“Weekend forecast: camping with a chance of drinking.” You wouldn’t help but notice such wording on a T-shirt, even from afar.
You could get tickled too, thanks to words coined to let you see the lighter side of life.
Words and T-shirts are a fad in Kampala, with some amusing phrases. It is business for the people behind printing the different wear, some of which is used to push campaigns.
Irene Allen Namisango is using clothing wear to push her blog, ‘Uganda Uncovered’ that promotes Ugandan tourism while Sylvester Kabombo, a hip hop artiste, is using wear to push his lyrically-poignant music.
While the two push their brands, they are yet to happily smile all the way to the band, hoping that their hustle will soon realise commercial returns. For now, they are absorbing their energy towards selling the different branded clothing.
Their products cost between Shs20,000 and Shs60,000. Namisango started the travel blog, with a belief of holding heads and hearts together in words of travel, hoping that her travel experiences, tips and interviews would inspire another person to position themselves well in the travel industry.
The blog covers everything from Ugandan food, must do and see destinations, travel products, travel tips, interviews with influential people in the industry, and personal travel experiences.
“Selling the T-shirts would make me independent and able to travel the country as I want without having to beg for money from my guardians all the time,” the Makerere University alumnus, with a degree in Tourism Management, explains.
Her target clientele are stakeholders in the tourism sector, including tour guides, travel consultants, government officials, tourism students and affiliates.
For Kabombo, the wear extends beyond T-shirts with screaming song titles. He also sells hoods and caps. “By then I was staying in Kazo and I would move with some of the T-shirts in my bag since I didn’t have an easily accessible location in town where to find them.”
He frequently travelled upcountry, which almost stifled the business because he would fail to meet clients as he needed to. Friends advised him to get a location or create partnerships with people who have shops to sell the T-shirts for him.
The first prints were for the song Mpaayo Akaseera that he performed with Ssavoo in 2012, then Omulya Mamba in 2013, Ziva Muntuuyo in 2014 followed by Kyendi Kyendi and Lemerako that he did with Abramz.
“I never thought I would eventually earn from them. Basically I didn’t mind giving them out, for free. I also had little knowledge about business. I started on a small scale in 2012 with a friend of mine called Snooty Fredo, who does the printing for me,” he recalls.
He does not remember with how much he started the enterprise but it was with little money because he did not want to invest much into it.
He was new to the business and was not confident it would make convincing commercial returns. The beginning was tough.
“Much as I was excited and saw T-shirt branding as a new marketing tool for my music, I never wanted to risk stepping in with my two feet for fear of losing so much in the process. And the quality of T-shirts that were being imported on the market was not so good,” he recounts.
As Namisango wrote her last examinations at university, her mind was set and focussed on starting the blog and T-shirt business thereon.
“I started at zero. I cannot say that I had some capital for a start. But after putting my product on market and people liked it, I started selling on order,” she recollects.
So her capital was her weekly transport allowance. “If anyone made an order and didn’t pick it the day we agreed, that would be another day of struggling to get home and back to work the following day,” she adds.
She started by selling the T-shirts to her close friends “Of course not all believed that the T-shirt would get a market, so some of my close friends didn’t even support me in the start. I remember I sold my very first T-shirt to Richard Kawere, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Uganda Tourism Association (UTA), who gave me a very big go ahead saying it was a nice product.”
Besides sacrificing her daily transport stipend, she struggled for adequate capital to find good quality T-shirt materials, facing rejections and denials.
She further explains: “It was all hard but I remained firm with the few people who believed in me and supported my hustle. I used to move to big tourism offices every evening after work to hawk and sell to them my T-shirts.”
With the humble start, Kabombo was not afraid of thinking big. “The caps I produced in 2014 were not to the standard I wanted but they opened my mind to more ideas because of the reception they received. In 2018, I resumed the production of Kyendi Kyendi caps and that time with support from a partner of mine from Graffiti Media. I have better production quality,” the elated rapper discloses.
Like Namisango, Kabombo utilises social media to market his merchandise. He also adorns his wear during stage performances as well as media interviews to take advantage of the visibility.
Whenever he has a new product, he takes a picture of it and uploads it on all his social media platforms, indicating where customers can find it. Namisango also employs digital marketing, arguing that buyers are online. “So the more you optimise your product online, the more orders. However, I also do word of mouth and currently, I have started getting to exhibitions. On a daily basis, I set a side part of my profits that goes to data and OTT, and then I re-invest the rest. To minimise the costs, I only do deliveries in town,” she adds.
Her future plans as a travel blogger, is to earn enough to enable her travel more. She is planning to make more, different beautiful and unique brands, for example caps, vests, jumpers, bangles and bags.
“I want ‘Uganda Uncovered’ to continue bringing many neglected beautiful attractions to the spotlight and giving the most trusted and relevant information about Uganda,” she adds. Kabombo’s plans can only be deterred by finances. He would like to invest in more branded products too, open up a website and have a shopping section on it, partner with more artistes and stock their items at the shop, physical and online. “I also branch out in other regions of the country because I have people who have been requesting for this,” he adds.