer, they lost interest, shared excuses and only two girls Aamito Lagum and Racheal Aamito travelled,” he narrates.
Aamito Lagum made it among the final 12 and there was a lot of excitement. The achievement attracted more clients. It was the time it dawned on him that modelling was evolving into a full-time job.
In January 2014 when Lagum won the coveted prize of $50,000 (about Shs100m at the time), Druscilla advised him to register JMM. “I invested Shs650,000 in the legal and registration process. Immediately the JMM rate card changed. My models could not settle for less than Shs100,000. Booking a model for billboards cost Shs800,000. We were setting standards and valuing the brand. Meanwhile, some of my clients got intimidated,” Muzira stresses. Aamito Lagum travelled to New York in 2014 and in the same year, he invested in her cousin Patricia Akello on her recommendation. Just like any blessed family, he placed Akello with Fusion, a South African Agency.
Akello’s contract with Fusion introduced Muzira to the dynamics of the business. “When you place a model, you sign contracts. None of my models had contracts. To me it was all about being under JMM. But am also grateful the girls were loyal to JMM,” he laughs. Muzira reveals that JMM as a mother agent is entitled to 10 per cent off Akello’s earnings. He says unlike Patricia Akello, Aamito Stacey became the responsibility of African Next Top Model and New York based agency DNA. “The host of Africa’s Next Top Model Oluchi Onweagba told me Aamito is still my model who I can manage in East Africa, but internationally her team is in-charge. I was a baby and did not know what it meant. I had no idea that I could make 10 per cent off her earnings. If I was receiving that money, I would be rich. Nevertheless, I was happier that my girl had gone to advance her career in New York,” he says.
Time to reap
Since 2014, every gig that New York-based Patricia Akello accomplishes raises 10 per cent for JMM.
“Unlike in South Africa, Akello makes more money in New York. In a good year she can make a minimum of half a million dollars, if it a bad year, it is $250,000. She works between London, Milan, New York and Paris. The highest I have earned in an entire year from her work is $20,000 (Shs72m),” he proudly discloses.
Muzira’s expertise was sought for by clusters under Miss Tourism Uganda in 2014. His rate was Shs1m per cluster which earned him Shs6m from 6 clusters in a period of two months. “From that money, I bought my first computer, internet, chair and printer for my home office,” he remarks.
The demand for his services grew by leaps and bounds, and as a result he quit his job at Talent Africa.
Muzira earned at least Shs1.5m per month in 2015 through model training and motivation speaking.
The following year, his charges for Miss Tourism rose to Shs1.5m per cluster.
“That year I made Shs12m in Miss Tourism and saved it with the bank,” he laughs. Currently, JMM earns 10 per cent commission from each work a model does abroad and 20 per cent locally. Clients give him 10 per cent as casting fee.
Two years later, he enhanced his company identity and scouted for more talent. He met Paul Mwesigwa whom he placed in New York, London, Paris, and South Africa. With the commission received, he invested in new talent, trained them and sent them abroad. At present, JMM has eight models on the international landscape and 65 in Uganda.
His ambition is to scout for more girls because they make 10 times the money boys earn in the modelling business and he hopes to own the Miss Universe franchise which costs $ 100,000 (Shs360m) for four years.
His international target is 20 models working in the global fashion capitals and soon he will officially launch JMM. According to Joram, he has raised the fashion bar, “For a model to do a fashion show, a client is expected to part with Shs150,000. For me to produce a show, I need $2,000 (Shs7.2m). People will think am expensive, but I have mastered my craft.”
He says the biggest mistake every young entrepreneur does is to think so big and fail to start.
“The biggest lesson in this business is each money you make invest it. It is not about living a fancy life. We have been in business for seven years, but it has been a learning experience and we have not made strides. I need to turn JMM into a global brand,” he adds.
Muzira says everyone still thinks models are escorts or prostitutes. “Some models from mushrooming agencies do not know their worth. They get laid by bigwigs for status. I give tough love to my girls and encourage them to study, do pageants, try media practice because these opportunities open doors to greater things since modelling is not self-sustaining locally,” he says.
He also pins clients who do not appreciate the craft. He illustrates it with a musician who is paid Shs5m, whereas a team of 30 models is given Shs3m for a similar show. The other setbacks are parents who have failed to appreciate modelling as a business, visa processing for models of South Sudan origin and clients who do not honour their financial obligations, but prefer to switch off their phones.
“My biggest achievement is being part of a generation that is raising international models,” Muzira says. He is also proud that he has executed fashion and beauty events such as Abryanz Fashion Show since 2013 up-to-date, New York Fashion Week 2018, Seed Project 2018, UNAA Causes 2018 , Miss Tourism Uganda, Kampala Fashion Week, and Italy Fashion Show-Revolution Africa 2019. He has also clinched several awards such as Best Model Management in ASFAs 2014 and 2015 and PAFA 2017.