Talk about doing one thing at school and loving another, and that is Joan Atukunda’s story.
The 24-year-old did a bachelor’s degree in Arts in Education, specialising in English and Literature. She even taught at Uganda Martyrs Namugongo, Budo and Kololo Secondary School. But discovered she did not love it enough as she did fashion and design.
“That is where my passion lay,” she says.
While working with her mother Aidah Yamurebiire since S4 vacation, Atukunda was given a chance to explore her talent as her mother always knew that Atukunda loved colour and was also good at Art, which she did at both O and A-Level.
“At that time it was more of helping her here and there. But with time I actually discovered that that was where my passion was, because I did everything with minimal supervision,” she says.
Ideally, her mother taught her most of what she knows. However, Atukunda also put in some effort by being keen whenever her mother was measuring and cutting clients’ clothes.
“She also continually gave me materials to make clothes for my siblings as I also visited the internet and learnt various things.”
After years of watching, learning and practicing, Atukunda was not learning enough. “Mother had clients who needed their clothes at a certain time, so we decided to start using evening hours for learning since we would both be home,” she says.
With time, she started doing her own work and got clients that she was barely available to offer her mother the much needed help.
“We resolved by choosing to help each other here and there.”
Atukunda says it was challenging as she had no funds to buy different machines, materials and did not have a place to work from. Her biggest challenge was winning clients’ trust.
Nonetheless, she kept dreaming about how to start working out her passion.
“I had to start with the little I had. I can’t say I am where I want to be now, but I am on my way there,” she says.
Besides having an unquenchable passion, Atukunda says she feels so proud when she dresses up someone, especially brides who always worry about their attires.
“While I am thankful to those that have helped me along the way like my relatives, I am greatly inspired by my mother, and Anita Beryl. I also look up to Donatella Versace who was the first fashion designer to use celebrities to promote her designs in USA, and she never gives up on her work. She made me believe that when choosing models, choose the ones that will market your work,” Atukunda says.
Having been at it first as a helper, Atukunda appreciates that getting and keeping clients is such a big issue in the fashion industry.
“I get clients through networking. For example, I talk about my business everywhere I go, I generally discuss my work to everyone I meet. I also never leave the house without my business cards,” she says.
“Whenever I am given an attire to tailor, I give it my all. I also give my clients their finished attires within the agreed time because keeping deadlines is very important to me.”
Besides that, referrals from existing clients have also got her a great number of clients because the cycle of recommendations never stops. Atukunda also posts her work on social media platform as much as possible.
“I travelled to the United States in 2018 to pursue a fashion course in Parson Fashion School in California. It was a scholarship from someone who loved my work and creativity so much that she decided to sponsor me to go study fashion and design.”
“I have made the Lions Club theme attires for many of their functions. I have also managed to make very unique bridal gowns and they have been in use.”
Atukunda says some designs don’t look good on some bodies and it is her duty to tell the client what looks good on them. Some clients insist on a design which force her to re-do some clothes.
“There are very many clients that have not picked their clothes, but I always make sure they are well kept. There was a client who only picked her clothes after eight months. But I still had them in good condition,” she says.
There is also the issue of limited space, as rent is increasing yet her business is still growing. Besides that, corporates do not want to move to Atukunda’s store downtown.
“So I always have to incur transportation costs to go measure them and to also deliver their done clothes. Nonetheless, I am thankful to have them.”
“I have learnt never to cut a cloth until I have agreed with the client because there was an incidence where a client insisted on a particular dress, despite advising her that it would not look good on her,” she says. “On returning, she blamed me for not doing good work for her.”
She says she now goes the extra mile to first sketch before cutting any cloth.