While she studied to be an educator, and went ahead to practice it in various schools, Joan Atukunda was passionate about cloth, threads and spinning beauty out of it.
During her Senior Four vacation, she used to accompany her mother to her cloth shop and that’s how her eyes were drawn to colour and cloth.
“I learnt how to measure and cut material with precision and my mother tested my skills by giving me cut offs to make clothes for my siblings. It was not long before I perfected the skill of tailoring. The next step was learning how to combine different material and colours,” she shares.
Although she loved art throughout her school life, at University, she specialised in English and Literature and off she went and started teaching.
Using her education as a source of income waned in the face of passion because she had learned a lot and reciprocated with zeal, carrying on her activities with minimal supervision.
After years of teaching, with passion at her heels, Atukunda quit teaching to join her mother in the her tailoring business.
How she started out
With barely any clients or capital to sail out on her own, Atukunda held onto her mother’s support for a while. “I needed my own clients and the best place was at my mother’s feet. It was only from her that I would get spill over clients without her getting offended. I also needed to win clients’ trust that even when they found me working on their cloth, they felt secure,” she reminisces about the start.
At this point, they shared the sawing machines and there was still a lot for Atukunda to learn. She says she took on the extra as assigned by her mother.
From savings, Atukunda would soon get a Singers sewing machine that cost her Shs300,000. She knew that under her mother’s wings, with her approval, she needed to make her own brand.
“I came up with a business name AJ Fashions. I would later get branding material from my friend Chris Agira, even in my rented space of Shs200,000 per month just to push my name out there,” she says.
The branding material included a logo, its sticker, and branded packaging that cost her Shs150,000.
Atukunda is motivated by her mother. “My mother has seen all of us through school through tailoring. Her perseverance makes me realise that I can also make it,” she says.
Anita Beryl, Uganda’s reknown fashion designer is another role model for Atukunda. Beryl is a shining star in the fashion industry in Uganda. She motivates me to work and learn with the hope to shine in my space someday,” she shares.
Atukunda also looks up to Donatella Versace who was the first fashion designer to use celebrities to promote her designs in USA amidst the talk of failure.
Through the years, Atukunda watched how her mother related with her clients and one of the thing that stood out for her, was the art of getting and keeping clients. To get clients, Atukunda speaks about her business wherever she goes and never leaves the house without her business cards.
She also gives her best whenever she gets an assignment. “I give my work my all and deliver on time. I also uses social media to advertise my work,” Atukunda talks about ways she gets and retains her customers.
In 2018, Atukunda scooped a scholarship to study fashion and design at Parson Fashion School in California . This was her first formal design education and it came with several perks on sketching, blending colours, managing client relationship and different stitch types.
Atukunda was also given a tender to make the Lions Club theme attires for many of their functions, something that energised her to venture into business with big corporate organisations.
Many people do not know their body shape but get excited with certain designs and no amount of advice will sway them to what works for them. One of her clients blamed Atukunda for not knowing how to tailor because upon trying on the cloth, she did like it. “I have since learnt my lesson. I never cut a cloth until the client and I have reached an agreement. I also sketch what they need before I take on the job. It has saved me from double work, stress and losses,” she says.
Through her work, Atukunda hopes to change some mind-sets such as those that think that local and upcoming fashion designers cannot do quality work.
“Most women prefer to have their bridal gowns imported yet Uganda has some of the best tailors.”