Two exceptional statements reflect Sylvia Owori’s take on business: “I love taking risks,” and “I have no room for failure.” Undoubtedly, these are statements of a true pioneer with clear entrepreneur skills in the fashion, media and modelling businesses.
Ms Owori opened the first modelling agency in Uganda a decade ago, had the first glossy women’s magazine on the market and an international clothes label.
Indisputably, the achievements in her path are an outcome of steely willpower and she will commemorate a decade in the fashion business on December 6.
“I find it weird that it’s been a whole 10 years and yet I feel like it’s just the beginning. There is a lot more to be achieved,” she says softly.
Following completion of her A-level from Namasagali College, Ms Owori packed her bags and went off to New Ham College in London, where she enrolled for a Diploma in fashion and design as well as fashion business management.
She returned home and in 2000, with an investment of Shs10 million and opened a clothes shop, Sylvies’ Boutique, which sold imported clothes. This was the foundation on which she has built her brand.
To Sylvies’ Boutique, Ms Owori added the modelling agency, Zipa where she found her niche. Evidently, her realm was budding but not without its share of challenges.
“The fashion business had not yet been appreciated in Uganda, so at the start, it felt like working in a non existent industry, which was tough.”
Consequently, she learnt a lesson that has boosted her business’ experience, marking a decade.
“The biggest lesson I have learnt in business is perseverance. You should never give up, you have to keep your eye on the ball or it soon rolls far away from you.”
Her great breakthrough came in 2004 during the Kenya Fashion Week. “I was invited to participate in the fashion week and when I displayed my work, I was acknowledged with a standing ovation.”
In the beginning, Ms Owori may have had it challenging in what she described as a non-existent industry since it wasn’t quite appreciated in Uganda but remarkably, in June 2006, the winds of change blew her way when she was recognised by no less a person than President Museveni himself, for her contribution towards Uganda’s development.
“I was humbled. Being recognised by the President is something. I was glad that finally, my fashion business had been appreciated at home and this propelled me to work harder,” the very confident Ms Owor speaks of her self.
She has been to numerous international events in Paris and Rome, not leaving out her own continent Africa’s Dar-es-salaam, where she designed clothes for the M-NET Face of Africa fashion show and also designed clothes for the Nokia Face of Africa’s Ugandan finalist.
One of her greatest landmarks is her partnership with Motorola. Ms Owori was the only African designer to be chosen to create an outfit for Motorola. Ms Owori admits was a great business risk she took, but it has been worth it.
“I have realised that in business, without risks, there is no growth. I take on risks but then work extremely hard to guarantee that they flourish,” she told Business Power.
In November 2005, Ms Owori launched ‘African Woman’, the first glossy women’s magazine in Uganda.
“I realised there was a gap for a women’s glossy magazine, so I took advantage and started one,” she said adding that 25,000 copies of the magazine are circulated monthly.
African Woman sells in five countries; Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Southern Sudan and Tanzania.
“In the near future, we will partner with an internationally renown company to have the magazine online, so it can reach anyone anywhere in the world,” she says promising that by around January 2010, a new publication will be added to the African Woman.
Ms Owori is evidently proud of her product and boasts that its quality certainly gives it a marketing edge over the other magazines. “It’s about quality paper, print and rich content,” she sais.
So, where does she derive this willpower and confidence? “I was taught to work hard. But on the other hand, work can’t be taught all the way. It’s my nature to go for what I want and work hard at it,” Ms Owor reminisces about her self.
Also, she looks up to great designers, Giorgio Armani and Valentino. “These are timeless and I would like to emulate them,” she said. Just like any other business, Ms Owori said to succeed in the fashion business, sufficient preparation is vital.
“You have to do your homework, study your market and find out who your client is and what they want. Be certain to work around what the client wants, not what you want, or you are headed for failure,” Ms Owor said.
Although Ms Owori declined to reveal her business’ current turnover and profits, she says her business is worth a few million dollars. “The brand has been built over 10 years so it’s worth about that,” she said.
Ms Owori serves her clients at three outlets, two of them in Uganda, at Garden City, the other at Mabirizi Complex. The one in Nairobi is at Kilimani. The number of employees in both Kenya and Uganda are 80.
Owori believes that the fashion business is capable of enhancing the economy of any country, because just like we need food, we need clothes on a daily basis. “I urge the government to boost the fashion industry by supporting the textile manufacturing industry. We have great weather and produce one of the best cotton fabrics in the world. More funds should be put into institutional training and manufacture of fabrics because we have a lot of natural resources.”